Ashton Kutcher's racist Popchips ad: What was he thinking?

The Week's Editorial Staff
The Week

The buzzy potato-chip brand pulls an ad in which the Two and a Half Men star dons brownface and adopts a stereotypical accent to play a Bollywood producer

Brownface and cringe-inducing accents: Not the best way to sell potato chips. That's the lesson being learned by burgeoning potato chip peddlers Popchips, after the company was forced to pull an ad campaign starring Ashton Kutcher that was criticized for being racist. (Watch the video below.) In the ad, the Two and a Half Men actor plays a Bollywood producer on a mock dating show. Kutcher's face is painted brown, and he adopts a mockingly sing-songy Indian accent. (Popchips are never mentioned.) Other variations of the campaign star Kutcher as a diva, a stoner, and a biker. Popchips removed the ad from YouTube following a swift backlash, and issued an apology, stating that the spot was "created to provoke a few laughs and was never intended to stereotype or offend anyone." Did they fail completely?

The ad is truly incorrigible: No matter how you look at it, this ad is "discomfitingly racist," says Margaret Lyons at New York. Even taken as a silly joke (and a lame one at that), it's unacceptable. "Jokes can still be racist!" In fact, the ad meets the very definition of racist: It uses imagery that is "primarily seen elsewhere as a means to degrade and marginalize people."
"Yes, that Ashton Kutcher ad is racist"

Everyone needs to get a sense of humor: Pulling this ad proves that we've become a "cranky, humorless country," says Kiri Blaekely at The Stir. Kutcher's impression of an Indian man may not be funny, but it isn't racist. At least, it's no more racist than Peter Sellers putting on a comical French accent in The Pink Panther, or Eddie Murphy portraying an Asian man in Norbit. If "overly-sensitive types prone to see racism everywhere" continue to raise a stink over harmless commercials like this, soon the country will "be totally out of funny people."
"Pulling Ashton Kutcher's 'racist' ad proves we're completely humorless" 

It's bad, but pulling it's the wrong move: It's an undeniably "hackneyed, unfunny advertisement," says Anil Dash at Dashes. But Popchips shouldn't remove it. Instead, the company should leave the ad up and link to an explanation of "how their process failed and resulted in this racist ad being created." It's an opportunity to demonstrate what it's learned and how it would prevent it from happening again — a move that would benefit all companies. If rat droppings were found in a Popchips bag, for example, the company wouldn't just tell consumers, "We threw away that bag of chips!" It would make things right by saying, "Here's what we're doing to clean things up at the factory."
"How to fix Popchips' racist ad campaign" 

See a clip of the ad for yourself: 

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