Ad Hurts Hoekstra; Actress Apologises

The Chinese-American actress who appeared in a controversial Super Bowl ad for Michigan Republican Pete Hoekstra has apologised on Facebook for her participation, according to Politico:

“I am deeply sorry for any pain that the character I portrayed brought to my communities. As a recent college grad who has spent time working to improve communities and empower those without a voice, this role is not in any way representative of who I am. It was absolutely a mistake on my part and one that, over time, I hope can be forgiven. I feel horrible about my participation and I am determined to resolve my actions.”

Politico also reported this week that the ad appeared to have damaged the Hoekstra campaign, based on a Public Policy Polling survey (PDF):

… 54 percent of voters in Michigan were aware of Hoekstra’s controversial ad and 45 percent said it made them less likely to vote for him, according to Public Policy Polling. Only 16 percent said that the spot made them more likely to vote for him, and 37 percent said it didn’t make a difference in their voting preferences.

Hoekstra is now 14 points behind incumbent Sen. Debbie Stabenow in head-to-head polling, 51 percent to 37 percent. In July, her lead was just nine points, and in PPP’s previous three polls, her lead had been an average of seven points.

Stabenow’s approval ratings have changed little over the past six months. In fact, the change in poll numbers appear to be driven by disapproval of Hoekstra, whose favorability has dropped by a net ten points since PPP’s last poll.

Hoekstra’s team dismissed the news, arguing that the poll was weighted in favour of Democrats. This would not completely explain changes relative to previous polls using the same model, however.

GOOD Design (via Adam Minter), meanwhile, explores the history and significance of the “chop suey” fonts used liberally on the ad’s accompanying website (now offline).

In an article for Print magazine, type expert Paul Shaw traces the origin of these Asian-inspired fonts. They began in 1883, when the Cleveland Type Foundry created a typeface called Chinese, which became known as Mandarin by the mid 1950s. The font became famous when it was used in a poster that promoted tourism to San Francisco’s Chinatown after the 1906 earthquake ….

But though chop suey fonts rose to popularity through entrepreneurial Chinese immigrants, they waned in the second half of the 20th century as graphic designers shook off the prejudice that dominated the discipline through the 1950s Modern era. Today, chop suey types are still contested by those who find them derogatory ….

Hoekstra’s use of chop suey fonts and other racially charged imagery shines a light on the stereotypes that still exist within every part of society, including the political and graphic design worlds. “Ethnic” typefaces, though often only found on sketchy websites offering free font downloads, survive today simply because they are good at what they do: distill an entire culture into a typographical aesthetic that becomes a signifier to the uninitiated.

Chop suey type is just one example of “simulation font”; another can be found in China itself. Dechen Pemba of High Peaks Pure Earth has collected a number examples of Chinese characters designed to mimic Tibetan script, used “from book covers to food packaging to album covers, basically for anything packaged as ‘Tibetan'” in order to “exoticise Tibet and Tibetans.”


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