MORE MR SUSHI – UPDATED
I just saw this link (thanks Angry Asian Man) for an ad for Wrigley’s Extra gum which features an annoyingly offensive claymation of a slanty-eyed, buck-toothed sushi roll. It is really surprising that something this blatantly racist would make it through the channels of filtering at the ad agency and the client. There wasn’t a single moment where someone though, “Hmm, this might be offensive?”
If you are as OCD as me, you might actually go to the ad agency’s website and write them and let them know how you feel about the ad. I did (see below). Their sites can be found at http://atwinthing.com/commercials.html and http://www.munkmotion.com
You seem like a very talented group of artists. I have looked at both of your websites and you all definitely have a strong visual style.
That fact makes it all the more disheartening considering the reason I am writing you and the reason I went to look at your work in the first place. An issue was brought to my attention with a recent ad campaign you worked on for Wrigley’s Extra Gum. It saddened me to see that you would resort to making a very base and offensive design for “Mr Sushi” in this campaign. The power of media is stronger than you think. When you create what may seem like a harmless caricature with slanty eyes and buck teeth, it is a subversively insipid attack on all Asians. There was no reason to design the character in that way except to appeal to the lowest common denominator in imagery; as artists shouldn’t you be trying to challenge such ideas? It may have seemed cute and harmless to you, but to someone who has had to spend my whole life combating this kind of image from Mickey Rooney in Breakfast at Tiffany’s to William Hung on American Idol in both my professional and personal life, it was extremely unsettling. You most likely do not consider yourselves racists, but by creating this character, you have inadvertently perpetuated an awful stereotype.
I don’t know how you are going to respond to this email, but I thought it was important to let you know how I feel about this issue. I thought I should also let you know that I am not alone in this. I hope that you are open to hearing it and take this opportunity to be more careful in the future. I am giving you the benefit of the doubt in thinking this was not something you meant to do with any malicious intent. I hope that you think twice in the future about what kind of effect your art can have on people. Thank you for your time.
Mike 2 Cents
Below is the response I received from one of the creators of the ad campaign (and below that my response). The main reason I want to share this is because I am very upset that people took a really great opportunity to communicate something that is valid and instead chose to be infantile and hurl insults at these people. How often do you actually get a chance to say something of value in this world? How often are you able to possibly make a positive change in this world? Those of you that sent hateful venomous emails were really lame.
This is the biggest problem with the internet. On one hand, I love that we are all able to connect in ways that were unthinkable just ten years ago. These guys are based in Australia. When would I have ever been able to reach out to them in the past? How often have you been able to directly address one of these issues when they come up in the mainstream media? But the downside of the internet is that you have the ability to hide behind an electronic curtain of cowardly anonymity. When I write a letter, I try to make sure I can proudly sign my name to it. If you can’t do that yourself, then keep your shit to yourself. It doesn’t help anyone.
From Johnathan Baker:
I thank a bunch of you for taking the time to write to me, especially Michael Kang, who were extremely civil in their responses. It’s the other ones that started throwing around insults and racist names, that totally contradicts their argument. Anyway, I was thinking of not replying to any of these emails, but decided to, simply to explain the circumstances that went into designing Mr Sushi… the now infamous Mr Sushi. As many of you guessed, it wasn’t meant to be malicious at all, and want to apologise in advance if it offended anybody. It obviously did.
Let me start by saying neither me or my illustrator Morton Rowley are racists [I can’t believe I’m actually writing this down]. Morton’s girlfriend is Asian, and my wife is Asian… ha, how weird is that? They both love the character and think he’s cute as hell… as does hundreds of other people I’ve had contact with. In creating his look, we discussed way’s of making him characteristically ‘samurai’, as we knew we wanted to feature a sword fight in the barbershop scene. Firstly, he’s a piece of sushi… so let’s make his seaweed a belt with a traditional knot at the back? That’s cool. Now for his facial features, let’s go with iconic and [like everything else] ‘exaggerated’ Asianatic eyes that match the little grooves in the egg texture. That’d look awesome. Regarding the cute little two front teeth?… well they were inspired by a cartoon ‘Japanese baby character’ from a restaurant I often eat at and loved the look of. It gave an funny innocent twist to a samurai character with a deadly cut-throat razor in his hands. We loved the teeth so much, we gave it to another character that wasn’t meant to be Japanese or a samurai, so to us it wasn’t an ‘Asian’ thing… he appears in the second ad that you can look forward to slandering.
Personally, I didn’t design him to be offensive… I designed him to be easily recognisable as a Japanese samurai character, hense the eyes. That could only be derogatory if you saw Asianatic eyes as a negative trait, and I certainly don’t! Are we all saying that we don’t think Asian eyes are more elongated people?!? Asian eyes aren’t a ‘stereotype’, they’re genetics! I had the choice to give him round eyes like the other characters, and decided against it because he looked less iconic. By making him a samurai, I’m not saying every Japanese person wields a sword and fights bananas… it’s just this character!
