Thursday, January 22, 2009

That's funny, you look like Obama

I love the Softbank ads featuring the "White Family", as I've been told they are called. This is not your traditional family, with the mother and sister being Japanese, the father a white dog and the brother a Japanese-speaking black guy. A little trawling on the net tells me that some people think the name "White Family" implies this family tries to emulate and promote white family values or some shit, which I am not buying. I don't even know what white family values are! Do correct me if I'm wrong but I think the whole white family, white calling plan thing comes from the fact that Softbank's colour is, well, white.

I was a little taken aback though, when I saw the ad above where the mother tells her son that he looks like Obama and asks him to do an imitation using a banana as a phone receiver. He complies with a moshi moshi and the mother admits with disappointment that it wasn't a good impression.

Maybe mine was a knee-jerk reaction but I found it a little strange. Sure the guy is black but I don't think he would even be mistaken for Obama 100 metres away. I suppose we could employ the excuse that such kind of "skit" is funny to Japanese people or that to Japanese people, all whites look the same, as do all blacks (funny how some people think the same about Asians), but I thought it was a little off. Thoughts? (I may have to revise the script as I can't listen to the ad at the moment and am going off when I saw it on TV and a little lip-reading.)


Kelley Dawne said...

I watched it. I dun get it.

I know there was probably no real malice involved in the making of this commercial, but it just goes to further the whole idea that "all blacks or all whites look the same."

Try telling a Japanese person they look Chinese or Korean and see if they think THAT'S funny. ^^

ACL said...

I am African and saw the same ad. I think it was cute. No harm intended. I didn't feel offended by it.

Anonymous said...

I lived in Fukuoka for more than a decade and thoughts of why advertisements in Japan television are usually nonsense. I figured it out eventually why. It is because the advertisers just want to get the attention of the typical inattentive Japanese.

Theda said...

The ad made me feel very uncomfortable. I am still trying to figure out exactly why though...

Anonymous said...

Japanese are really insensitive and Americans really sensitive, so there's bound to be some clashes. I see some of the things Japanese do in their ads and what not and I'm appalled, but sometimes I wonder if it's just my oversensitivity to anything even remotely racially offensive or is there something else. When they had the ad with the monkey obviously supposed to be Obama, I thought 'now that's blatant!' but the Japanese will say the monkey is a revered animal, etc etc...Now there's this banana telephone thing.
I try to give them the benefit of the doubt but sometimes, like in the case of the Japanese singing group that does old soul covers in black face and wigs, I can hardly extend them that courtesy.
Like yourself, I'm still trying to figure out what's the deal.


Julie said...

I totally agree. I just saw the guy going, "moshi moshi" into a banana last week with my roommates and had to look it up myself. It seems so off. I only caught the banana bit. I didn't even catch the Obama bit.

It's too bad.

Green-Eyed Geisha said...

Thank you ACL, Anon, Theda, goinglocoinyokohama and Julie for stopping by!

I've been thinking about this ad some, and have seen it several more times on TV. I think my initial reaction was a little strong, because if you watch the ad it is clear they are just trying to have some fun and get in on the Obama-love. Older brother even looks disappointed when his mom tells him he doesn't do a good Obama impression.

That said though, the whole banana/monkey thing that goingloco pointed out is distressing in that there isn't enough awareness here to know that stuff like that isn't cool. The Japanese are skilled at appropriating other cultures but really lack cultural background or history to understand or even put a name on what they are doing.

I say let's spread the cultural love but make sure some critical thinking skills and knowledge beyond what is on TV comes with it!

Anonymous said...

my first reaction was that a lot of white or black people DO look the same to japanese. several of my japanese friends who came to america confessed that they mixed people up because to them, all white/black/etc people looked the same. they seriously couldn't make the distinction. just like some americans (hey i'm american so i'm only saying what i know!) say all asians look alike and can't tell the difference between someone who is chinese, korean, or japanese etc.

it's just a matter of perspective i guess or a lack of observation. if you aren't used to seeing certain features, then you might not be able to make such distinctions.