Can Hamsters Be Gansta?

July 14, 2010 at 2:13 pm | Posted in Uncategorized | 29 Comments
Tags: , , , , , , ,

The creators of the new commercial for Kia Soul nailed it.  It’s one of the most creative ads I’ve seen in a while.  It features a crew of hamsters in the voices of the hip hop group The Black Sheep singing The Choice is Yours.  It’s also a very smart ad, especially if you understand the inside slang about the toaster, the washing machine, and cardboard (refrigerator) box.  It’s hilarious without being obvious or dumbed-down.  The animation is also killer (check out the hamster in the hoodie at :53 channeling Snoop Dogg)… these hamsters got swagger.

Why am I talking about hamsters in a car commercial on a blog about race?  In reading the YouTube comments, there were some folks who think the commercial is racist – that the car company is equating urban environments and hip hop with “rats.”  I like to think that I’m very attuned to racist sentiments; I don’t have to go looking for racism, too often it finds me.  And actually, the creators’ aim is to sell cars and make money, not make a statement, but I appreciate the attention they paid to the details of swagger and hip hop cool.  But, what do you think: is this commercial smart or racist?

Valerie Linson
Series Producer, Basic Black

29 Comments »

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  1. Only black people who are obsessed with race to an almost racist level themselves would find a problem with this commercial. They would be the same type of people who were offended by the Gieco caveman, even though he is meant to represent a person from a pre-technical age whom everyone assumes would have trouble with modern things, as well as being a pretty accurate example of one phase of modern mankind’s early ancestors (probably from the time when humans first developed brains large enough to understand using tools more complex than clubs and legbones/shoulderblades of animals), based on computer recreations modeled around early human skulls. We need to quit whining about imagined nonsense and move ahead so we can actually be taken seriously as a race.

    • Thanks so much for your comment – as I said in the post, I think folks who regard the commercial is racist are looking for racism. There are so many other (important, substantive, and critical) issues around racism that need to be addressed. Funny you should mention the Geico commercial too as I’d heard some rumblings around the racial features of the cavemen characters (so glad nothing came of the rumblings).

    • Wow that’s funny I just have to say that u might be racist. For the simple fact that the only reason im looking at this blog, is because I was looking for the writer or creator of the kia soul commercials. Just to see what race he/she is. Because at my job a few “old WHITE” men told me they find that commercial racist. Because the slang for black focks back in their day was call hamsters. So what I’m getting at is, no. Not “only black” people would think that just ignorant people like your self dumb ass.

  2. I really enjoyed the ad during the first few weeks or so, but there was something I found uncomfortable about it. I could not pinpoint it until my elderly father-in-law asked me about the KIA SOUL car ad with the HOOD RATS in it. I REALLY started looking at the ad and the background and yes, it could be considered racist. Man, just look at the stereotypes being played out. It hit me in my face because I was not LOOKING for racism, but my subconscience realized that something was not quite right about the ad. The ad is cute and has a catchy beat, but YES it is racist. Guess what? I am not black, I am not obsessed with race and I did not imagine racism, but the ad should be pulled and revamped. Thanks

    • Many thanks for taking the time to share your perspective!

  3. THIS IS THE MOST RACIST COMMERCIAL I HAVE EVER SEEN AND I AM SO SICK OF SEEING IT. I WAS HOPING IT WOULD JUST GO AWAY BUT SINCE YOU RACIST ASS PEOPLE THINK IT’S SO CUTE, MAKING IT A MISSION TO BLOG ABOUT THIS COMMERCIAL TILL THEY PULL IT. FOR YOU ASSHOLES WHO SAY THEY AREN’T BLACK, HERE ARE THE FACTS….

    THEY ARE PLAYING BLACK SHEEP MUSIC
    THEY ARE DRESSED LIKE THEY BELONG IN A RAP VIDEO AND BESIDES EMINEM, THERE ARE NO REAL WHITE RAPPERS
    THEY ARE IN THE HOOD
    STOP FOOLING YOURSELF AND MAKING EXCUSES LIKE THEY AREN’T BLACK PEOPLE….
    HAMSTERS MY ASS, THEY ARE CLEARLY A PORTRAYAL OF “HOODRATS” AND I GUESS A CHEAP ASS KIA IS ALL HOODRATS CAN AFFORD HUH KIA…

    I HOPE KIA IS GOING OUT OF BUSINESS FOR REAL!

    • The Kia hamster commercials say more more (satirically) about mindless adherence to the status quo and conformity than race. I think some people are so afraid of offending that they lose all perspective of individuality, and humor. As for pulling the ad, if you are that offended don’t buy the product.

      To that end “doo dah zippety.

  4. BESIDES EMINEM, THERE ARE NO REAL WHITE RAPPERS?

    Whaaa? Rapture 1981

    ~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

  5. Last I knew “Hamster” was racist word for an African-American? Google it an you will see.

  6. It isnt that hard to undertand what happened here. Some idiot dreamed up a commercial that was not intended to say anything racist but rather to spoof rap culture. The problem is there was no substance or idea behind the spoof, which resulted in dehumanized urban gerbal ‘clowns’ drowning in black strereotypes. It wasnt intentional I’m sure, but it surely was a tad racist-ish.

