Codebreaking: Asian Kids Raised By White Parents Party Too Much

Posted on by Pastabagel and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Okay, folks, this one should be a softball:

We have older white parents and an Asian son. Asian son comes home from college holding VitaminWater Revive, older Dad calls Asian son on it, son flashes back to his Hangover-style lost weekend spent partying, then Dad congratulates him on hitting the books, and all is well in sugarwaterland.

The commercial airs at a time when the Asian experience is very much a hot topic in public discourse. Amy Chua’s Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother has taught fat and lazy white Americans that it’s okay to abuse your kids to get them to practice violin as long as you confess to the abuse after your kids make it to Carnegie Hall. An article in New York Magazine reveals that Asian-American college grads are frustrated that their academic achievement does not translate to success in the boardroom or at the nightclub.

So who is the commercial targeted to? Students certainly. But Asian students, or white students? There is at least one overt reference to Chinese culture. At 0:20, the son is shown partying next to a dancing Chinese dragon. So is the pitch directed ironically at those students who are at least familiar personally or indirectly with the stereotype of the Asian student studying deep into the night? Or is this an attempt to capture something more broad, like some of Red Bull’s energy drink market?

What do you think, and what did you see that made you think it?

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19 Responses to Codebreaking: Asian Kids Raised By White Parents Party Too Much

  1. MarcusB says:

    I think that it plays off the stereotype that asians study a lot and uses attempts to use humor that appeals to the younger crowd (their larger demographic) by using slightly racial humor but still shows a playful/humorous/nonoffensive side by trying to invoke a ^_^ response with it’s viewers.

    Is it reflective of what the current generation (or perception) of asians is like? Sure, maybe. But I think you’re reading a bit too much into it.

    Although I’m asian so my views might be skewed. I don’t know what to think anymore after reading this and TLP.

    • MarcusB says:

      Holy proofreading, batman.

      • MarcusB says:

        On a semi-related note. (sorry to get off topic)

        What do you think of Keanu Reeves? (He’s part white, part asian)

        He seems to be an anomaly in Hollywood and despite claims about his crappy acting, people seem to still like the guy in an odd way unlike the typical Hollywoodish, I-wanna-be-like-Tyler-Durden-or-Don-Draper way.

        Look up Sad Keanu meme on the internet if you haven’t heard about it already. I might try to write an article about him and post it on here later.

  2. philtrum says:

    Is the kid supposed to be adopted?

    • sunshinefiasco says:

      That was what jumped out at me, particularly because they deliberately obscure Mom’s ethnicity at the beginning, something that’s compounded by the fact that the kid has an Asian name (Sho? Cho?). Couple that with the fact that dad has a drill seargant look/sound to him, and that mom turns out to be white (is she white? possibly bi-racial?) and you’ve got a whole lot of I don’t know what.

      Also, note that the only place that there are hot chicks in Sho/Cho’s flashback are either knocked over by his giant gerbil ball, or are supporting him on their shoulders (not exactly sexy). So even though he can make it rain at his badass college dragon party, he still can’t get laid.

      • MarcusB says:

        The dudes in his car look like total nerds too, if we wanna put things in your perspective.

        • Kyu says:

          I think there’s an economic layer in here, too. We open with him arriving home (via taxi) to what is a pretty sizable/expensive-looking home, obviously his parents’ place. Then we have the partying scenes, which have at least two themes running through them.

          The first theme, as I said, is economic–the expensive convertible, the high-class party, the expensive restaurant (note the dress code), and the main character “making it rain”.

          The second theme is of isolation. Not only does he lose his cell phone in the convertible, but his friends are, as you say, not really “cool” in the way the people at the party are. Those are the people you are, not the people you want to be. In the next two scenes, the main character is literally separated from those attractive, moneyed people, first in a bubble, then in the aquarium (where, humorously, he is on display). By the last party scene, he’s gone from being in the backseat and in the way to being the center of (good) attention.

          Finally, the adoptive parents show that they expect him to conform to stereotype by misinterpreting the meaning of the VitaminWater. It may not be too much of a stretch to suggest that that’s why they chose an Asian child in the first place–because they are perceived as dutiful, intelligent, hard-working, trustworthy–all the things this kid secretly isn’t.

          The message is “VitaminWater will help you be who you are, not who you’re expected to be”, but the message underneath the message is, the only thing that gets you into the cool, rich group you want to join is cold, hard cash. If you prefer inheriting to hard work, VitaminWater will help you do that, too.

          • JohnJ says:

            Well, that’s a pretty interesting interpretation.

          • MarcusB says:

            Honestly, I think you guys are reading into this too much.

          • sunshinefiasco says:

            Do you know where you are?

          • sunshinefiasco says:

            The isolation and the juxtaposition between the coolness of the party and the not-coolness of his friends/actions reminded me of Kutner from House (another adopted “good minority”), which makes me wonder if the party, etc. are all imagined.

            I believe the kid went out with the nerd bros, got drunk, lost his phone, maybe knocked into a pretty girl, and threw all his money away, but did he do it in a real swanky party? Because the montage is more like what you get in a stoner comedy after someone takes a pill and then goes to a house party.

  3. Interesting.

    When I first saw this video, I was struck by the Asian kid, it was incongruous. But I had been primed for it, because I had just written about the adopted asian girl in the movie Hop. It took me a few plays to realize that the mom (face purposely hidden) says, “Jooooooeeeee” and not “Cho.” So I figured him for half-Chinese, half white.

    But this being American and that being Steve Nash in the restaurant (Phoenix Suns– also note kids t-shirt says Phoenix) you don’t put a Chinese kid in a commercial unless it means something. Is he acting Chinese? Oh, no, most certainly not.

