The BK “Whopper Virgin” ad campaign is “as real as Borat” wrote one reader, and “no innocents are actually being exploited except by the concept that Whoppers are good for all, the idea of Burger King as a missionary/ sexual encounter.” Many readers had strong feelings about the Burger King “Whopper Virgin” ad campaign and protests against it. Some comments dismissed Minnesotan Seng Vang’s criticism of the campaign — “This person complaining is being to foolish…. Its a commercial and has nothing to do with Hmong people. I am Hmong and quite proud with this exposure of our people.” Just as vehemently, others agreed that the campaign demeans Hmong people — “I agree 120% not just a commercial..you fool wake up.” The lively dialogue included attacks on Seng Vang, with one commenter lamenting “this is exactly what it means to be Hmong, one person speaks or leads and other pull down … It’s sad already how Hmong being viewed in the mainstream cultures…but, it’s even sadder for Hmong to bash and hurt each other.”
Another comment said that most Hmong people in Thailand would not eat burgers because they eat healthier food, and that BK burgers are “mainly there for tourists and expat locals.” Still another Chiang Mai resident pointed out that the BK is “not cheap by Thai standards. I have quite a few Thai friends in town and they have never eaten there.”
By the end of the week, Seng Vang had responded with more detailed critique of the BK ads, and Sun Yung Shin weighed in with additional analysis (both reprinted below the jump.) Read the original article here, followed by all of the comments, and a second article with Tou Saiko Lee’s blog post from Thailand here.
SENG VANG RESPONDS:
While some would say that it’s perfectly alright that Hmong should NOT feel offended by such blatant media mischaracterizations or stereotypes of our people as no more than ignorant tribesmen, and in fact, we ought to be grateful and joyous that the Hmong were given their 30 seconds of fame…and that we ought to be complaining about other more important things like human rights abuses in Laos and Thailand…I still beg to differ. Here’s why.
The idea or belief that Hmong people are no more than simple tribesmen in remote places of Thailand, or anywhere in the world for that matter, and who have never heard or even try a burger…are the very reasons why then it is perfectly fine for those in positions of power to simply deny them basic human rights, respect and dignity, and otherwise hunt them down like animals, and once captured, torture and kill them without consequence.
BK’s power to be able to reduce an entire people into a simple stereotype for world consumption may be a simple advertising campaign for some, but the social, economic and even political consequences are as real as there are many. Think about this: The Hmong in Thailand will be better known as Whopper Virgins than as a proud and prosperous people with a 200 year history in Thailand. The Hmong around the world will be better known as simple tribesmen in remote places of Asia, as opposed to equal 21st century citizens who are university professors, software engineers, even plastic surgeons.
For some of you, the idea that since I’m complaining about one thing, it must mean I’m not complaining about other more important or pressing issues…is an example of the type of apathy and inability of some in our community to see or fully grasp the larger contexts in which Hmong continues to be victims of blatant oppression and discrimination.
For me, the fights are all the same, whether it’s BK’s millions they spent on branding the Hmong as remote tribesmen with no knowledge of a burger, or Thailand’s horrendous treatment of Hmong refugees on their soil (whether alive or dead), or Laos’ continued denial of fighting in the jungles with survivors of the Secret War, or hurtful words from University of Wisconsin law professor, or what happened in the woods of Wisconsin with Chai Vang and then later with Cha Vang, or the continued media bias from the likes of Tom Barnard of KQRS, or any other injustices.
MLK said it best, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”
SUN YUNG SHIN
I too find the ad offensive. In our media-saturated world, no commercial is “just” a commercial—it is yet another message fashioned by a corporation who exists solely to make a profit for its shareholders and to enrich its management. Any text, such as this ad, that “others” a group of people who have been exploited and oppressed—in particular by the the US government—is a dangerous text.
The ad promotes the view that not only Hmong are primitive and isolated (therefore in need of the culinary—and I use that term loosely—paternalism of the Burger King corporation) but that by association South East Asia is a place that harbors such romanticized, exoticized people who need only to be deflowered by America in order to experience the real pleasures of modern living.
Considering US history in Asia—Vietnam War, Korean War, current occupation of Korea and military bases in Japan, etc.—no ad that depicts a US-based corporation experimenting on Asians is apolitical, or somehow values-neutral. All propaganda—and an ad is merely a piece of commercial propaganda—aims to get a group of people to do something or think something. This ad is trying to get Americans (and whoever else is the audience for this ad) to eat Whoppers—the logic here is that if you don’t like them and don’t eat them, then you’re as primitive as these “remote villagers.” The only thing remote about this ad is the ad-makers connection with reality.
We Asian Americans are so mis- and underrepresented in American media that some of us may feel grateful for any exposure—I am more interested in self-representation. In a time when nearly half the nation voted for a presidential candidate who recently used the word “gook” in public—and who was widely hailed as a hero for bombing Vietnamese civilians in an unjust war—and basically nobody in the mainstream media cared—we need to be careful about what we’re grateful for.