Another racist Stride gum commercial

I was about to watch a program on Hulu last night when the site asked if I’d like to watch a single long-form advertisement instead of several short ones throughout the show. I went with the first option. What followed was a three-minute long mock-infomercial for Stride gum, presenting 17 absurd uses for a stick of gum.

The whole ad is stupid, but the scene at the 2:10 mark bothered me. I watched it again. A middle-aged black man with a thick African-sounding accent stands behind a desk with a bunch of plaques on the wall behind him. He claims the gum lasts a really long time as the text “World-Famous Scientist” shows below him. I guess I was supposed to laugh at his accent and the idea that he’s a top scientist. But it just struck me as racist, xenophobic and meanly suggesting that any African and/or black expert is likely to be some kind of idiot or fraud. The joke is on his appearance and accent. Judge for yourself:

What do y’all think? The ad was produced by JWT, which claims to be “the world’s best-known marketing communications brand.” The ad is only running online right now, but the Jackie Hathiramani, the agency’s creative director, told Brandfreak they’re hoping to run it on late-night TV as well.

Racialicious called out two JWT-produced Stride ads in 2007 for playing crudely on Asian stereotypes. Maybe in another two years we’ll have a new Stride ad making fun of some other ethnic group? Let’s hope not. I couldn’t find any contact page for JWT. But here’s Stride’s contact page and what appears to be Hathiramani’s Twitter. Might be worthing sharing your take on the ad with Hulu too.

11 thoughts on “Another racist Stride gum commercial”

  1. I think you are way overthinking this. the video also makes fun of hip, white business guys in the main character, jocks, blondes, etc. in doing so, it is a parody of many stereotypes and i found it quite funny.

  2. Joe, I made myself watch it again and I still disagree with you. Every main character in every other part of the commercial is white. Race and accent are NOT components to those jokes like they are at the 2:10 scene. The scientist joke depends on the man looking and sounding foreign, and they chose to make the character an African man with a particularly thick accent and slow manner of speaking to take advantage of pre-existing racist stereotypes. The scene wouldn’t work if the character was white.

  3. Ansel, I’m not seeing it… because it’s not there.

    This particular scene lampoons the standard infomercial device of cutting away to a so-called objective source who just so happens to be a strong advocate of whatever is being sold.

    It’s the classic logic fallacy “appeal to authority” which is being mocked.

    The humor comes from seeing him in a white lab-coat with an obviously fake experiment set-up on desk… realizing he’s been on stage the whole time, waiting there behind a curtain, which is pulled open by a model… and then, he just simply says the slogans again.

    The scene would work regardless of the character’s ethnicity or national origin, because the humor doesn’t rely on “pre-existing racist stereotypes” as you seem to want to believe, but rather comes from the cold nature in which the scientist reads the same tired product talking-points, as if from a cue-card.

    Also, I’m not even sure what “racist stereotypes” you’re referring to in the first place: is it the cruel “racist stereotype” that Africans have African accents?

    Whatever.

    I’m just guessing, but I’m pretty sure you were also offended by the Obama caricature on the cover of the New Yorker last year. Maybe you should just stop tossing out allegations of “racism” everytime you don’t get a joke.

  4. Really, there’s nothing there? The makers of the ad want to get you to laugh from this scene. Listen to how he says the word ‘like’ at the end of the scene. “Liiiik-uh.” Pretty much nobody else on TV, certainly no one else in the ad, talks like that. The way he looks and sounds is very deliberately part of the punchline. You’re supposed to distrust him more because of it.

    You’re rather bone-headed if you think I’m saying it’s racist for Africans to be shown with African accents. The question is the context. Here, the more racist and xenophobic you are, the more you’ll laugh. With the New Yorker cover, racism and xenophobia were the targets of the joke. Hopefully you’re not incapable of “seeing” that distinction.

  5. Yes, they want you laugh from the scene, as they do with every scene in the commercial.

    Yes, the African character is the only character in the scene with an African accent.

    I’m not sure how either of these two points are “racist and xenophobic.”

    The humor from the scene is derived from lampooning the informercial device of “scientist-as-spokesman.”

    You’re also quite right that the last bit at the end, where he says, “It can do something like fifteen other things, liiiiike… uh,” is supposed to ironically indicate that the scientist character is not to be trusted by providing a one second beat where he can’t actually name any of the other fake uses.

    I’m not sure why you think that having a black actor portray a faux-scientist of African national origins, reading cue cards about a product and then ending the scene with a awkward editing blooper that helps reinforce the fact that the faux-scientist really is just a shill wearing a lab coat and reading cue cards.

    And as for the “World-Famous-Scientist” text being a jab… it is. The jab is on the irony of having to introduce someone who is truly “world-famous” as such to an audience. So, you can interpret this again as part of the irony in mock infomercial (that the imaginary audience is either too stupid to know someone who actually is world famous, or they’re so stupid they’ll believe someone is world famous simply by having a blinking text say say) or you can do an absurdly baseless interpretation of somehow finding it “racist and xenophobic.”

    And I’ve listened to the accent in the scene, and it was probably coached… the actor probably does not speak the same way as the character. I’m not sure that alone is “racist or xenophobic.”

    I really have no idea what you’re even upset about. Is it that you think the accent is over the top and not realistic?

    It seems you may honestly not find the commercial funny, and that’s fine, but don’t tell me the humor from the scene comes from some deep rooted xenophobic ethnocentricity on my part.

    It’s a joke about infomercial devices, from the absurdity of faux-objectivity to the poor editing that leaves in tell-signs.

    I think it’s stubbornly knee-jerk to continue suggesting that the joke wouldn’t work if the character were white, and that the humor comes from seeing someone who sounds foreign as a scientist.

    The truth is, the same jokes come across on the page in the form of a screenplay.

  6. Wow James, you wrote that much and managed not to make a single coherent point. You seem to care a lot about defending this ad, but really, there are more important posts on this blog to talk about.

    I get that the ad is making fun of infomercials. The man’s race and accent are either part of the joke or it isn’t. You’re saying it’s not, and the makers of the ad just happened to choose this very African-looking/sounding guy for the role. But race matters and you can be sure the people at JWT know it. I’m not going to publish more of your comments if you keep attempting to make the same silly point over and over.

  7. Well, thanks for being such a good sport about it.

    I only meant to deconstruct the scene to disprove your original hypothesis that the scene would not work with a white character, and all that you inferred from that. I’m sorry if I failed in brevity, as it is a lengthy and complex scene.

    I also happen to believe that the standard criteria for allegations of racism should be a little higher than if a man’s “accent [is] either part of the joke or it isn’t.” And further more, I also think that reactionary and unwarranted outrage is a distraction from real social ills and a disservice to those who suffer them.

    Also, sorry about the sentence fragment in the sixth-text block of my second post, though I think it’s obvious how I intended to end it.

  8. “I also happen to believe that the standard criteria for allegations of racism should be a little higher than if a man’s “accent [is] either part of the joke or it isn’t.”

    That’s not the criteria here, as I’ve explained. Let’s leave it at that.

  9. The whole ad is just ridiculously absurd…racist? I dunno. Then we could go sexist too…

    It’s just really absurd. I say give it a break. I’ve seen way more offensive things, like Ms. California. Anyone? Anyone?

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