White man’s burden: Mr. James

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Huffington Post’s Disgrasian picks up on Mr. James, the mascot for a new ad campaign for McDonald’s in Japan, which features an awkward white man in unflattering, ill-fitting clothes (rumpled pleat-front khakis) hawking four new sandwiches via practicing Japanese phrases with a horrible accent.

Since American adverts are full of ethnic stereotypes of awkward, heavily accented people, you’d think it’s just an example of the universality of marketing principles being proven yet again. But at least one blogger is upset:

I think a strongly-worded letter from registered NPO FRANCA to McDonald’s USA HQ regarding the issues of stereotyping here would be warranted. Hell, you think McD USA would start putting up a full-body “ching-chong-chinaman” with funny glasses and protruding teeth, saying “Me likee McFlied Lice”. You think that would fly over there? If not, it shouldn’t be allowed over here. And I think you should make your displeasure known if you are so inclined at every McDonald’s you patronize (or not).


Mr. James doesn’t seem to have any major interests aside from sandwiches—i.e. he’s not an overt otaku—but we expect him to bust out a copy of Empowered any day now. .

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Comments

  1. He looks just like Chip Kidd…

  2. “Herb, follow me to Burger King”

    End of discussion.

  3. That’s implying that a similar stereotype here is on the same level as one there. Here it’s awful, but it’s just not as serious to them overseas. Heck, they still have comics and products with blackface in them… Whites aren’t exactly a repressed minority; I really don’t give a flying fig about this.

  4. jacob lyon goddard says:

    i’ve got $10 that says a white guy came up with idea

  5. Synsidar says:

    If the ad was properly designed to appeal to Japanese residents specifically, and not a case of an American attempting to design advertising to appeal to an imaginary set of Japanese McDonald’s customers, the ads are fine. It’s very easy to imagine an American bumbling his way around Japan, thinking that everyone he meets should know English — it’s the international language, after all — or trying to speak Japanese and doing it badly. Accusations of racism seem to be overreactions. From Japan Today:

    I think this is a case of viewing and incorrectly judging other cultures using the values and concepts of one’s own culture.

    What do I mean? The issue here apparently is racism or racist caricatures. “This is an OUTRAGE!” they say.

    Well, no, not really. It is important to note that the Japanese public’s own views on and responses to racism are slightly different from say, America’s or the UK’s. And this is because of a slight difference in culture.

    As we know, Japanese people love their game shows and they always put themselves or other people in ridiculous and even humiliating situations. However, it is important to point out that these are all done very light-heartedly and is treated or should be treated as innocuous fun, not created or viewed with malicious intent. This commercial is simply an extension of this. Due to the way racism is treated in Japan, people for the most part don’t view the white person in it while thinking “Stupid white foreigners, get out of my country!” They just see it as a person making self-deprecating jokes, the same self-deprecating jokes that are used all the time in the game shows.

  6. “… or trying to speak Japanese and doing it badly.”

    That’s ok. Whenever I visit NY, it’s fun to mock the foreigners who are “here to visiting the American.”

    “… It is important to note that the Japanese public’s own views on and responses to racism are slightly different from say, America’s or the UK’s. And this is because of a slight difference in culture.”

    It is important to note that some cultures have different views on women’s rights. However, beheading them is still wrong.

  7. Synsidar says:

    Mr. James, though, isn’t representative of all Americans and isn’t intended to be representative of all Americans. The caricature isn’t denigrating. Someone growing up in North Dakota will hear “Ole and Lena” jokes that portray people with Norwegian ancestors as dimwits. Those aren’t signs of self-hatred; it’s a way of dealing with cultural differences.

    SRS

  8. Hell, you think McD USA would start putting up a full-body “ching-chong-chinaman” with funny glasses and protruding teeth, saying “Me likee McFlied Lice”.

    Well, maybe not, but KFC seems to have no problem having people talk about their new grilled chicken and including some Asian guys who are in full ethnic costume because… well, I don’t know.

    http://www.racialicious.com/2009/06/04/that-dumbass-kfc-grilled-commercial/

    When did white men get this idea that they are so oppressed? When groups that have actually been historically oppressed started demanding equal treatment, I guess. Poor white men, earning more and than brown women like me and disproportionately represented in government. They have it rough.

  9. so, white kids picking on me as an asian kid for years w/ the stereotypical accents, etc. is the same as this? thx for bringing back “ching chong chinaman”, upset blogger.

    is this ad racist? no. annoying? yes.

  10. As a white guy who still mispronounces “manga” half the time, I heartily approve of this silly caricature.

    I also think that it’s sad that there are fellow white guys out there who have been secretly rehearsing for the role of victim for so long, they all but knock over the rest of the chorus line when they see a chance at their big break.

