Dolce & Gabbana, what have you done?
Last week the Italian fashion brand Dolce & Gabbana was supposed to have a fashion show in Shanghai. However, this got cancelled due to their newest social commercial. This ad is accused of having racist undertones, stereotypical sexual mockery and culture dishonouring. As this commercial offended a lot of people, not only in China, but all over the world, it is important to take a closer look as to why so many people are outraged and what exactly is happening in the ad. What signals in the commercials have led to this effect, and how do people feel about this matter?
Mocking Chinese culture
After having watched the video, I could understand why people felt offended. However, to truly understand as to why this commercial created so much turmoil, I turned to people of Asian heritage, especially Chinese heritage. Although the opinions of the people I spoke to varied, the conclusion was still the same: Dolce & Gabbana mocked with Chinese culture. Please, keep in mind that this article does not criticize the Italian culture, nor Dolce & Gabbana as a brand. Its only purpose is to show what could possibly be seen as racism or as mockery. Now, let’s have a look at the commercial.
The online commercial was placed on Instagram and consisted of three videos. On all three videos a Chinese model was eating an Italian dish (Pizza, Cannoli and Pasta). The setting of the videos was the same; it had a Chinese looking background, a Chinese model wearing Dolce & Gabbana while holding chopsticks and a narrator guiding the model through the dish. The dish the model was eating was prominently placed in front of her. And therefore, it suggested superiority over the Chinese culture. The background music was also a typical sound that you will often hear in western ‘China Towns’, but not in China. With this they are stereotyping the culture.
Also, as the model was being guided by the narrator, she was constantly giggling, implying she did not understand how to eat the food and needed the narrator to guide her. Again, this seemed to express dominance over the model, and was interpreted as dominance over Chinese culture.
Stereotyping genital size
In the video, while the model was trying to eat pizza, it was shown how she should not do it. The narrator emphasized that eating pizza with ‘tiny’ chopsticks was not the way to eat ‘great’ Italian pizza. This was seen as a sign of supremacy, and suggested sexual mockery against stereotypical Chinese physical features, because it referred to the stereotypical genital sizes of the different cultures.
In the second video, we can see the model eating pasta from a huge bowl filled with pasta Bolognese. This is a dish that can be easily eaten with chopsticks, since it is common to eat noodles in the Chinese culture. Although the origin of pasta lies in Asian countries, it seemed that the video denied this heritage. Another implication of superiority is the part in which the narrator says bellissimo to the model in an exaggerating way, after she ate the pasta easily. This could be interpreted as a sign of depreciation and mockery, since the chopsticks are actually appropriate to eat any kind of noodle.
Edited screenshot from https://youtu.be/KvSVYphuDYo
Then, in the last video, the model was trying to eat cannoli. Again, the model was holding chopsticks, but she couldn’t lift the cannoli with them. This was accompanied by the narrator ironically asking if it was ‘too big’ for the Chinese model. And followed by a comment that she should eat the cream of the ‘big’ cannoli. These comments are interpreted as sexual offenses, suggesting Italian supremacy in sexuality over Chinese’s.
What are your thoughts?
All in all, there are some in the fashion industry who think lightly of this matter, or think that the offended are exaggerating. Still, the commercial offended a lot of people all over the world with signs that were obvious for the most. It is sad to see that a brand that once was one of the drives against discrimination, as was seen with gay rights, is now accused of racism and stereotypical, sexual mockery. For some of the people I spoke with, it’s clear that this video places Italy itself in a bad light. Although stereotypes are often used in commercials, this particular one has unnecessarily sexually demeaning and mocks Chinese culture.
Do you think this was really offensive? Or are they just trying to find the edge of what is appropriate and show their rebellious side? Let me know in the comments what you think about this matter.