Has Tyler, the Creator Finally Gone Too Far?
Tyler, the Creator has never been known for being a sensitive man. Quite the opposite, he's known for unambiguous lyrics about controversial and disturbing subjects such as rape, murder, homophobia, and infanticide. One of his most infamous lyrics is from the song "Tron Cat," where he promises to "rape a pregnant bitch and tell my friends I had a threesome."
Photo by Marco Torres Tyler, the Creator
Yeah, that's the kind of rapper we're dealing with here. Nevertheless, he's amassed a fanbase that seems completely willing to take lyrics like that in stride, and has become one of the most popular artists among the younger crowd in recent memory. He even beat Wiz Khalifa, Foster the People, Kreayshawn, and Big Sean for a VMA for Best New Artist.
But some are saying that Tyler has finally gone too far with his recent Mountain Dew ad, which has been accused of being racist, among other things. Well, has he?
First off, let's examine what we're looking at here. If you don't want to watch the commercial (seen above), it's a continuation of Tyler's previous commercials for Mountain Dew where his character "Felicia the Goat" has been on a rampage, attacking people due to the goat's obsession with Mountain Dew.
In this one, Felicia is in a police lineup with other suspects of the attack, portrayed by Odd Future friends L-Boy, Left Brain, and Errol, along with Garrett Stevenson of the hardcore punk band Trash Talk. On the other side of the window, some cops are coaxing a badly injured and clearly traumatized woman to identify her attacker, but she can hear Felicia (voiced by Tyler) telling her she better not snitch on him. She ultimately says she can't do it and leaves in tears. The cops shrug and drink some Mountain Dew.
The main issue that people are having with this ad is the inherent racism in a lineup of all African-American male suspects (besides Felicia) in a brutal attack on a white woman. Dr. Boyce Watkins immediately took the ad to task on his Web site in a sternly worded letter. It ended up being a major antecedent in the ad's being pulled.
Dr. Watkins labeled the ad "arguably the most racist commercial in history" and went on to say, "Of course, in the world of Mountain Dew, every single suspect is black. Not just regular black people, but the kinds of ratchety negroes you might find in the middle of any hip-hop minstrel show."
Now we come to the question: is this ad intentionally and purposefully racist?
It's hard to say. Coming from Tyler, the Creator, an African-American male himself, it seems unlikely. More importantly than that, you have to look at the circumstances. Tyler enlisted friends of his to star in the ad with him. He didn't put out a casting call for "African-American males to star in a commercial as assault suspects." He grabbed some of his friends who were available and put them in the ad.
The fact that his friends happen to be African-American seems rather beside the point. Is Tyler then a racist for only having African-American friends with him when he was shooting the commercial? That seems like a rather huge leap of logic, yet it is the logic being employed here if we discount the evolution of the casting in the ad and jump to conclusions simply based on appearances.
But it seems that if we draw those conclusions, though, then we're the ones projecting racism on the ad where there was no intent for there to be.
Still, there's something altogether more disturbing about this ad to me, and it's a disturbing fact that all the media reporting on the ad's being pulled seems to have yet to address: the real joke of the ad.