Early in the month of May, Mountain Dew and Tyler, the Creator decided to release a slapstick ad campaign for the company’s popular carbonated beverage. The commercial featured a goofy goat named Felicia, complete with the voice-over done by Tyler himself. The campaign was originally meant to be a three-part story but things came to a sudden halt after the second one aired. This is mostly due to the fact that Dr. Boyce Watkins, a professor at the University of Syracuse, deemed the second installment of the ad campaign as “arguably the most racist commercial in history”. Dr. Watkins’ original article with him offering his opinions on the commercial can be viewed here:
The actual commercial featured a beat up Caucasian waitress from the first installment of the commercial series accompanied by police officers with a lineup of five black males as well as Felicia, the goat. The police officer urged the waitress to point out who hurt her while Felicia aggressively encouraged her to stay quiet. The commercial ends with the waitress refusing to point out the obviously guilty goat and flees the scene hysterically. Dr. Watkins argues that the black men in the commercial appear to have a negatively charged connotation to them and describes them as: “Gold teeth, ‘mean mugging,’ sun glasses wearing, white-t sportin, hard core n*ggaz ready to ‘get into some ol gangsta sh*t.’” He also touches upon concepts as the “stop snitching” movement and how this commercial contributes to that in a bad way. The criticism sparked a flurry of events which led to PepsiCo ultimately shutting down the campaign completely.
Tyler and his manager, Clancy, sat down with Billboard to give their side of the story and it can be found here:
Basically they defended the commercial by saying that they were going for absolute ridiculousness rather than any sort of malice-driven messages with the commercials. Tyler was notably upset with the whole situation as he claimed that it has ruined opportunities for him.
In my opinion, there are many flaws to the argument that Dr. Watkins has purported with respect to the whole situation. After reading his original article, it is extremely evident that he saw the commercial and made his own emotionally-driven assumptions in the form of a strongly worded article. He did not care to do any research on the actual advertising campaign to realize that the commercial was actually a second installment in an overall story nor did he do any meaningfully research on Tyler, the Creator as an artist. Granted, Tyler can easily come off as a very abrasive and menacing figure with some of his subject matter in his songs, however, under close inspection, one can come to the conclusion that Tyler is just a kid who has his own way of doing things. It is very important to understand the perspective in which a person is presenting their ideas to you, especially if you are going to voice an opinion that may have a strong influence on said person.
Tyler rebutted Dr. Watkins’ argument by saying that, because he is from a different time, he may have seen it as racist when it really was not. Let me put it to you another way way. If you hit up the clubs and only chase after the drunken girls in skimpy dresses and then complain about how you cannot find a nice, pretty girl to settle down with, you need to look within before pointing the finger. If you live your life crying “RACIST!” for anything that resembles being racist at all, not only will you be living a life full of angst, but it is very likely that you will actually be contributing negatively to diminishing the concept of racism in society. Another flaw of Dr. Watkins’ original article is the links he makes to Lil Wayne’s Emmet Till debacle as well as the unsolved murder of Quinten Moss. It is completely unfair, in my opinion, to link Tyler’s silly commercial to these much harsher situations.
Soon after the Billboard article was released, Dr. Watkins’ uploaded a 20+ minute video offering some reconciliation to his original claims about the commercial which can be viewed here:
Dr. Watkins has more of an understanding tone as he discusses how his daughters are, in fact, Tyler, the Creator fans and that he actually does have respect for the young man. It is very evident that Dr. Watkins has done more research on Tyler as an artist before presenting his new-found opinions. He does bring up a very great point, however, when he states that celebrities must be held accountable for what they do due to their huge influence on the general public. Although Tyler may not have meant any harm with the advertisement, he needs to definitely be more wary of some of the forms of media he presents to his fans.
I still believe that the Mountain Dew commercial in question should not have been taken as seriously as Dr. Watkins did, but I also believe that Tyler must learn that this type of reaction will become more and more common with his material, especially as his popularity continues to grow. There is a huge difference between the amount of criticism you will garner from a music video that you upload on YouTube for a song that will be viewed mostly by your fans and a national advertisement for one of the most popular beverages out there today. As Tyler continues to seek out more directorial opportunities like this, he will also need to be more aware that these types of situations may become commonplace and he will need to account for this wherever he decides to take these opportunities creatively. As much as Dr. Watkins needed to understand the perspective of the creator of the commercial, Tyler also needs to understand the potential perspectives of his audience.
The opinions and views expressed here are the opinions of the designated author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or views of any of the individual members of Dead End Hip Hop.