Image Map

Douchebag Decree: Ashton "Raj" Kutcher and Sadly Delicious Popchips

Douchebag Decree logo in red and blue letters it says Ye Olde Douchebag Decree. Bitch hereby declares the following person a total douchebag

Oh Ashton Kutcher. If it's not one douche-y thing with that guy, it's another. The Two and a Half Men star (I was going to make a douchebag joke there but "Two and a Half Men star" is a pretty good zinger on its own) is back in the news for all the wrong reasons again this week, this time for doing brownface in a Popchips ad. Here's the short trailer for the "looking for love" series, which features Kutcher doing four different characters in an inexplicably dating-themed spot:


It's not just racist, this ad also makes no sense. What does this dating site have to do with Popchips?

The full-length "Raj" ad was pulled yesterday, but as you can see in the clip above, Kutcher's Indian "impression" was schlocky and offensive. Though many Kutch supporters are predictably crying that "it was just a joke," the entire point of the bit is Kutcher pretending to be Indian—there's no other punchline to be found. Sorry folks, but when the humor comes from a white person mocking a person of color, it's not "just a joke"—it's racist. Why did he, and delicious Popchips, think this was a good idea?

This ad went live on Wednesday afternoon, and since then Popchips has pulled it from YouTube and the CEO, Keith Belling, issued this non-apology-apology (choice to not capitalize anything his):

we received a lot of feedback about the dating campaign parody we launched today and appreciate everyone who took the time to share their point of view.

our team worked hard to create a light-hearted parody featuring a variety of characters that was meant to provide a few laughs. we did not intend to offend anyone. i take full responsibility and apologize to anyone we offended.

Here's the thing: I don't care much about Ashton Kutcher, but I love Popchips. I eat them all the time! They are non-greasy and delicious and I felt good about them as a chip choice until I learned that they consider crappy racist comedy to be "light-hearted parody." How could "Raj" be considered parody? A parody of what, Indian people? It's been done, and it wasn't funny then either.

Bag of Popchips with a speech bubble that says Sorry you don't get light-hearted parody
Salt & Pepper & Racism-flavored

As Margaret Lyons points out at Vulture, part of what's troubling about this campaign is how many people don't see what's troubling about this campaign. The New York Times didn't take issue with it (though they've since covered the response), nor did People. And not only did US Weekly not have a problem with Kutcher's "Raj" character, they published a shirtless photo of him getting into brownface. I know US Weekly isn't a hard-hitting news organization (like, say, the New York Times), but they took the time to source and publish a photo of a white man using makeup to pretend to be Indian and no one thought to mention that it was racist? COME ON.

Kutcher as Raj giving the thumbs up. Text reads These are the Bombay
UGH.

And the fault here isn't just with Popchips. Ashton Kutcher is an established celebrity with a massive following and lots of influence. Though part of the joke of this weird "dating chips" campaign obviously hinges on his recent divorce, he could easily have turned down this gig. He can't need the money or exposure, and he clearly knew what he was in for when he donned brown makeup and a phony accent—this wasn't a post-production decision. That the Punk'd host (again, no need to change his real-life title to make a douchebag joke) went for this anyway, and tweeted the video to his 10.5 million Twitter followers, means he found the "Raj" character to be "light-hearted parody" as well.

As Anil Dash says in this must-read post about the campaign, "if you find yourself putting brown makeup on a white person in 2012 so they can do a bad 'funny' accent in order to sell potato chips, you are on the wrong course. Make some different decisions."

Now I'm off to find a tasty baked snack that isn't in such poor taste.

Previously: Richard Grenell, Romney Spokesperson and Sexist Tweeter, That Racist Swedish Cake and Everyone Who Had a Piece in It.

Guess what? Subscriptions to Bitch—our award-winning, 80+ page print quarterly—are 20% off to help us reach our $25,000 funding goal by September 30. Pitch in to support feminist media: Subscribe today

Subscribe to Bitch


Comments

28 comments have been made. Post a comment.

Non-racist flavored Popchips Alternative

Can be found at your local Trader Joe's. Maybe.

Racism is so pervasive, it's exhausting.

I'm offended that you're

I'm offended that you're suggesting that the Indiam culture and personality is something to be found offensive. This commercial was poking fun at over-the-top personalities: a white stoner, a white Karl Lagerrfeld, and a white southerner. Why should the bollywood character be excluded, just because he isn't white?! Can we only make fun of white people now? Logic fail.

Brownface

Thea,

To me, there's a big difference between a white man parodying a specific personality (another white man, in this case) and a white man donning makeup to mock an entire culture for a presumably white audience. One is parody (although still poorly done, in my opinion) and the other is racism. There is no one "Indian culture," and the fact that this ad reduces all of India to a few cheap jokes done by the guy from That '70s Show wearing a prosthetic nose is most certainly offensive.

