Crua/SIUIa III ... Q;_ ...... Vol.l9,No.l,Man:b2Cm.pp.


The Spectacular Consumption of "Tme" African American Culture: "Whassup" with the Budweiser Guys?

Eric King Watts and Mark P. Orbe

I ,..,har1es Stone, m, mu. have felt u '-'though he had gone to sleep and ~ awoken in Oz. It was three short years I .., that he captured on &1m amdid. momenta IIIIIDDI three or his friends, . edited them into an engroasiDg and vilually ltuDDiDg abort 6l.m called -True," and used it u a video resum6.

Stone W8I -tloored." when AnheuserBUICh asked bim to lranslate his film into a fiO-Iecond commercial spot for Budweiser beer (McCarthy, 2000, p. 8B). Stone was equally surpriled when, out of respect for -realism," he was allowed to CBBlihoae same friencla from Ihe short 81m for abe commercial. It must have aeemed even more surreal to be in Cannes during the summer of 2000 to accept the advertiling world'. venion of the "OICBI'," the Gnnd Prix. and Golden Lion, and to hear hiB mencla' greeting. now the world's most famous carchphrase, boundng off caR! walls and rippIiDg a10ng the beaches-Whassup?!" It mUll have been bizan-e to wiblesl the usually stodgy Cannel judge_ joyfully exchanBing the greeting in international accentl-especially since the advertising elite admill to a cultivated distute for the popular {Me-

Capyrtshl2OCD. NIIdoIwI Communbdun A.oddcm



earthy, 2000). This admiuion, however. didn't hurt lhe I1lBI'ket value of lhe Budweiser "True- commercials ODe biL To understand why this is so, one must explore the nature or spectacular conlllDlplicm.

Let UI begin our journey by considering this odd commentary offered up by A.dDmisi", A&/s ad review staff after Stone's commercial aired during the 2000 Superbowl: "A bunch of friends, all black, greet each other with exaggerated 'Wuzupppppppp?' salutations that sound like retchiDg. [Ourl staft", the single whitest enclave outside of Latvia, doesn't quite get it but IUlpecls it is very funny ... " (Garfield, 2OOOb, p. 4). But, wbaL's 10 mysterious? These guy, simply greet each other- over and over-with what has been described as a -verbal high-five" (Farhi, 2000, p. C I). Also or interest is the fact that USA TotIJIjs Admeter rated lhe commercial as the Superbowl's most popular; and so let us tum the question on ill axis: if A.tbJmisi", Age is correct and the humor is bafIIing, why is it 10 popular? After all, the ad is about rour &iends Billing around doing "nothin'[but] watching the game, having a Bud"? How is it that a series or commercials about four African American rriends can be simultaneously "pretty ow mere," incomprehensible, and yet enjoy such massive appeal 10 as to become Budweiser's hottest ad campaign ever? (Adande, 2000, p. DI).

The pop culture craze associated with the "Whassup?!" guys leaves some observers dumbrounded and amazed. But othen chalk up the freozy to either the univer-.lity of male bonding or to while America's continued rasciD.ation with black expressiOD. On the one hand, the commercials' appeal is associated. with these ads' depiction of a classic and commonly inarticulate ma1e-boad-


ing ritual. From this perspective, the secret to their popularity lies in their utter fomililJrUJ. On the other hand, their appeal is linked to the notion that the ads are "weird," lI&oddball," IIstranp,. "funky," and "True": that is, "authentically· black. In other words,

their = is also predicated upon

their iIiImIJ.

Due to its parsimony, this dichotomy between the universal and the distinctive is misleading. If we perceive the ads as "univenal" expressions oC masculine communal norms, they speak in a single, unproblematic voice. They say, in essence, "I love you, manl" This time, the men just ""PJIIn to be black. Thus, through a projection or "poaiUve reaUam" (Cassidy I: Kanda. 1995), the IIWhassup?!" ada testify to increased divenily in television commercials and 10 African American male affection. Understood in this manner, the American ideal of hwnaa universalism is affirmed through. a display fraJernal care made familiar. Indeed, according to David English, an Anheuser-Buach vice-president, the ~nivenal· appeal of the short film allowed him to look "past lhe color of the guys to me situation of guys being guys, and the communication between friends" (Heller, 2000, p. II). Hence. in attempts to explain the soaring market value or these ads. Anheuser-Busch spokespersons often reference their "univenality"-that is. their colorleasne.. Bul, since the ads are also described as "cool" and "edgy," and the UWhUlUp?!- guys are widely perceived as the hippest poup orfriends on TV. they signify a pleasure principle orienting while cODsumption of blackness (hooks, 1992). ADd so, it has occurred to us that this dichotomy between the universal and the diatinctive conceals a stralegy. That is, references to the ads'


