Wednesday, July 1, 2009

What's so funny about Chicago-Lake Liquors ads?

According to Macon D at Stuff White People Do and Craig Brimm at Kiss My Black Ads (Both wonderful blogs that you should be reading on the regular), a Minneapolis-based retailer, Chicago-Lake Liquors, has launched a new ad campaign that depicts middle class white folks acting "black" (or rather the minstrelized version of blackness popularized by BET).





Funny or offensive?

I vote for the latter. What at first may elicit a snicker becomes troubling when pulled apart. (Some folks say you can't analyze comedy, but I maintain that good comedy can indeed be weighed and turned over and still be funny.) When I'm faced with something allegedly comedic that rings my "racially offensive" bells, I try to ask myself "What's so funny?" I mean, what about the situation in question is supposed to make me laugh?

In this case, I think the funny is supposed to come from two things: the "black" street slang (Those black folks sure do talk funny!) and the notion that good, middle class, white people (read: normal people) would adopt such behaviors as their own.

Macon D wonders:

Are these ads racist? Or are they making fun of racist white people? And if they're "only" doing the latter, does that really make the contemporary blackface here any more acceptable?
I don't think the ads are making fun of the dominant culture, though it seems so at first. The ads are making fun of behaviors and language deemed "black" by showing white people indulging in them. They are highlighting "otherness" using the mainstream as a backdrop. If you think the joke is not about blackness, but about poking fun at urban, street lingo and style, consider why none of the ads feature a straight-laced, middle class, black guy. Why? Because all black men are expected by the dominant culture to talk jive. It's not funny when a black person says "pimp tight" and sports gold fronts, cause you know, that's just what we do.

I am stymied by what message these ads are trying to send. The prices at Chicago-Lake Liquors are so low that they make even good, white folks indulge in coonery? I suspect there is no message; this is one of those aggravating campaigns that seek to raise awareness of a brand through nonsensical, "edgy" ads that draw a lot of heat for a moment in time. The flash point? Race. I have no doubt some hipsters in a Twin Cities ad agency are sitting around right now, fist bumping and congratulating themselves on a job well done. "We rock, yo!"

What say you?

10 comments:

RMJ said...

I think your analysis is right on. It's linguistic blackface, and it's insulting.

CaitieCat said...

That is HIDEOUS. Geebus H.

Shaker CaitieCat here, good analysis.

Rosa said...

Where are these ads running? I've never seen ads for Chicago-Lake liquor, and I used to live about 3 blocks from there & get off the bus on that corner (I live about 10 blocks away, now, but on a different bus line.)

There's no way they're making fun of racists. They're just being racist. And the thing is - their customers are at least half people of color. It looks like they're trying to ...attract white hipsters? Show they're really a classy joint, not the neighborhood eyesore everyone thinks they are? WTF?

eriktrips said...

Why can't comedy be analyzed? It happens within a cultural context and has real-life consequences? No cultural production is above (or below) critique.

I think you are right about these ads. I don't know the immediate context since I'm nowhere near the area, but I have a hard time thinking of any American market for which white folks in blackface would be "simply" comedy and not also racist.

macon d said...

Thank you Tami, what you add here, especially, is golden -- so nice we should see it twice:

The ads are making fun of behaviors and language deemed "black" by showing white people indulging in them. They are highlighting "otherness" using the mainstream as a backdrop. If you think the joke is not about blackness, but about poking fun at urban, street lingo and style, consider why none of the ads feature a straight-laced, middle class, black guy. Why? Because all black men are expected by the dominant culture to talk jive. It's not funny when a black person says "pimp tight" and sports gold fronts, cause you know, that's just what we do.

It would've at least been a little interesting, if they'd made say, one of the office guys a black guy.

MomTFH said...

I completely agree. As a white person, I get to see many whites affect ebonics for humor as a sort of black face in social situations all the time. I preface that I am white only because I assume some of these people wouldn't do it if a black person was present. But, this ad campaign shows me I may be overestimating white people.

They are not just showing how black culture permeates our society. They are mocking it as other. It is offensive.

Ardaza said...

Not that this changes the overall theme of this discussion, but when I first saw the ads on their own (on youtube with no comments)I had a slightly different take. Maybe its because of my ethnic background, but I thought "Gary", the big handsome guy in the last ad, was trying to fashion himself as a young Latino male. At the end of the ad there appears to be a Latino man standing behind him at check out, showing that the Latin community shops there as well. Again, not that that makes a difference in overall context, but it seems to reinforce the idea that people see what they want to see.

Another point. Not one commentator on this site or any other I have read (I must admit to becoming a bit obsessed with these ads) has brought up the sista in the office ad. She seems to be on equal if not greater footings (supervisor?) as the white guys. They are embarrassed by their actions and are put in their place by her look alone.

Maybe I'm reading too much into a trio of liquor store ads. Actually, I know I am. It's the Fourth of July, I should be outside. I was just surprised that most comments I have read have been so similar.

Peace

Ruthie said...

I definitely see the racist interpretation, and being white, I am not in the most enlightened position to declare what is racism and what isn't. However, I wanted to throw in my two cents, because my initial reaction, at least, was different.

My first impression of the ads was that the stiff, staid, boring WASPy white people were trying to be cool and young and hip, and that what was funny is that they fail miserably. Sometimes I do the same thing, saying, "What up, ma homie?" and the reason people laugh is because it sounds so awkward coming from a nerdy white girl in Tina Fey glasses. Where I live (San Diego) and in my peer group, we associate talking like that with being "cool"...come to think of it, we kinda associate being black -- or at least the stereotypical performance associated with urban blackness -- with being cool, rather than being "other," at least on the surface. So someone mimicking that style in humor is not mocking the people they are imitating, but mocking themselves for being so obviously not "in."

That doesn't mean these ads are ok, and this discussion is actually prompting me to reflect on my own behavior I just mentioned. In many ways its a comment on class, period, even if you buy that the racial aspect is fluid and subject to interpretation. A lot of the descriptions I was originally using when I typed this comment were class-related, like "urban" and "with it," and they certainly have racial connotations as well.

Food for thought. At the very least, I'm guessing that the "WASPy white people trying to be hip, ha ha, what losers" angle is what the advertisers were originally going for. If so, ignorance of the other interpretations doesn't excuse them from the result.

Pia said...

These ads also perpetuate the tired stereotype of Black and Latino men drinking cheap hard liquor (and knowing where to buy it). The only thing that's missing is for one of these white dudes to strut out of the store with a 40 in a paper bag.

Anonymous said...

I'm a white guy.
I see this ad as making fun of the assclown whites who really ARE racist.
I can't truly see it from a black perspective as I'm not black.
Even though I spent most of my teen years among friends who were mostly black kids and have usually dated black girls/women, I still cannot "feel" those feelings of being black.
However, I DO see this ad as deservedly making fun of the jerks who are racists.
Finally, since I haven't had a drink in 26+ years, I cannot believe the prices for the most dangerous of the world's drugs~~alcohol.
I'm glad I'm clean & sober.

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