    It is pretty great to hear Blacksheep in acommercial though…

    • Yup – I appreciate where you’re coming from (love “racist-ish” – I’m gonna use that). There’s always the opportunity to say something of substance when you spoof it, but Kia isn’t trying to teach, they’re trying to move cars off the lots. Thanks for stopping by!

  7. My wife and I love these commercials. As for being racist, look for it anywhere and you can find it or convince yourself it is there. Save the racist hyperbole, stop being a professional victim. When you claim you are a victim for something as silly as this you lose your power and credibility. Aloha from Hawaii!

  8. actually ever since I was a little kid, “hamster” has been a derogatory term for black people. If black people were being compared to rats in this commercial it would actually be LESS racist.

    It seems that the racist people who made up the term “hamster” decades ago have managed to slip it under the usually impenetrable radar of black people.

    In fact it seems entirely possible that the admakers themselves may be unaware of this term, but it is very real.

    So wake up, please everybody learn this: “hamster” = “ni**er”!!!!

    • Where I live (urban midwest rust belt) using ‘hamster’ as a racist name is uncommon, at least I never heard of it before reading this blog. That makes me wonder if the video creators ever heard of it either, but theres no way to know. The commercial looks exactly like a rap video except for the hampsters, so maybe the phony sellout rappers who perpetuate the sterotypes for money should be the ones pulled from the airwaves.

  9. [...] knows. Maybe I’m being one of the ‘too-sensitive’ types. Here’s a blog dedicated to race issues from a black perspective that sees the commercial as smart, funny, and spot [...]

  10. The ad is funny as hell. Would Jimi Hendrix think of it as racist?
    “Go ahead on mister business man, you can’t dress like me”
    I don’t think he’d care.

  11. aawww thats cute Its just a bunch of teddy bear hamsters! :D

  12. [...] knows. Maybe I’m being one of the ‘too-sensitive’ types. Here’s a blog dedicated to race issues from a black perspective that sees the commercial as smart, funny, and spot [...]

  13. My brothers, who both served in Viet Nam, said that the term ‘hamster’ was used as a derogatory term for Blacks.

    • I grew up in the south (Florida) since the mid-70’s…with this state’s racist past, if hamster was a racist term, I’d have heard it by now. The only animals I’ve heard us called were coons, chimps, apes, and monkeys.

      • I grew up in NY and have heard this term alot. I have a family member who served time in the NYS prison system and they use it all the time. Unfortunately he still does use the term and laughs at this commercial. I guess it does fly under the radar but when I see this I automatically think of the derogatory term and people don’t even know about it.

  14. [...] or maybe they’re not? [...]

  15. I was just informed that certain individuals used to call black people ‘hamsters’.

    Apparently, it was an expression used in the Irish section of the Bronx in the late 50s, early 60s.

    So yeah, the commercial actually is racist.

    And they got away with it using cute/graphic/slick visuals and the mass appeal of Black Sheep’s “The Choice Is Yours (Revisited)”.

    • I bet the creators of the commercial were unaware that hamster was ever a racist slur. I call my fucking vice principal a hamster and he’s white… he just happens to look like a hamster. It seems far more likely that the creators of this commercial thought that cute hamsters would grab peoples attention. And rappers (not black people, but rappers) are known for being shady as hell. They prolly thought it would be funny to see a hamster act “hard”

  16. I actually found the commercial to be a bit disturbing until I started to think about any commercial on tv. Anytime a product is targeting a specific demographic, they want to cause controversy and get us talking about it. I’d say mission accomplished on this one. We are talking about it.

    • Thanks for your comment Joe – I agree with you; the company is trying to sell products, controversy just happens to be the route they’re traveling to get there in this case.
      Valerie Linson
      Basic Black

  17. Yep. It’s racist and ignorant. I came across this blog because I Googled “what’s up with the Kia rats”. I’m white and recognized the stereotype a mile away. My first thought when seeing the commercial was ‘what an obviously intentional ploy to sell to the black consumer’. Just sayin’. How many rapper aspire to owning a Kia?

  18. WHATEVER YOU LOOK FOR IN LIFE…GUESS WHAT – YOU WILL FIND!!!
    America is so race sensitive – what’s up — the past is f###### HISTORY man…
    If all white people were to like/love everyone or vise versa – would the price of bread change?????
    No one on the PLANET will NEVER EVER love another UNCONDITIONALLY, do you trust me?…
    Do all white people love each other(2 WORLD WARS, COLD WARS, ETC.)?
    Do all black people love each other(walk after 12 in some areas…Africa/Guyana/Haiti united etc)?
    Do all latinos love each other(Indigenous peoples vs the Elite, languages, preferences ETC)?
    Do all Asians love each…(Dynastic/Religious intolerance/Caste cultures?)…
    Get the drift – in our mother’s WOMB – only one sperm cell made it —- was it a peaceful journey?

  19. I’m Irish and live in the Bronx. I have to disagree with the previous poster. I’ve known enough racist knuckleheads to know they weren’t calling black folks hamsters back in the 50s or 60s, they were calling them the N word. Before civil rights and black power, why would a racist worry about using a code word when they could use a more hateful one?


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