"univenal" qualities obac:ure the way in which bIadme. can be made to behave in acc:ordam:e with the American ideology of univenaliam.. By encourapag viewen to -celebn.te" blackDell conceived in tenDs of.AUJllJlaS, the ad campaign deJIecta attention away from the wayl in which bIacImeM u ".,,_, is annexed and appropriated. u commodity and hidel from view the fact that American culture exhibitl a profound ~ toward __ ben-

tic" blaclmell (EntmaD & Rojecki,

. 2000).

Thi. euay seeks to explore thiJ ambivalence .. it iI reprocIuced and diIplayed throush Budwei8er'1 -WhuIUp?I" ad campaip. We argue that the ad campaisn COIIItitlltel and adm;n;. ten cultural -authenticity" .. a market value. From the penpective of spectacular conlUmption, the intensity of the pleuure of CODIIlIDing the other is directly (and. paradoxic:ally) related to the replication and. m.,jfication of -authentic" diB'erence. Moreover, the Josie: of spectacular COIIIUIIIpIion compels UB to pay attention to how the act of CODIWDption t:ranIfonn. the relation between the COIIlUlDer and the consumed. We contend. that as the market economy seeks to regulate ami integrate -authentic" difference, white American ambivalence toward blackness is pandoxically both IIIIWIpd by iIB "uDiverulity" and heipteaed. by iIB distinctiveness. This confticted set of impulaea and feelinp can be wilnelled in the commercial .. diIcIosed in corporate stratesY, and oblervec:l in focUB group interviews. Hence, this essay pr0- ceeds in three ltapa: 6nt, we explicate what we mean by spectacular COIlIUIIlp-

I tion, relatiDt it to the COIIIIIlOdifica of the -WhUlUp?!· SUYl. Second, we provide an inIerpretation of the oripnal commercial 10 as to show how


white American unbivalence concerniDg race is inIcribed in the ad. Third, we cIlacuu the remits of focus 8fOUP interviews that were used to pm insipt into ·cons~ perceptioDJ of the ada. We conclude with some ohlervationI about the on-png developmeat of the ·Whaaup" line of commercials and the racial ambiva1ence they promote.



Treating the spectacle .. a rbetoricaI construction, David E. Procter focuses biB critical attention on how a tacle u an -event" can be called: by rhetors seekiDg to bulld community (1990, p. 118). Drawing from the work of Murray Edelman, Thomas B. Farren and Othen, Procter positl Ihe CODcept of a .cIyaamic spectacle" as requiring •• fusion of material event with the symbolic construction of that event and with audience needs" (1990, p. 119). From this perspective, the specracle is a choreographed happening like a celebration or JDeIIlOIi8l that brinp together the iDteIpretive IDllIeriaTs for rhetorical Jnzis. & Procter'. anaI~ demonlb"atel, the critic iI charged With the task of determining how rhetoric IrBnIformed the material event into a spectacle ami how the spectacle builds community. Our uncJer.tand~ of spectacle both CODVeqes with diverge. &om this account. We sbare Procter'. concem with the CODItructed nature of spectacle and the capacity of interested. persons to shape it. In particular, we find UJefol Procter'. understanding of .pectacIe as a mediated phenomenon that transform. penons' lived reality. However, we do DOt conceive of spectacle as aD. event or as a



happening, wi1b a clearly defined beginniDg, middle, and an end; here, the spectacle is a t:mIIliIiort-a. charad:eristic of our collective being. It mOlt, thereCore, be understood ODtologic:ally as well as rhelorically.

Guy DeBord (1983), in Sot:idJ of IIu Sp«:tadI. explains that as social systems shift from industrial to po5t-inclusbial economies they also undergo ontological change. Rather thaa being orpnized around the exclumge oC goods based upon acmal Ule values. the spectacle establishes mass consumplicm as a way of life. When siF value replaces Ole value as the foundation of being in this fashion. human beings need DO longer be concerned. with discovering the essence oC Dtulin, for the "true" D8ture oC one's being is up Cor grabs; it can be fabricated through ""_"'''' (Best .. KeUner, 1997; Ewen, 1988). In the society of the spectacle. even facets of one's very body can be manufactured in keeping with the latest trend. Importantly.asJean Baudrillard (1984) has forewarned, a society's capacity to replicate and manipulate forms of public culture Corces upon all of us a virtual supersedure of the life world by the signifiers that previously represented it. By destabilizing the ways through which we ucribe meBDing and value to our experiences. the spectacle mediates our understanding of the world through a distribution of commercialized signs. Although this process may not be conspiratorial (Hall, I 99.1j), it is hardly random; the economics of the speclacle lead to the orchestrat:ion of meaning and value so as to realize the -moment when the commodity has attained the total occupation of social life" (DeBord, 19Ra. p. 13). As the spectacle sbucture& both work and play, divene aapects ofUfe are made sipificant inasmuch as they can be made