____________
Kelsey Wallace, contributor

Ask me about our Comments Policy!

But... there is no one

But... there is no one "white" culture either. Just like he's exaggerating certain white stereotypes, he's exaggerating a certain Indian stereotype. Also, I think it's kind of racist of you to assume that this commercial is "for a presumably white audience." Um.... where do you get off thinking that? Because I eat Popchips. Therefore I am included in their "demographic," therefore this ad is for gals like me. And I'm not white. So... I'm confused. Are you saying I can't eat these chips because I'm not white? Are you saying I can't find this ad funny because I'm not white? Because that's what it sounds like to me. I guess I missed the memo on being hyper-sensitive to things just because I'm not white. I guess I should make sure I'm not buying white people chips anymore?

Not the point

Hi Thea,

No one is saying that people of color shouldn't watch this ad or enjoy Popchips. I say Popchips made this ad for a "presumably white audience" because they chose Ashton Kutcher—a white, English-speaking man—for their spokesperson. Also, they produced an ad that employs brownface to mock people of color; no matter who it was intended for, it's problematic.

____________
Kelsey Wallace, contributor

Ask me about our Comments Policy!

Thanks for clearing that

Thanks for clearing that up... I had no idea that the color of a spokesperson was indicative of their target demographic. I guess "people of color" like myself should only buy products endorsed by other "people of color." (I hate that term... caucasian people are colorful, too, sweetheart). Silly me, thinking I could eat the white people chips. Wow.

This argument is like... showing alphabet flash cards to blind people. The content is so elementary and basic that a toddler could figure it out, but it's lost on people that just can't see.

Not your sweetheart.

You can disagree with me all you want, but don't "sweetheart" me. Thanks.

____________
Kelsey Wallace, contributor

Ask me about our Comments Policy!

Even if you accept the idea

Even if you accept the idea that stoner and Karl Lagerfeld are white stereotypes (I guess Keanu Reeves playing a stoner is on the same plane as Kutcher donning brownface? Whoa.), it should, y'know, make you question why white people are afforded a bunch archetypes while there's only one go-to image when it comes to depicting Indians.

But brownfacing!!!

But brownfacing is still pretty offensive. If he were to blackface a black person and mock African-Americans, I would've been disgusted. I may not be Indian, but brownfacing a minority and perpetuating caricatures of stereotypes is still offensive.

No one is suggesting Indian

No one is suggesting Indian culture and personality are offensive. The question is, why use a white actor to make fun of an Indian personality? That is what's offensive. There is a huge difference between this and Jeff Foxworthy, for example, making fun of rednecks...he WAS/IS a redneck. Ashton Kutcher is an Iowa-bred, pure white, rich Hollywood actor. There is no relation to India in any way. I would bet he knows as little about India as the average white American.

mockery

Nowhere has anybody stated or implied that the Indian culture is offensive. As for "the Indian personality" - doesn't that imply that there is such a thing as one Indian personality? How is that not an offensive assumption? Kutcher's performance is not a portrayal of a nuanced Indian individual. It's just another presentation of a very limited stereotype.

None of the characters are in good taste. The Indian character is singled out here and elsewhere because of the additional issue of race. Any time your entire "joke" hinges on stereotypical behaviors of a certain group of people, it's not a joke, it's mockery. Mockery of people of color = racism.

I'd be willing to bet if a person asked any of the "it's just a joke!" folks to explain the joke, the joker would be unable to describe what's so funny without saying point-blank that they associate specific actions and appearances with a specific group of people, and find those actions/appearances to be worthy of ridicule.

...isn't that the point of

...isn't that the point of comedy? Conveying revelations that a wide arena of people can relate to?

Where are the Germans lining up to complain about the Karl Lagerfeld impersonation?

Karl Lagerfeld

Karl Lagerfeld is a person with specific qualities and characteristics. He is also an incredibly wealthy and powerful white male. There is a big difference between Ashton Kutcher parodying Karl Lagerfeld the person and Ashton Kutcher parodying "Indian people" in general.

____________
Kelsey Wallace, contributor

Ask me about our Comments Policy!

Great piece Ms. Wallace

Don't waste your presious time trying to explain the message to Thea - she just doesn't get it and never will!

*Heavy Sigh*

*Heavy Sigh*

Thea

Thea, I feel your pain. This is why I stopped reading Bitch a while back. It went from tough and interesting to knee-jerk and shrill. I stop in now and then and feel the disappointment all over again.The magazine is for middle-class white girls with nothing better to do but get a tattoo, pierce a body part and rant about personal triumph for doing so.

You want to defend "people of color", stop shaking your finger in everyone's face and go build a well in Rwanda or something. Be the change you demand!