    You have to imagine this as a casting call. The producers and directors invite this kid for an audition, and figure he looks Asian enough to accommodate the perception of hard work/studying, but white enough so that the audience sees the partying as authentic and not a parody (e.g. The Hangover). That’s the kind of kid they want. In other words, they want adopted Asian, or Asian-lite.

    When you want to go Asian-lite, you go with filipino, which is what he is. That’s Ryan Willard, who last played Nickelodeon’s “We Sing Sillyville.” When he was 5. His genetics say Filipino but his upbringing is all America.

    So on the one hand, we all know Asians like to study. The father oddly assumes this also (even though it’s his son, whom he probably knows well). But he IS adopted, which means he’s not Asian, but American. So he likes to party.

    • JohnJ says:

      So they wanted an adopted Filipino because they thought that communicated the idea of genuine hard worker but legitimate partier?

    • Cambyses says:

      Yeah, but we’ve all already swallowed the pill. Pretend your left brain is Alfred Adler and your right brain Karl Marx. This is television, it is fantasy, and it is precisely the world turned on its head for the purpose of defending us (the viewer) from a certain kind of injury. The thing ends up deconstructing itself, like a dream.

      Why a cab? Because it’s rented. Now what’s the next image? A home. Is the home rented? No, but it’s entirely likely that the bank owns it. Hell, they own all my stuff. Within the first few seconds of the commercial, before we even see that the passenger is Asian, we have a suggestion of financial insecurity which alludes to the more psychological insecurities. And where is this economic power shifting? China. Who is our creditor? China. What ethnicity is my landlord? Personally, if a Chinese guy appears at my front door, it’s possible that I’m getting evicted.

      It’s also clear that we can’t spell commercial without, uh, commerc(e).

      But this is a fairy-tale so these insecurities are answered. The tone changes once the son crosses the threshold of the home. In the interior space, father is stereotypically American and the son fears his censure. Again, “we” are in control. Moreover, this young man is acculturating, taking part in American rites of passages, and brandishing American brand-names, signifiers. Our culture remains potent despite its financial weakness. And we know this because we have access to the internal experiences of the son who strives to emulate American lifestyles, who strives to be a character in one of our films. And it’s behavior that we wouldn’t expect to see in a film from anther Western nation, it’s signature Americana. While our industrial power flags, it is precisely our cultural products which hold themselves out as empowering us, as still dominant. This is about power, and about the fantasy that Americans still possess it.

      And to whom would such a solution present itself–the idea of the potency of media as a counterpoint to financial instability? Whom would this make feel empowered? Uh, methinks an advertising executive would be a good guess. This commercial came swimming out of the unconscious fantasies of someone of that ilk. Who owns his house, and was this on his mind the day he did the casting call?

      As for “hitting the books,” it’s dad that should be upstairs studying Mandarin.

  4. bc says:

    What is the best thing to drink when you’ve partied hard? Drink whatever the smart kids drink after they’ve partied too hard.

    The dude might be a loser, but he’s smart about what to drink to recover.

  5. Guy Fox says:

    The message for Asian kids would be: sure, you’re stuck with this stereotype, but you can also use it to your advantage. If people expect you to be a self-motivated, overachiever, that alone is some extra capital you can play with.
    The message for white kids: Here’s a nerd (which is obvious because he’s Asian and has a backpack) and his nerdy, stick-in-the-mud parents, but he can transcend this misery by branding with the right accessories and get invited to those (apocryphal?) after-parties. Given that you’re all nerds (because you’re white and watching commercials instead of shooting them), wouldn’t you like to do the same?

  6. wisegirl says:

    They could have made this commercial with a white kid, but it wouldn’t have worked as well. They wanted there to be an obvious generation gap, therefore the older wealthy white couple who adopted in their 40s. Also, they will never be on to him because they will never miss all of that money he is throwing around and since he is Asian, he is inherently intelligent enough to make good grades without working too hard. In other words, he’s won life’s lotery.

  7. Comus says:

    Also interesting is that, even though Joe/Cho is an adult, and should have some level of autonomy, he’s still freaked out whether his parents get to know he’s been out and not reading. So this is a boy/man, who hasn’t integrated an autonomous superego. Which would fly high with the whole adoption thing, with it’s propable struggles with identity. Also, in reference to the TigerMother thingie, the father does appear a bit aggressive, and all too fast to let the issue of whether his, rather weak, statement of being up all night reading is actually true or not. Because he knows it isn’t.

    So the dad believes the stereotype more than the akward truth. Choe has money and all else well, but has no responsibility. The money comes from his parents, as well as the motivation for studying appears to. He’s a sartrean figure, lost within ones self.

    Or, you know, this is just an advert for water that makes dubious claims about it’s hangover-curing abilities. Cause, let’s admit it, he was drunk – yet not hung over.

  8. eqv says:

    The ads for this mineral water (there are a whole series of them running at the moment where I live) give me an industrial-sized douchechill whenever I see them. I’m not even sure why– I think just because they feel so contrived, plastic, fake, even by ad-industry standards. At the moment, a couple of blocks from where I live, there’s this 6 story high billboard for that same mineral water, with two very underage looking girls in tiny party dresses, and the tagline ‘miss behave ;)’ or something like that.

    But anyway. The flashback to when he’s in the back of the convertible was a definite shoutout to The Hangover– also note that he’s sitting in the back of the car, and although he looks like he’s having fun, it’s in a dorky/socially awkward kind of way– similar to the way Zach Galifianakis’s character is in that movie.

    Weird, though, because: if he hadn’t been drinking the vitamin water, his dad wouldn’t have ‘noticed’ that he’d been up all night. He doesn’t look even remotely hungover or tired. I don’t even know what to make of this.