“The real yellow peril: Gold.”
Most of the white people I know get annoyed by watching television with me. That's because I can't stop myself from pointing out the constant racism, sexism, classism, and other -isms on display, the combined effect of which feels like a nauseating assault. I don't actually watch much TV (and thanks to my inability to keep my mouth shut, I'm usually alone when I do).
I did catch the following ad, though, and it literally made my jaw drop. I hesitate to post objectionable commercials here, because I don't want to help sell whatever they're selling. But I do post them when I can point out how they sell by appealing in particular ways to white Americans. I can thus help, I hope, to stomp out whatever it is in white Americans that makes racist advertising compelling to them.
So, here's the jaw-dropping ad. The person who posted it on YouTube wrote, "The first Palm Pre Commercial is called Flow. Great advertisement that features 1,000 Kung Fu students doing a very synergistic in-sync routine around a lady with a phone -- the Palm Pre -- in a dream world. Loved the ad."
A "dream world"? I guess. But then, who's the dreamer?
I think part of what the makers of this ad are trying to do is evoke the "magic" of last summer's opening ceremony for the Olympics, which were hosted by China. Indeed, as USA Today reports, the ad "features 1,000 dancers directed by three choreographers, including Sun Yupeng, who helped create the Beijing Olympics opening ceremony."
I don't see a problem with the Olympics connection, but why put a white woman at the center of all this vague Asian-ness?
And why make the group of apparently Asian people so homogeneous, and so individually faceless? Why portray them, that is, without a shred of the privileged, pedestaled, bowed-to individuality of the white, "first-world" woman at the center of things?
According to USA Today,
The message of the ad, by agency Modernista, is ease of use. Actor Tamara Hope sits on a rock in an open field surrounded by circles of dancers. In coordination with their synchronized dance moves, Hope shows some of the phone features.
The idea is that Pre is "a little more human and a little more approachable and about making your life better," says [Palm Marketing VP Brodie] Keast, who would not disclose spending. "This is not really for work or play but for one life with many dimensions."
Yes. An ad about "one life," that of a Western white woman, who's using an object that's made "a little more human" by placing it, and the individual holding it, against a faceless, dehumanized backdrop of 1,000 choreographed, synchronized . . . puppets.
And speaking of 1,000, and numbers like it -- the commercial doesn't tell viewers that it has exactly 1,000 faceless dancers, but still, I'm reminded of something else I've noticed, a trend, perhaps? That is, the marketing of things somehow related to Asians with big, round numbers.
What's up with that?
I imagine that Amy Tan, for instance, chooses her own titles, but her novel The Hundred Secret Senses resonates with other products this way.
There's also Mira Stout's One Thousand Chestnut Trees: A Novel of Korea:
There's also Sven Hedin's recent travelogue, The Silk Road: Ten Thousand Miles through Central Asia:
And it's not just books. There's a spa resort in Sante Fe, New Mexico that Orientalizes itself with the name of "Ten Thousand Waves" (and with such offerings as "Japanese Organic Massage Facials" and "Indo-Asian Hot Oil Treatment"). By the looks of the spa's site, it seems both relaxing and invigorating. If I went there, though, I'd wonder what part of my Western, Occidental imagination was being played up to by all that Asian-ness, and by that big round number, ten thousand.
There's also that chain of stores full of foreign-made "crafts," Ten Thousand Villages. Those stores may not be exclusively oriented toward Orientalized products, but they do offer this, um, lovely "Asian Harmony Chime."
Is this the "Asian" version of a supposedly Native American "dreamcatcher"?
Okay, I won't stray too far from my point, which is this -- I think the Palm Pre commercial above is one example among many of how the white American imagination often thinks of Asians in terms of large, faceless crowds. Big, round numbers also sometimes seem to work the same way.
Such crowds, whether imagined or real, can be beautiful, efficient, and powerful when their members all work together. And, of course, they don't only assemble for a white audience.
But for the collective American psyche, with its history of dehumanizing various groups of other people in particular ways, images of Asian crowds continue to perform what amounts to the obliteration of individualized humanity.
And advertisers seem to know how to play up to that.