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Yes, That Ad for the Utah State Fair Is Racist

The 2010 Utah State Fair has pulled an ad it commissioned featuring a satirical black soul singer and the director of the ad is now claiming his client must be racist. The truth of this manufactured controversy, however, is the other way around: It's Jared Hess, who also directed Napoleon Dynamite, who has made a racist TV spot, and the state fair was well within its rights to pull it from the airwaves.

The ad features actor Markus T. Boddie portraying a jheri-curled singer seducing first a pig and then a funnel cake in the style of Barry White. While caressing a giant black-and-white porker in a stall, Boddie croons:

And when I see your hamhocks -- yeah, I love your ham, baby -- I know I'm falling in love with you. And your rib meat, so beautifully sweet.
As with everything that Hess does, this ad seems to be working on multiple levels. (Is it making fun of the fair's pedestrian offerings? Or is it making fun of 1970's soul singers?) The fair's board members decided it made them uncomfortable:
"I felt that it just wasn't right," says Lorin Moench Jr, chairman of the Utah State Fair Board. "We didn't want to offend anybody. Other board members and some people called in and said they felt they were offensive."

"It had nothing to do with race or the actor or anything like that," Moench says. "It could have been anyone there. It was just the mannerisms and such, with the pig and things such as that; it just it's on the edge and we don't want that."

At this point, Hess accused his client of racism:
It's very strange. The spots celebrate the iconic things you can only find at the state fair. I can't help but think that the main actor being African-American is the reason they pulled them, which is very disturbing.
Hess noted that the board kept the radio ads, which are the same except (obviously) it's impossible to tell the race of the person singing the song. The backdrop here is that Utah is 93* 81.2 percent white, and Hess seems to be implying that African-Americans are therefore not getting a fair shake when it comes to advertising.

But it's Hess who is in the wrong here. The board is right to pull it lest it needlessly offends the people they're hoping to attract. The star of the ad isn't just a singer who happens to be black: He's a black sterotype, complete with curly wig, gold jewelry and an out-of-date costume. Was choosing a black clown-figure to get the attention of an overwhelmingly white audience the smartest thing Hess could have done? No, it was a cheap gag. (Boddie, incidentally, is undecided about the whole thing, although he advises everyone to "take a chill pill" at the end of this video report.)


*Correction: See comments below for an explanation of why this number changed.
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