Has Tyler, the Creator Finally Gone Too Far?
Tyler, the Creator
Photo by Marco Torres
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."
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.
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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.
Tyler's "joke" in this ad is not a racist joke about four African-American males in a police lineup, it's that a male attacker is discouraging a battered female from "snitching," and ultimately gets his way, to which police simply shrug. That "joke" is what's really wrong with this ad.
Tyler is already known for misogynistic lyrics about abusing women, and to a certain extent we've been able to overlook it -- partly because Tyler has disavowed his lyrics as jokes and partly because they just don't seem as awful when they're in a hokey song by a jokey rapper with a silly beat, said in a cheerful voice.
You get the impression he's joking and purposefully trying to shock people, and even if you don't like it, you can roll your eyes and move on, accepting that he doesn't mean what he's saying.
It's different here. Now Tyler is not only making light of the abuse of women, he's discouraging them from speaking out about it or taking a stand. There's no apology for it here, nothing to make up for it or say "hey, I'm just trying to shock people." It's just blunt and graphic, and it never reaches a sing-songy point where it seems funny.
It's just there, in our faces: an abused woman and her attacker cursing her out until she's in tears. This could be one of those domestic-violence PSAs in any other context, except somehow it's supposed to be "funny" here.
That Tyler would think this was a funny joke, or that he would think it is acceptable for mainstream consumption is bad enough. But it reaches a peak when the news media takes a stand against the ad, forces PepsiCo to pull the ad, and condemns Tyler for... accusations of racism?
What, did nobody notice the extremely misogynistic overtone of the ad? Are we all just content to ignore that and make something completely incidental into the issue here? If we're going to lead a crusade against Tyler, the Creator, at least it should be justified.
The misogyny here is blatant and unacceptable, and it's a shame that the media has overlooked that in the midst of the racial controversy -- which, given the ad's context, seems dramatically less important. If there is any racism in this ad, it is unintentional. The misogyny is purposeful. It is the joke. And that disgusts me, personally.
As someone who has been a fan of Tyler's for his skill as a producer, I do believe he's gone too far this time and I don't think he should get a pass on this. He's talented enough to survive without the shock antics, and it's about time he stood on his own without them. That he would take a major endorsement deal from Mountain Dew, where they allowed him to have free creative control over his commercials, and then put this out is a testament to his immaturity.
It's a shame in light of his talent, but hopefully he'll learn from it and we can all put this behind us. As it is, his music sounds a lot less appealing after watching this ad.