If a character had to be Australian for some reason, I absolutely would think about giving him a hat with crocodile teeth, because that’s what a lot of people immediately identify as Australian [even if it’s not 100% accurate]. Why do you think The Simpsons did it? We didn’t all email Matt Groening with hate mail… we just giggled and rolled our eyes. A lot of you guys are acting like we had Mr Sushi being picked on because of his features, or had him as the lonely character in the corner or something! THAT would be racist!! I’m sorry, but I don’t see Mr Sushi as a ‘racist statement’, simply a cute little innocent chewing gum statement that involves race. There’s a difference.
In hindsight, I absolutely would change his facial design, now knowing the reaction from the people that have emailed me. But please understand it wasn’t meant to be a racist statement. I believe ‘racism’ comes with an intent. Many of you will insist ‘it is’… and then I’ll keep insisting ‘it isn’t’, and it’ll get boring pretty quick. I’m hearing your perspective, so please understand mine. RIDICULOUSLY and CATEGORICALLY innocent… ha.
Oh, and please address your concerns to me… my twin brother Josh Baker, a director in his own right, had nothing to do with this ad. And Morton was my [amazing by the way] illustrator, there’s no need to email him. Thanks guys.
Thank you for taking the time to respond. I am sorry that so many people took a very good opportunity to have a civil discourse and decided instead to hurl racial epithets at you. I agree with you whole heartedly that that type of behavior is both inexcusable and counter productive.
I know you are probably completely exhausted with hearing any more on this issue, but I just want to address two things you brought up in your response:
1. The slanted eyes are not the issue as much as the buck teeth. Attached please find a few jpegs of typical racist iconography of Asians. I think you will see a commonality in them that goes beyond just the slanted eyes. I think you will also recognize how ingrained this idea of the bucktoothed Asian is in pop culture. I understand that it is unavoidable to make the eyes on an “Asian” character more slanted in order to denote their “Asian-ness,” but the buck teeth are what push this image over the edge into truly offensive territory. I am pretty sure that this harmless design choice was something you chose not realizing how deeply rooted in a whole history of racist caricature of Asians. Please don’t write this issue off as people misinterpreting their observation of your design.
2. The argument that your girlfriend/wife is Asian and their approval of the characters makes it not offensive is not quite adequate. As I stated before, I do not think you are intentionally racist. I know your intentions were to entertain. But the fact that they are women and the character of Mr Sushi is a man makes their opinions not quite valid as an defense. The media portrayals of Asian men and Asian women are very different (almost polar opposite) so sensitivity to the issue may not be an accurate barometer. Asian men have been historically portrayed as asexual comic characters with buck teeth. Asian women as exoticized sex objects. Had it been a Ms. Sushi and she were dressed like a geisha doll that gave Mr Banana a happy ending, I don’t think it would have been as cute to your girlfriends. But to Asian men, the effect of seeing the worn out Mr Sushi image can be as offensive as the exotic hypersexualized image would be to an Asian woman.
I don’t want to belabor this. I do appreciate that you took the time to write a response as well as read my original email. I wish you the best in the future. Unlike the idiots that reacted childishly, I hope you are able to take this event to examine how racism is something that is born from ignorance and not always intentional. Now that you understand another perspective maybe you can re-examine some ideas that maybe you weren’t aware you had.
Mike 2 Cents
A NOTE TO ALL THE HATERS OUT THERE:
I did not make this a featured post on Xanga; the Xanga gods did. If you are here because of that, well then, welcome to my blog.
Now let me lay down the ground rules for MY blog. It’s MY blog. On MY blog, I can write about whatever the fuck I want to. If you don’t agree with it or don’t want to waste your time reading about what I want to write about on MY blog, then don’t. I am not forcing you to. Your presence is not necessary here. If you have an intelligent comment to make, please do. If you are going to complain about what I wrote and tell me to write about something else on MY blog, go screw yourself.
I think it is most telling in how harshly some of the dissenters to this entry have reacted to the post. I think I approached a seemingly very small issue with a fellow artist’s work by maturely confronting them on it. If you read my more recent post above, you’d see that we came to a very good understanding with one another.
It seems like the majority of people who accuse me of overreacting to this issue, who feel like racism needs to have intent behind it or who feel that there are bigger issues out there to deal with are the ones who are truly overeacting (and hiding behind their keyboard). Ignorance in my experience has been the root of most of the problems in this world, apathy is the leading enabler of ignorance, and as hard as this may be to grasp, small issues are related to larger issues. If you want to help people see one another as people and actually care about the other bigger issues, don’t you think media representation is a key factor? It would be nice if we could be beyond a simple issue of a bad caricature that appears for five seconds in a commercial that doesn’t even air anymore. But why does moving beyond this issue for many of the haters mean “suck it up and deal with it?”
For the record, I did not ask people to start an online petition or rally a group to boycott Wrigley’s gum, all I did was point out a problem (yes, a small problem) with a specific ad campaign and how I chose to address it. The actual recipient of my emails had a good laugh over it. He also was
impressed with how quickly I was able to google him a whole slew of
pictures that pointed out what I was talking about. It hadn’t been his
intention in creating the character to make it mock Asians, but now he
knows better. And I doubt he’d make the same mistake again. Is that a
With some of the reactions I got to this post, it seemed like I went out and beat this guy down with a baseball bat. I think if your reaction was that strong, you really have to ask yourself, “why?”