WOW. Wow. You accuse Bitch of

WOW. Wow. You accuse Bitch of being white-centric, and then you tell anti-racists that they should be focusing their energy in building wells in Rwanda. That... I... You know... you know racism is a thing that exists all over the world, right? And is a huge fucking problem? And people of color are not all starving Africans? And that "pop culture" is on the cover of Bitch, so of course that's what they're focusing their energy on? And telling people how they should only focus on the "worst" issues is a meaningless stawman tactic for when you don't actually have an argument against why something is wrong and worth talking about and don't want to admit you just don't care?

"Where are the Germans lining

"Where are the Germans lining up to complain about the Karl Lagerfeld impersonation?"

Nowhere, probably because Germans would find the Karl Lagerfeld impression hilarious because of how utterly ridiculous and over-the-top he is.

Just like the Indians are

Just like the Indians are laughing at "Raj!" See, you understand after all!

Shhhhhh

Seriously. Just be quiet!

Culture FAIL

The only culture of the ones portrayed that was from a DIFFERENT country was the Indian one. That makes it racist. Why wasn't hispanic, black, or other asian characters included to "balance" any argument. All white, and one brown. One, brown, Indian. Racist.

Wow, Ironic Racism is

Wow, Ironic Racism is pop(chip)ing up all over the place.

Peter Sellers did it in 1968

its kindof fitting though,

its kindof fitting though, pop chips do about as much for me as a shallow facade by a pretty boy, and those come in multiple flavors too. maybe its only offensive if it is in any way insinuating that there is anything of substance behind either the characters or the snack.

That was the worst!

Just AWFUL!

Brownface and difficult terminology

Hi Kelsey. I'd like to say that I agree with you that this ad is racially insensitive and inappropriate, although to be honest the only real problem I find is the use of the 'brownface' makeup - not that I object to visual imitation and impersonation per se, but there's clearly way too much racist historical baggage tied up with that particular form of expression. However I don't think I buy that something is inherently prejudiced simply because it generalizes or stereotypes about a particular group, even if that group consists of a particular culture, 'race' or anything else. A lot of great humour has its basis in that kind of thought, I think - especially, I might add, anti-authoritarian, white-rule mocking humour, which is very important. could be wrong though, I'll have to reflect upon this issue more.

Also, regardless of how racist we might find Kutchers 'acting' in this ad, I'm not sure how helpful it is to mock him or portray him as a total douche because of it. People are not always insensitive on purpose - especially on so sensitive and difficult-to-judge issue as race. I know you might think 'How can that defence possibly be taken seriously? How could anybody NOT know it's probably going to be seen as racist if they paint their face brown and put on a mock accent, especially given the horrible history associated with that sort of portrayal?' But some people don't know the history, some people don't know the associations. For example, across the pond (I'm in the UK) your innocuously spoken 'people of color' would probably come off as deeply racist - certainly archaic and patronising - to almost everyone, white and non-white alike. It's exactly the sort of language I'd associate with old, crusty, white middle-class judges. In fact I can actually remember an exam I took yonks ago where a judge referring to a young black woman as 'coloured' - in an entirely friendly, non-intentionally-racist and genuine way - was given as an example of the astonishing out-of-touch attitude of some members of the judiciary. It's actually shocking to see it in print. Anyway, sorry to hammer that point home so much and I hope I haven't overstated my case, I obviously don't think you're at all racist - quite the opposite, the point being that it's very easy to unintentionally say or do things which sound fine and dandy to you at the time, but which are very capable of being taken the wrong way by someone of a different background and culture.

Don't worry though, I'll try to trust your judgement that he's still a douche on other grounds :)

After reading all of these comments....

After reading all of these comments and petty arguments (I find myself agreeing with everyone and no one, all at the same time), I've come to the conclusion that white people like to call things racist, when they in no way, shape or form affect them. (This isn't a dig at anyone here- and it doesn't even have much to do with the issue at hand, just something I've noticed.) Guilt? Covering one's own hide? I don't know. But it seems to happen A LOT.

Can I stand Ashton Kutcher? Nope, never have been able to. Do I enjoy Popchips? Meh. Do I think this ad is funny? I don't know, I didn't care to even watch it. Am I deeply offended? Well, no, not really. Do I feel that the portrayal is insensitive and obnoxious and potentially offensive? Of course.

Americans just really like labeling things.

Don't know if this is the

Don't know if this is the right place to do so but i had to get this off my chest. ashton kutcher is a friggin douche bag. Didn't read this article dont really care about these chips but everytime i turn on two and half men now i want to punch him in the face for ruining a pretty decent show. I cant get through 3 minutes of any episode without thinking "wow what a douche" and i'v tried, so hard to give it a chance but it just doesn't work. stop filling up this time slot with such a shitty show. He doesnt fit and it just doesnt work anymore. Please if anyone out there in LA is listening take this peace of crap off the air! and give kutcher biggest douche of the year award. stick to nikon commercials and royaltys off that 70's show D-BAG