The Alabama law firm of McCutcheon & Hammer insists that it had nothing to do with an immensely racist ad that appears on its behalf on YouTube. And we're inclined to believe them, given how deeply weird the rest of the YouTube channel — and its apparent proprietor — obviously are.
We'll just start with the ad, which we saw on Vice.com. In it, a mid-1950s Asian stereotype insults insurance companies. And as befits its status as the Racist Outrage of the Minute™, a warning: it's as dumb and unfunny as it is ignorant.
When the spot first got some online attention — at the blog Angry Asian Man and FindLaw, a legal professionals site, the only defense of the ad came from Jim DeBerry, the creator of the spot. His defense (including: it's only satire!) was precisely what you might expect:
@khayters I appreciate your viewing but to the contrary, I'm not a racist. I have many friends of various races and a top minority employer.— Jim DeBerry (@RealJimDeBerry) November 25, 2013
Those posts, however, assumed that McCutcheon & Hammer hired DeBerry's firm, Definitive Television, to produce it; Angry Asian Man reported that the firm provided the copy.
Perhaps understandably, the firm denied that in a statement to the blog Above the Law.
We insisted that the video be removed and that he disclose the party that allowed my partner and I to be portrayed in such a negative and misleading light. After a personal review of our financial records which conclusively established that this video was not paid for or authorized by any party associated with our law firm, McCutcheon & Hamner, P.C. posted our response specifically disavowing the video as well as issuing a cease and desist letter to Mr. DeBerry and Definitive Television. Of course, Mr. DeBerry has refused and we are currently investigating our legal options.
The response, itself entertaining, goes on to defend the state of Alabama from Above the Law's apparent disparagement: "The State of Alabama has had it’s share of race problems, that cannot be denied. This State has addressed those problems and continues to do so. Quite frankly, if the video had portrayed a 'southern redneck' I doubt you or anyone else would have even cared."
If you were looking for such rednecks, good news. Along with plenty more of DeBerry's Asian character, who is cleverly named "Mr. Wong Fong Shu," Definitive Television has its own redneckish character, Rodeo Roscoe.
How many of these ads were created for clients isn't clear, but it's quite possible that none were. (We've reached out to DeBerry with some questions.) Another Rodeo Roscoe short mentions wellwater.com, an oil drilling company unrelated to the short itself. And the website for DeBar Holdings, another DeBerry property, indicates that Definitive isn't live yet.
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Questions about this weird collection of videos sent us down a bit of a rabbit hole. DeBerry's online trail is complex. His LinkedIn page doesn't mention Definitive Television, instead indicating that he works at IQ Power, a Florida solar energy company. Prior to that, he worked for Aqua Pool Dealer. A year ago, the Orlando Business Journal profiled DeBerry's pool work, noting that he'd "made a big splash" in the industry. The YouTube channel referenced from DeBerry's Twitter account is "aquapooldealer1", which also has several promotions for IQ Power and a few Rodeo Roscoe and Officer Doofus spots. (DeBerry's wife, who plays "Ditzy Misty," found a bit more fame when she starred in a Walmart ad.) At some point in history, DeBerry also apparently ran a music venue called Headlightz.
At some point, DeBerry had a very comprehensive Wikipedia page, now visible only at a deleted article site. "His Father was French and Norwegian while his mother was of Irish and Yorkshire descent," the article reads, "which provided a culturally diverse upbringing." It notes his radio career — a comedy show in Sanford, Florida — and history as a music producer.
How or why a Florida-based pool salesman might be hired on spec to produce an obviously racist ad for an Alabama law firm is a mystery. It seems more than reasonable to assume that DeBerry, a serial entrepreneur with a flair for self-promotion, chose names at random to produce examples of his work to pitch clients. (In one spot, the Asian character warns about the use of tetracycline, a once-common antibiotic; no client is identified for the segment.) Which offers two lessons out of this weird episode. One, don't make racist videos. Two, if you must, it's probably not a good idea to suggest that lawyers were responsible for it.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.
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