Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Are These SNY-TV Ads Racist?

Mandeep and Sharvarish Seem Like South Indian Versions of Stepin Fetchit

Maybe it's just me, but the more I watch a series of spots for SNY-TV, the more I wonder if I'm watching stereotypes gone amok.
They feature two South Asians named Mandeep and Sharvarish, presumably Indians, who own a New York sports memorabilia shop. Some of the ads are nominally funny. Others are merely bewildering.
But what's troubling are the centerpieces of the ads are little more than caricactures that fulfill the worst prejudices of anyone whose only contact with Indians is from the back of a cab or watching "Slumdog Millionaire on DVD.
Judge for yourself:

Of course, you could argue, maybe I should lighten up. But if SNY tried pulling off these ads with a couple of blacks who sounded like they just came off the plantation, or Hasidic Jews one step removed from the shtetl, you might feel differently. And so would SNY.


Jennifer said...

I just googled SNY ads to see if anyone else was talking about this. I'm puzzled and I agree with your assessment. There are still cultural groups in our society that are subject to open caricature and ridicule. Apparently Indians, Pakistanis, Bangladeshis and Sikhs are among them. As long as people are amused, right? Hrmph.

Gil said...

Not being South Asian, I'm not best qualified to answer. But being African-American and someone who's sensitive to ethnic stereotyping, I must say I love these ads for a few reasons.
1) If anything, the ads seem to ridicule the white and African-American customers for their fanatical love of New York teams and their boorish and destructive behavior in the store more than anything about the South Asian proprietors, who seem to fit a more positive image of immigrant business oweners -- entrepreneurial, hard-working and eager to satisfy customers' needs.
2) Servish and Manthib actually remind me of a couple of friendly South Asian newsstand owners in Washington Heights from whom I used to buy newspapers every morning on my commute and whom I became friendly with.
3) The musical accompaniment of the opening bars of "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" on the sitar, in the ads, is clever.

c w j said...

I'm an actor who performed in the most recently produced set of these spots. When I saw them before, I thought they were funny. They raised an eyebrow, but it seemed to be the most boorish people were the fans.

Having been on set though and met Shavarish and Mandeep, and seeing that they are NOT actors (I think it was Mandeep that actually had to have some direction translated for him) AND seeing the way they were talked to by the director, I feel like they're being exploited.

They also had a lady playing his "Indian wife" and doign an "Indian dance".

I don't know. You don't really know until the spot's done. We'll see.

I am a little more troubled by the MetroPCS "Tech Talk" comms.

Noah said...

I just saw the sports store ad and thought, "wow, this is disturbing". I found your blog after goggling to see if there is any discussion on the subject. I agree with Jennifer and you. Why is there not more of a discussion on the subject?

Anonymous said...

I believe it's "Step'n Fetchit" not Stefan...but I could be wrong.

Not sure if this is a racist sterotype or not. I have to admit that I think the commercials are hilarious and I love these guys. I really do.

But I watch these commercials and I see how the customers destroy the store all the time and I think to myself "hate crime" Would these people go to Dick's Sporting Goods or Modells and destroy property like that? No...but they have problem tearing up the Paki Guy's Store.

Just kidding...

But speaking of Step'n Fetchit, who was an African-American tap dancing, Mammy-ing, walking, talking, shuffling sterotype from years ago. Actors and Actresses like that broke into movies and later in television portraying charactors that were driven by awful and very racist sterotypes. It went on for years and years. Blacks were not permitted to be the stars or the heroes and the intelligent characters in old moives and tv shows. They were the comedy relief at best and villainous animals at worst.

But the cream rose to the top...Leena Horne went on to greatness on the silver screen after suffering such setbacks, for one. Time went on and blacks got better roles. More humanized roles in TV and movies instead of the walking sterotype. The older actors and actresses who suffered these racist indignities paved the way for the Halle Berry's and Denzel Washington's of today. It's sucks that it had to be that way, but it was. Instead of not trying...those old actors and actresses did their best and truly made Lemonade out of the lemons they were handed (which is truly a very positive African-American trait in general, BTW).

These South Asian actors like Mandeep and Shavarish are indeed comical and come on our screens looking a bit buffoonish. But we like them...and they are doing a good job of selling their product...which is SNY and MetroPCS. If you watch the "NY NY Sports Sports" and "Tech N Talk" commercials and remember what the advertisement was for after watching (SNY, MetroPCS), then BANG! Thats good advertising people...you liked the commercial and it stuck with you. These South Asian actors accomplished what they set out to do.

As time goes by, these sterotypes will die. And as out tv screens become more saturated with South Asian people, their roles will become normalized, humanized, higher profile and more common. They are paying their dues and like the blacks back in the day...sometimes that can be uncomfortable. But they will break through. Sometimes it takes a while for Americans to learn, but we always do.

So don't feel guilty or get too up in arms over this. They are funny! And ultimately, it takes Mandeep and Shavarish (and Ranjit and Chad too) to pave the way for the Indian Halle Berry and the Pakistani Denzel Washington.

Anonymous said...

"Our lives being to end the day we become silent about the things that matter."

Yes it will take time to for Americans to overcome deeply ingrained stereotypes and begin to see their fellow human being as just that, regardless of the color of their skin. But that doesn't make it ok or something that we do not need to be concerned with. That is akin to saying it will take time for violent murders, poverty or any other social ailment to be alleviated, so lets' not worry about it. Do not be fooled by the improbable success of African-Americans to overcome their struggles that it was indeed, a struggle. Fought everyday, by thousands of people, for hundreds of years. Overcoming racial division is anything but automatic.

Anonymous said...

As an American of Indian parentage, I say to everyone who complains about these SNY ads -- GET A LIFE! First of all, I'm thrilled these two guys got so much work for so long. (And I hope they received good residuals!) I laughed every time they were shown! Furthermore, Indian actors have become established enough in the US and UK, that such characterisations will not do any long-term damage. I worry more about the buffoonery rampant in a typical Bollywood film! Even in "serious" films, Indian characters come across as ... not-too-sharp, to put it politely. ("The Great Marigold Hotel", "A Passage to India", etc.)

I doubt whether Indian doctors, nurses, or business executives cry into their pillows over this. The fuss over SNY is as ridiculous as the Chinese caterwauling over Charlie Chan -- who was presented as a hero. (Granted, Hop Sing in "Bonanza" was pushing it!)Is anyone complaining about the naive Indian student in "The Big Bang Theory"? I'm not; I hope he has a good, long run!

What bothers me more is someone like Halle Berry who, with all her pre-rehearsed wailing, tries to align herself with all those who genuinely suffered stereotyping in Hollywood. Today's generation has little to complain about, as regional theatre and cable TV offer more opportunities. And save the Martin Luther King quotes for issues of greater importance, such as immigration, employment, or education.

Thomas Chacko
Mount Vernon, NY