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Advertising And Modern Minstrelsy: What's Funny About Race Roleplaying? (VIDEO)

When is race roleplay and cultural appropriation okay? When is it acceptable, and when is it derogatory?
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Last week we came across this music video/ advertisement for Taco Bell (created by DraftFCB), a riff on Diddy's 1990s anthem, "It's All About the Benjamins". The commercial, entitled "It's All About the Roosevelts", seems to have drawn inspiration from the popular "Lazy Sunday" skit featured on SNL four years ago, a self-parodizing rap video about the banal lives of Chris Parnell and Adam Samberg.

SNL's characters rap self-seriously (but in actuality, self-deprecatingly) about the boring details of their daily lives, from visiting cupcake bakeries to finding directions on the Internet. The comedic effect is a result of a combined dissonance; it's not funny because it's white people rapping, it's funny because it's dorky white people rapping about their very un-thug lives.

Taco Bell's ad is a half-baked attempt at the same humor, but lacking the cultural and self-awareness that makes the SNL skit so funny. "It's All About the Roosevelts" sits somewhere between ironic tribute and derisive parody, employing a bevy of hip hop video cliches -- ladies, cars, bling -- to highlight Taco Bell's new line of cheap eats. The video looks and feels like a typical Puff Daddy-era video, with one major 'comedic' tweak: everyone is white! Yep, that's the punchline: white people acting, dancing, and rapping like rap stars -- mocking this culture that so contrasts their own. What a hilariously clever twist.

Whether you perceive this ad as modern minstrelsy or harmless farce, it nevertheless raises some interesting questions: what is supposed to be funny about this video? White people posturing in (stereotypically) non-white scenarios? When is race roleplay and cultural appropriation okay? When is it acceptable, and when is it derogatory?

To push the debate even further, consider these even more blatantly racially charged ads for Chicago-Lake Liquors in Minneapolis (watch below). In this case, the raceplay is boldly farcical. Who is Chicago-Lake Liquors trying to appeal to here? Who are we supposed to be laughing at? Why?

Juxtaposing these ironic appropriations is Baskin Robbins' playful homage to the once-viral booty bass hit "Ice Cream and Cake" (below). The song by Buckwheat Boyz (of Peanut Butter Jelly Time fame) became a YouTube sensation in 2005, inspiring countless user-uploaded videos showcasing various renditions of the "Ice Cream and Cake" dance. Baskin Robbins pairs the song with a cute stop motion animation featuring colorful cake toppers dancing atop ice cream treats. Rather than making a joke of it, Baskin Robbins has resurrected the dance hit, making it relevant to its audience and brand. Baskin Robbins chose sincerity over mockery -- perhaps the less provocative approach of the two, but a far less divisive one as well.

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