Citizens against Government Waste have been filling the airwaves with ads during the past election season hoping to sway the public towards pro-corporate and mostly conservative causes. With huge corporations like Phillip Morris, Merrill Lynch and Exxon Mobil behind them there is no cause they won’t champion for their huge corporate backers and apparently no depth they won’t stoop to in order to get the public’s attention. However, a recent ad they’ve been running in the weeks running up the mid-term might finally have gone too far in ratcheting up the fear factor.
The advertisement in question is the infamous “Chinese Professor” running throughout the nation. The ad has high production value, is easily understandable by even the dumbest of viewers and is also invariably dancing the line between racist and nationalist. As the commercial opens we see a long corridor as a caption shows us that we are in a Chinese college classroom in 2030. The professor strolls to the front of the room and begins to lecture about “Why Do Great Nations Fail.” He claims this happens because they turn their backs on the principles that made them great. With an eerie Asian string instrument playing in the background a futuristic screen behind the professor shows the Roman empire, the British Empire and the American empire as examples of failure, specifically focusing on how America went into debt on a wasteful ‘stimulus’ package and attempts to reform their healthcare system. At the end of the ad the professor jokes, “But since China owned most of their debt, now they work for us.” And the entire class of Chinese students laughs.
I must admit, as political theatre, the ad is impressive, and unlike many political ads put out by Citizens Against Government Waste this one is based on actual facts. America is in billions of dollars in debt to China, and throughout world history the only way a nation has extricated itself from the level of debt that America now has towards China is through war. However, I doubt that Citizens Against Government Waste is really all that concerned with the future of the American Republic. The organization’s right wing roots have been made pretty clear through the years and they have consistently run ads that steer the country towards pro-corporate and right wing policy solutions. The same corporations that are attempting to scare Americans with pictures of sneering Chinese academics of the future are the ones fighting behind the scenes to lower international regulations and tariffs so that they can sell us out to those same sneering Chinese. However that’s only part of the story.
I will admit upfront that I don’t think the ads are racist per se, nationalist but not racist. The “Chinese” people in the video are not sinister, they aren’t airbrushed to look “yellow” but they are depicted in a way to stoke a modern day “RedScare” with an Asian tint. Americans hated the Russians and the Communists for years so Red Scares aren’t new, but the notion of shifty Asians being behind the Red Scare is just the type of subtle race baiting in politics that has become increasingly normalized over the last decade as middle-eastern terrorists and a Black president have brought White anxiety about “others” and “foreigners” to new heights. The irony of the ad is that the extras in the commercial are not even Chinese. The well-respected Blogger “Angry Asian Man” who is frequently featured on the “Racialicious” blog discovered that the college-age Asians who were recruited for the video had little idea what the commercial was about. Most of them had signed up to be extras for “Transformers 3” which was filming in D.C. and were directed to this commercial when the extra calls were full. It’s fitting that the Transformers franchise after producing horribly racist and stereotypical “Black” characters in “Transformers 2” would be connected to directing Asians towards equally questionable roles when they wanted to be in “Transformers 3.”
Whether it’s ads claiming that China is chortling over our future demise, or paying for ads questioning the birthplace of the president we are seeing a sea change in political ads on television that is not for the better. One can only hope that for all of the political changes wrought by the mid-term elections that one of the first items on the agenda for the new Congress will be making sure that our airwaves have at least some semblance of common sense between voting periods.