Last week, Popchips released a series of faux dating ads staring Ashton Kutcher in a number of roles and targeted for the ever-popular viral market. One of those ads, featuring Kutcher in brownface and aping an Indian accent, went viral in all the wrong ways. After an uproar on social media and elsewhere, Popchips hastily withdrew the ad featuring Kutcher as "Raj," a Bollywood producer.
A couple of days later, comedian and actor Hasan Minhaj articulated this video response:
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Of course, many question the difference between Kutcher's commercial and Sacha Baron Cohen'sThe Dictator
. Both after all are commercial products that utilize stereotypes for comedic effect. The counter-argument here is that stereotypes are a tool that can be used to illuminate, denigrate, or just get a cheap laugh at someone else's expense. It seems reasonable to assess that Kutcher's hackneyed portrayal of "Indians" was less about insightful/inciteful social commentary and more about selling chips.
In that light, it's arguable that Kutcher wasn't participating in the pointy-white-hat flavor of racism but rather racism's cousin, stereotypical tasteless jackassery. This ad was well within Popchip's rights to make, but maybe they pulled the ad so quickly because they didn't want something tasteless associated with their product.