Quick, Look Outraged! McDonald’s “Mr. James” advertisements in Japan

August 25, 2009

The face that will tear Japan apart

The face that will tear Japan apart

Oh, the simple wonders of not having an Internet connection. I’ve been to McDonald’s way too many times since coming to Japan and I watch a lot of TV, so I’ve seen the face at the top of this post tons of time. He struck me as a kinda-goofy lookin’ dude hawking the chain’s “Nippon All-Stars” menu. I figured he was some sort of comedian. Whatever he was, he wasn’t convincing me to order a “double mac” with an entire McMuffin egg on it anytime soon.

Now that I’ve finally been blessed with the Internet (oh thank heaven!), I’ve since discovered said nerdy dude isn’t a Japanese comedian but actually an American. He’s named “Mr. James” and he’s currently at the center of a mini-controversy.

Mr. James is a foreigner who apparently speaks very bad Japanese (I thought he sounded really good, and would give a small toe to sound as “annoying” as he does) and just loves Japan, so much he makes it a priority to eat at McDonald’s. He keeps a blog (ohhhh, viral marketing) where he posts pictures of him going to places all over the country. He also looks like a dweeb (ha! glasses! How lame!).

Foreigners in Japan are none-to-pleased with such a geeky representation of them. They’ve drafted up a complaint letter and launched the “I Hate Mr. ジェームス(Mr. James)” Facebook group (90 members, which explains the mininess of this controversy). The charges: Mr. James speaks bad Japanese, and this implies Caucasian people can’t speak Japanese; that he promotes “the stereotype that foreigners must be called by their first names only” (because nobody in the Western world has the last name James, especially not the biggest basketball star on Earth), and because he’s a nerd. Those darn glasses!!!! Watch Mr. James try to say Japanese phrases for two minutes.

Besides the obvious offense to comedy for drilling a joke way past it’s expiration point, I don’t see anything particularly offensive about Mr. James. But that’s just me – if you see something about it that offends you, it offends you, and you obviously have all rights to say something about it. And hey, I’ve been in Japan only about a month (aside: whoa) so I probably am too inexperienced to know if this actually is some weird discrimination stuff going on. Still, I watch these ads and…they just don’t seem that bad for the reaction they’re getting.

OK, so the dude can’t speak great Japanese and can’t dress himself. But he still seems so tame – hasn’t the stereotype on Americans for the past eight years been we are all a bunch of fat, loud, arrogant, Bible-thumpers who are total asses when we go to other countries? Mr. James practices Japanese at home and sees a burger in the sky. I’d call that progress (just what white people need!).

I definitely wouldn’t call it something I’d actively demonstrate against, as some people on these message boards suggest. And some of the comparisons, geez. The complaint letter compares this to the “ching-chong Chinaman” (more on that in a sec), while an earlier draft said Mr. James could be compared go a blackface actor. An especially audacious claim given Japan still slips into Minstrel Show mode, and that junk is a billion times more disturbing than khaki-pants bro here. One commenter on the complaint letter page actually brings Rosa Parks into the discussion – even I can safely say modern-day Japan is far from being nearly as terrifying as the ’60s in the South.

Wake up white people!

Wake up white people!

The counter opinion comes best summarized via Disgrasian. Besides the “karma’s one wacky bitch” line that nearly derailed the whole article for me (this post on their blog outlines what they meant in a much better, less asshole-ish way), this Huffington Post piece raises two very valid points. First, the “ching-chong Chinaman” characterization can definitely be spotted way-too often in American advertising (peep the links in that article, yikes) and I feel those are a lot more backwards than whatever is up with Mr. James.

Second, and the thought I had when I discovered there was any sort of uproar about this: the Japanese love foreign people. OK, they love looking at foreign people, and those people tend to be celebrities. But still…you see them everywhere and they are far from made fun of. Brad Pitt has a new commercial (soundtracked by fellow white people Department of Eagles) and I constantly see Beyonce dancing around to promote Crystal Geyser. Richard Gere stars in one film here (with a cute dog!) and he never looks like a doofus. Heck, they don’t even have to be famous – a bunch of businesses in Nabari have picture of white folks plastered over the outside. Unless the owners are just lazy Google Image Searchers, I think this is intentional.

Maybe they sell white families?

Maybe they sell white families?

And I’m not even going to try to dissect the trend that people who have lived in Japan longer than I have told me about, where people want to be lighter and thus carry umbrellas and wear armbands to keep the sun off them. A bet there is a good term paper somewhere in there.

Anyway…Mr. James might be a dweeb, but he also is very (sorry) vanilla and a rare example of a goofy foreigner in a place where all the models at the local clothes store are foreign and pretty.

The real issue here – who would eat that burger????? Actually, compared to the new Double Down Chicken sandwich in America, this looks like a Jenny Craig dinner…


One Response to “Quick, Look Outraged! McDonald’s “Mr. James” advertisements in Japan”

  1. Nurse J said

    It’s just that troll Debito Arudo and his front organization that’s basically a mailing list where he bitches about all kinds of perceived slights.

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