marketable. Thul, these proc:eues 1IlIIniry-that is, make spectacular-previously private worlds and the penoDl who inhabit them.

Spectacular consumption is, thus, structured. in a fashion different from traditiODal spectacle; irs rhetorics respond to cultural variables in divene pattemB oriented by the logic of sign value. A key rhetorical resource in the economy of speclacular consumptiOD, then. is the paradoxical tension betweeD the "different" and the widely available. On the one hand, the pleasure of consuming otherness is advanced. by the Other's uniqueness. On the other hand. in a mass consumer cuhure, commodity value riles to a sufficient level only when the Other undergoes massive replicalion: "In a hyperreal culture, things are conceived &om the point of view of 1f/IrYItbIdIIiH1]. as we come to think something is rrtU only insoCar 81 it exists as a serialized commodity, as able to be bought and sold, u able to be made into a novel or a movie" (Belt" KeUner, 1997. p. 100l, emphasis added). The consuming rhetoric of the spectacle thUi promotes a contradiction 81 it leeks strategically to reproduce on a massive scale the singularity associated. with the "authentic." And yet these attempts persist becaule the market value oC such reproductions escalates as long 81 the "aura" of .. authenticity" can be maintained (Benjamin, 1984).

Clearly, cultural difference provides a particularly valuable resource Cor spec:lacular consumption. The differ.. ences found among cultures provide a resource of the new and the unfamiliar that is particularly valuable because those dilTerences can be projected. u "authentic" even as they are commercially manufactured. In the case of the Budweiser ads, public consumption of


the ads triggen an overvaluation and fabrication of black bodiea in living spaces repretented .. "real &fe." Spectacular COIIIUJII~ then. deacribes the procesa by which Ihe material and I)'IDbolic reladcma among the culture induslly, the life worlds of penons, and the ontoJosicalstatus of cultural forms are traDlf'ormed in lenns poerated by public CODIUJDption (Watts. 1997).

The succesaful muldng of the f'act that the MWhassup?!" guys are Montologically eroded" .. cultural COl'IDI (Best

· lk KeUner, 1997, p.l02), thus, extenda I beyond the texII of the ads themselves

· to a series of related. texII that topther cOJlllitute the on"jOillg production of I spectacle. The Maura" of the -rrue" ads

· is itself replicated. through corporate strategy linking public opiDion, corpo-

· rate discoune, Uld teBtimony from the -Whauup?!" guys themselves. Our UDdentanding of llreality" is mediated throup a maIrix. of imagery in the spectacle.

One key dimenllion of these appeaII is the way the "univer-.l" dimensions of the commen:ials enhance the Maura" of Mauthenticl.ty" by making explicit claims to "real Me." -Whaasup?!" is called a llrommm guy greeting," (parhi, 2000, p.el) ancI-WhllllUp?!" enthusiBIts identify how the ads ue said to reflect "the essence of what [menJ do on Sunday afternoons" (Ad-nde, 2000, p. D 1). According to Bob Scarpelli. the creative director of the advertising agency responsible for the cam~ this doiDg nothiDg is labeled a -comDlO.D experience" Ihat -rescmate[s]" because men can say, -'That's me and my buddies.'" Although there is a gen.der gap with the ads, and men like them more, many women nonetheleu chime in by remarking -'"That'. my hlllband, my boyfriend or my brolher'"


(McCarthy, 2000a. p. 3D). AnheuserB1lIc.b &equently ciIeI marketing research that explains the ada' "aoaover appeal" in terms of -mDversal" frlendshlp Uld -about beiDg wiI.b. ),our buddieI" (McCarthy, 2OOOD, p. 6B).

