The advertisement opens in a 1920’s-style America flush with fedora hats, neon lights, and folksy racism. The background track, Parov Stelar‘s Booty Swing, has caused General Motors to frantically pull the video from its websites; something about the lines “In the land of Fu Manchu […] ching-ching, chop suey” don’t really fit with a company that is trying to maintain its status as the leading global automaker in China.
That said, there are a few important clarifications to make. Firstly, the “ching-ching chop suey” line (0:18) is so stylized that very few people would likely be able to decipher it without first seeing the lyrics printed out. Secondly, Parov Stelar is an “electroswing” band that takes early 20th-century American songs and reworks them into electronica music. In other words, the band didn’t necessarily decide to say “In the land of Fu Manchu […] ching-ching chop suey,” they simply remixed a song that included the phrase. Thirdly, the advertisement itself has nothing to do with China, and the song was presumably chosen because it had the retro/modern feel that Chevy was looking for.
GM is probably in the right for removing the ad, but these caveats do make it hard to full empathize with headlines like “General Motors pulls racist ad.” It’s more like “GM pulls ad that included song that remixed old, racist song.”
In the future, General Motors would probably do best to learn from Hyundai; there is a company that knows how to produce some tasteless and offensive advertisements (looking at you, “low emissions suicide humor” from last week).