  11. Jennifer…Whitey has had it tough ever since a black man got into the White House. It’s scary times for the white male. ;)

  12. I mean, aren’t those who are getting upset only getting upset because a foreigner made this? We openly embrace and sometimes even adore such celebrities as Tina Fey, John Hodgman…

    The nerd look is also getting pretty cool in the counterculture. So this ‘James’ character could come off as quite the silly hipster.

  13. James is more stylish than how I usually dress. I”m envious.

  14. K-Box says:

    Why is this considered relevant to this blog?

  15. You might check the name of the author of this blog.

  16. At least they don’t have Wimpy’s Burgers out there like they do in England where they serve up muttonburgers.

    ~

    Coat

  17. Ben Shearon says:

    The people complaining about this ad live in Japan, pay taxes here, and in some cases have naturalised and become Japanese citizens. Of course from the outside it doesn’t seem like a big deal -it isn’t going to affect your lives or the way your children are treated in school or on the street.

    We find this campaign reinforces unwelcome stereotypes that affect our lives here. I have been denied housing, bank loans, and even entry to businesses specifically because of my race/nationality. By pandering to the ‘hapless foreigner’ stereotype, McDonald’s is reinforcing the idea that non-Japanese cannot speak Japanese or conduct themselves properly in Japan.

    A multinational corporation like McDonald’s should be more careful about the subliminal messages they put out, and we are just trying to bring that to their attention.

  18. Mark Coale says:

    Hey, it took until post #15 for the obligatory “why was this posted” comment. If you had the over, you win.

  19. You say that about Empowered like it is a book to be ashamed of reading or owning.

  20. Synsidar says:

    You say that about Empowered like it is a book to be ashamed of reading or owning.

    If you’re referring to Adam Warren’s EMPOWERED — I see that Vol. 1 got several enthusiastic reviews from Amazon.com customers, who praised Warren’s satirical take on superhero fiction, but the pages I saw weren’t worthy of praise and this line in particular, from Sistah Spooky, “Even the dimmest of newbie superbimbos is supposed to know that she can’t wear civilian panties under her cruelly revealing supersuit!” fell flat. If Empowered wasn’t drawn as a superbimbo, would anyone buy the series?

    **************************************

    I can understand the subjects of caricatures not finding the caricatures particularly humorous, but I question the idea that Mr. James makes life more difficult for non-Japanese residents generally in Japan. Intelligent people wouldn’t draw inferences from Mr. James; unintelligent/prejudiced people won’t become prejudiced because of him. I don’t see how one can go about his daily business if he’s worried about getting inappropriate reactions from idiots.

    SRS

  21. Xenos says:

    Dude looks like MC Chis. Or one of those Best Buy Geek Squad people. Plus I’ve met people ten times worse at anime club and conventions who horribly butcher the Japanese language. Hell, even myself as I can’t speak a lick of it. Never mind the ‘weeaboo’ nerd factor.

    Meanwile, yeah, I saw in Japan Little Black Sambo dolls. So, this is far from the most racially offensive thing in Japan to complain about. Oh and there’s Mr Popo in DBZ or some works of Tezuka with black face.

  22. I think the real issue here is that Mr. James is pimping a mushroom/egg/bacon/Big Mac the likes of which I’ll never taste.

  23. K-Box says:

    “You might check the name of the author of this blog.”

    … And that’s supposed to tell me … what, again?

  24. Well, I think the commercial shows that since the Japanese have to deal with the over-large, round-eyed, language-mangling Gaijin in their homeland… they’d like them to wear Osamu Tezuka-styled glasses?

    But: aren’t Westerners in Japanese commercials essentially ‘cartoon’ characters? [Google those Schwarzenegger ads for an example.] I predict “Mr. James” will soon show up manga-fied as the cute new mascot character for McDONALDS there (if not already).

  25. Tom Spurgeon says:

    I am angry at this blogger for perpetuating a specific, nasty stereotype of bloggers.

  26. exexpat says:

    The problem with the ad is that it maintains a social environment where it’s ok to make fun of outsiders. It seems that some people have missed the point: from my perspective, it’s not about caucasians in the US (or other Western countries), but about caucasians in Japan, a country where they ARE a minority and ARE repressed. If you haven’t lived in Japan (or at least travelled extensively there), you probably wouldn’t realize this and can’t appreciate the issue here.

    I lived and worked in Japan for 2 years and can attest that plenty of Japanese people perceive foreigners in the way that this McDonald’s ad presents them: somewhat clueless, crass, amusing ‘clowns’ who can never understand Japan nor speak the language- even when there is evidence to the contrary.
    The Mr James character goes against the efforts many foreigners are making in Japan to foster an international, outward-looking, open-minded perspective. Especially among the younger generation.

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