DiIcussiDg the fact that the target audience for this campaign was qnally composed of MEverymen" (Garfield, 2000a. p. 2), meaning mostly white men, IIWbasaup11" ad promoten like Anheuser-Busch V.P. Bob Lachk.y refer to focus group reviews where "predominately Anr}.o" crowds report that each of the ads lIiis a colorle. thing .... '" (Ad.nde, 2000, p. Dl). Similarly, after the Bnt of the ada garnered the Caunes top prize, ~ • explained the accolade by aayiDg that II America saw [the ad] not as an inside-bladc.-cu1ture joke but [81J a univenal expression of eloquent male inarticulateness" (Garfield,2000a, p. 2). The potnt that we are making here is that these lltatementl poUt as ,,_ {tid, evidence for the existence of a color-blind society the fact that white folks __ identification with black (me-

diated) experiences. This claim seems reuonable Uld perhaps even promising when one undentaDda Ihat it is premiled u the captivatiDg depiction ofb:.:rnmale aJl'ection and camaraderie I.IIlODI real liCe friends. Commenting in the W- .. .Past, one observer wrilellhat the ads -provide a gUmpse into a private world of four men at leisure. The joy each man expresses in peting and being greeted by hi. longtime friends is infectious, universal Uld, it seems, genuine" (Farbi. 2000, p. C2). lOi. dilplay is important given the fact that television advertising rarely shoWl black affection (Entman lk Rojecki, 2000; hooks, 1992).

In spectacular consumption the linkBpI among the spheres of social life,



the culture induatry, and public CODaumption allow dynamic dilCUnive and pntp'atic interplays of inftuence; COTporate ~a to univenaliam thus eacourap 'ng from the "Whusup?!" guys 81 they recount their rea1life aft'ec· lions for an insatiable media. For example, Charles Stone has repeatedly Ie8dRed to the ada' "universal message of male bonding" {McCai1hy, 2000B, p. 28} by describing how the whole thiDs' got atuted: ·7hat's reaDy how we talk. to each other. We used to call each other en the phone 15 yean .." during our college yean, and that was our greetiDg. People say it seems real to them. It is real'" (Farhi, 2000, p. C2, emphaaia added). ·'It really wasn'l acling, ,. remarks Paul Williams, the "Wb"up?!" guy with the big hair. "lIt W8I ua being us'" (Adande, 2000, p. 2). Scott Brooks, who plays and is "Dookie" in the ads. agrees: "You can't fake that kind of chemistry,'" he remarked during a promotional tour in St. Louis. ""We're really friends''' (McCarthy, 2000d, p. 7B). It is importaat to acknowledge that these messages arise out of bona fide and caring relatioaships among the men.

This appeal to a putatively univenai experieace of male bonding is a conflicted one, however, because it is made through black men in a white dominated culture, wherein the -Universal" has long been ponrayed in terms of whiteness. Thus, it is the very assertion of the "Whassupl!" crew inhabiting an ·auLhe.otic" {black} life world that helps w8JTBIIl the ads' preswned transcendence of blackness for while viewers. We do not waat nor need. to become involved in a debate over whether Western actually a1lowl for such transcendence. We mean only to demOlllt:rate that there exists a dilCUJ'sive tension between appeals to color-

MARCH 2002

Iessness and appeals to black cultural diatincliveDell. 1bis discunive Bb'esI becomes moslacule 81 we explore the CODlOun and shapes of cultural "au· thenticity." Aoheuser-Busch now boasts that the ada enjoy masa appeaJ by vir, tue of their essential colorlessness; it did not, however, besin coaceiving of the ads with thi. virtue in miDd. Orillnally, Anheuser-Buach wanted a "multicultural cut" (Farhi, 2000, p. C I). This sort of marketing strategy hu rigbdy been UDdentood u eolor-t:tmsriOIU becauae it ariaea out of a concern that an all-black cast would alienate predominately white audiences (Entman ~ Rojecki, 2000; Jhally. 1995). Additionally, Stone's argument about cuting his friends wu aue.oted to by Anheuser-Buach because its ad agency, DDB World Wide, wu equally concerned with keeping it "real." Simi· larly, early iD the campaign's genesis, Stone thought thai. the CODBe1'Valive teadendes of the DDB would be placated if he altered the tagline, -True," to read ·Rigb.L· A vice preaidentof Anheuser· Busch uked that he change il back to the more desirable "slang" term saying thal.·'True is cool'" (McCarthy. 2000c, p.9B).

