On Sunday, Michigan politician Pete Hoekstra aired an ad during the Super Bowl against his opponent, Senator Debbie Stabenow. Clearly believing he was being really clever, Hoekstra used a play on words, changing Stabenow’s name to Spend-it-now.
The xenophobic ad portrays a young Chinese woman speaking in broken English about the growth of her country’s economy, apparently at the expense of the U.S.
As a foreign language teacher who speaks three languages, I detest the idea of making fun of people who don’t have a perfect English accent. It is childish and just plain ignorant. I wonder if Pete Hoekstra has ever tried learning Chinese?
But it gets worse. The video directs viewers to an even more racially insensitive website that continues the theme.
As Emily’s List points out:
Hoekstra’s accusations couldn’t be more off base. While he’s busy stirring up negative racial stereotypes, Debbie Stabenow remains a champion for the middle class. She’s keeping her focus on what matters – Michigan families, health care and jobs.
Self-dubbed Pete ‘spend-it-not’ Hoekstra actually spent $75,000 just to air the ad statewide one time during the Super Bowl, and the ad will air for two more weeks in every Michigan television market. He’s demonstrated that he’ll do anything – even make sweeping, offensive racial judgments – in order to win.
The strange mixture of broken English, rice paddies, occasional music, and an attractive young woman riding a bike seemed creepy to me. I wasn’t sure why until I read this, from James Fallows writing in the Atlantic:
The ad’s words are about trade, budgets, and jobs, but its images are about — ‘Nam!! Of course some parts of southern China look the way this ad does, with rice paddies, palm trees, no big buildings, people wearing conical straw hats and bicycling along dike tops. But this is nothing like how the typical big-factory zone looks in China, or the huge cities that would exemplify Chinese wealth and the country’s rise — ie, the subjects of this ad. So why this rural setting? I think it’s because it offers a kind of visual dog-whistle, for those Americans who, either through experience or through Apocalypse Now-style imagery, associate smiling-but-deceptive Asians in a rice-paddy setting with previous American sorrow.
That’s right: the politics of fear rises again.
If you believe that this advertisement is truly “revolting” (Fallows’ word), please act now by clicking here to tell Hoekstra to stop running the ad immediately and to apologize for perpetuating racist stereotypes.
You can watch Hoekstra’s ad here:
Photo: Screenshot from youtube video