E-mobile is a monkey's uncle?

This commercial for Japanese cell-phone company E-mobile is causing quite a stink. The ad depicts a Macack monkey giving a political speech as supporters cheer and wave signs that say "Change", clearly a reference to Barack Obama.



The subject of racism in Japan is always a tricky one. It definitely exists, but is more often the result of innocent (or ignorant) misconceptions that are the result of nationally embraced foreign cutural stereotypes rather than any conscious malicious intent. The country of Japan is about 90% racially homogenous, and has been since it's inception. The 200 year-long xenophobic seclusion of the Edo period certainly didn't do anything to encourage non-Japanese cultural or racial inclusion. Typically, if you don't look Japanese, you are considered a "foreigner", regardless of how many generations your family has actually lived in Japan and been Japanese citizens. That type of discrimination does exist, and is yet another embodiment of the culturally engrained proclivity to view all matters from a reference point of what is "inside" and "outside".

In the case of this E-mobile commercial however, I don't think the motivating factor was racism. E-mobile has used the Macack monkey as it's mascot in several of it's commercials over the past two years. Many of the adds often involve the monkey depicting a well-known politician or businessman in a satirical way.

I think we can chalk this one up to a case of cultural ignorance. E-mobile looks rather foolish for being unaware that portraying someone who is black or of mixed race as a monkey would be seen as racially offensive by Americans. But can a foible caused by cultural ignorance be considered racist?

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