Seriously?! WaPo Wonders If There's Subtle Racism in Verizon Commercial

To you or me this commercial is a pitch for a smartphone being sold by Verizon Wireless. To the Washington Post it may be the subtle racism of typecasting Asian actors into tech-wiz roles.

Reporter Paul Farhi expended 26 paragraphs on how Asian actors are "shown as intellectuals, but some resent the stereotyping":

A kid walks into a Verizon phone store wearing a belt bristling with the latest tech gadgets.

“Sweet belt,” says a salesman.

The kid shows off his back-to-school hardware: “E-reader for textbooks . . . GPS . . . video camera for lectures . . . game pad.”

“Have you considered this?” responds the salesman, pulling out a smartphone. “It’s got all that and more than 200,000 apps.”

The kid’s smirk vanishes. He’s stunned into silence by the all-in-one convenience.

The most striking aspect of this new TV commercial may not be the product or the semi-humorous portrayal of gizmo love. It’s the casting. The kid is played by a young Caucasian actor; the salesman is Asian American.

The two roles fit a well-worn pattern, one noted by academic researchers for almost two dec­ades. When Asian Americans appear in advertising, they typically are presented as the technological experts — knowledgeable, savvy, perhaps mathematically adept or intellectually gifted. They’re most often shown in ads for business-oriented or technical products — smartphones, computers, pharmaceuticals, electronic gear of all kinds.

Of course, as Farhi notes further into the article (emphasis mine):

Verizon Wireless also says it’s a mistake to read any larger meaning into its TV spots featuring Asian American actors. The company cast actors of Asian descent because the commercials were originally intended to run on Korean- and Chinese-language TV programs and not because it was trying to suggest that Asian Americans have superior technical knowledge or talent, said spokeswoman Brenda Raney.

The casting, she said, was simply part of Verizon’s efforts to portray diversity: “We work very hard to make sure our general-market advertising is reflective of society as a whole.” Verizon subsequently decided to run the ads on English-language programs, too, Raney said.

You just can't win with the political correctness police!

Ken Shepherd
Ken Shepherd
Ken Shepherd is a writer living in New Carrollton, Md.