My son drew my attention to the commercial with the Tibet reference that was played during the Super Bowl broadcast on February 6, 2011. My immediate reaction was that it was strong and what an exposure, as the game was reportedly watched by 106.5 million people.
First a recap of what the commercial was about. It starred American actor Timothy Hutton and began with visuals of snow mountain and the Potala as Hutton is saying, “The people of Tibet are in trouble…” The commercial, however, ends with Hutton pointing out that although that may be happening in Tibet the Tibetans make “amazing fish curry” referring to a “Himalayan Restaurant” in Chicago.
After re-watching it this morning and after reading the different comments, I have formulated my own views on the issue.
The commercial was effective in drawing attention to the fact that the situation in Tibet is of grave concern and that “their very culture is in jeopardy.” It was also a strong reflection of how the American people feel about the fate of the Tibetan people, and this message is certainly received by the Chinese.
The juxtaposition of this somber aspect of the Tibetan issue with Tibetan ability to make “amazing fish curry” in a way trivializes the experience of the Tibetan people. It is for this reason that I see quite some Tibetans and friends of Tibet being upset with this commercial. My hunch is that Groupon may have wanted to exploit this very “controversial” aspect of the juxtaposition to draw attention to their coupons deals. For the record, Tibetans are not known for fish curries and the Himalayan Restaurant in Chicago is actually run by Nepalese and Indians, and thus not Tibetan.
It is also interesting to see that some Chinese are not happy with this commercial. The commercial only concerns Tibetan culture. Although the message is strong it is not something that cannot have a space in public discussions in today’s China. In recent times Chinese people have been discussing the possible fate of the Cantonese language in light of some assertions by officials, or the survival of one ethnic group or another. Even Chinese should be concerned if Tibetan culture is in jeopardy. Visually, and in the absence of a narration, this commercial looks like a Chinese propaganda piece, what with the snow mountain, the Potala Palace and dancing girls in ethnic dresses. The only reason for the Chinese anger that I can think of is the guilty conscience of what has been done to Tibet.
The commercial wasn’t ideal and it may be seen as tacky, but for a Super Bowl broadcast, the mother of all sports (at least in the United States), if some deviation is taken for putting the spotlight on the plight of the Tibetan people it is something that I can live with.