Hence we caa see that despite the '"uDivenality" of the IIWbBIIUp?!" guys life world, Anheuser-Busch and its ad agency paid dose attentioD to how black culture should be shaped for con.wnption. The many media references to how "Whaasup?!" ia now the "cool· est way to say hello· (McCarthy, 2000d, e. 6B) and the llhip gree~ of choice" (McCarthy, 2000c, p. 8B) testify to the fact that Africu American cultural Conns are atiU the ataadard bearer of pop cultural faabion. Elijah Anderson argues thai. the commercials represent something ""very speclRe to black people" (in Fartu, 2000, ca). Similarly,

Michael Dyson believeI that they CODvey the notion that "black veopcular" can be I1lUI marketed without "beillJ white wuhed (in Heller, 2000. p. II). Indeed, -authentic" bJackneu is ..." valuable to apec:tacuIar CODIUIDpdon than representations of blacImeta as lBIIIeIleil predlely ",_". it il more

amdety producing.

The enelJ)" created within the interBIicea of apec:IKUIar COIIIWIlption ariaea in part out of the desire for white folk " 10 recondute their identitiea through acta of black conlumption (hoob, 1992). To this end, the 19908 seemed : 10 have normalized the market appro-

: prlation or black. styles. -'When they : write the history of popular culture in · the 2Cfh century,'· comments MTV'I " Chris ConneDy, -'they can lum it up in " one sentence which iI, white kidl want-

iDg 10 be as cool as black kids'" (in " Graham, 2000, p. 09.) This detire il undeniable, but as hooks 10 percep" dvely points out, while folk do not want 10 ,_,_. black (1992). The diacurlive spaces of white privilege mUit be : maintained even as the CODIUIDption I of blaclmell intensiJies. Spectacular ; consumption as a critical lena brinp : into focus how the energy &om. this " dialectic il hameued by the replica: tiOD of specific features of the -authen-


Budweiser ad executives want the

fuokineu and edplel8 of the -WhaI-

· sup?!" campaign to become character" iatics uaociated with Budweiaer. The " strategy is premiJed on the logic that · Bud is a -colloquial beer" md ita in : with the sips ortbe Other (Farhi, 2000, : C2). There are corporate and Iepi I means to enable IUch identification.

FOI' example. AnheuseT-Busch has trademarked the tenn -Whassup?!" for ita exclusive muket use (McGuire.

! 2000). Moreover, UDlike the African


American life world out of which it comes, where ita iDtonatioD. aDd ita apelliog vary amcmg ita particular UIapa,1IacIwdIer has sugeated a proper pronunciation for -whump?!" and has c:opyripted.lD -offici.l apelliog. .. w-ha+ ... u~ a1thouP there' I an optional p on the end" {Adamle. 2000, p. 2). These technica.l measures are sipificant. but they C8DDOl overcome a fundamenlal problem. with CODIUmptioD. That is, the .... l1'I8p-I)'Item of the marketplace re8ec1B our desire and dreams, yet we have cmIy the pleuure of the images to sustain us in our actual. experience with goods" ()baBy, 1995, p. SO). ThiI is 10 if we conceive of Budweiser beer as the sood. being consumed. Thil is DOt the cue in spectacDlu consumption, however, where the -WhBIIUp?!guYI themselves constitute the producl • And no one is better at making a complete, inIegrated promotiomd effort than Anheuaer-Buach; they've sotten every ounce of pubUcity out or Ibis that can be sotten" (McGuire. 2000, p. EI).

During a lo-day promotional lour during the summeT of 2000. Scott Brooks, Paul Williama, and Fred Thomas completed their tIanIformalions &om product apokeIpenons to products-the -Wh.WJp?!- guys. Bouncm, &om one Budweiaer-spooaore media event 10 aDOther, one reporter DOted a padem in the form of a question: -how lDBIly limes do they estimaIe thallhey stick Iheir tongues out in a given promodonal day?" (McGuire. 2000, p. El). This question can be modified and mullip6ed to illuminate the operaIionI ofhyperreality. How often does one have to repeat one'. backpumuI aDd. diaplay OIl me one'l pnuine aJrecIion for the Other PYI to majntain the -..ura."? How can such III "aura- even be cultivated. Ibroup iUipted "Ipontaneity"? How will the



lIwtu.u.p?!. guys llay Wfme· 10 black expreIIion given the conlelllion made by RulleD Rickford of Drexel University that "once a phrase has become mainIIream, bJac:k folks stop IlIing it and go on to somethirtg else"? (McGuire. 2OOO,p. EI). AJtboush lhead campaip may have already reac:bed. iii SIIbIraIion point., spec:tacu1ar consumption compels the CODtinued replication of value and handsomely rewards ill replicanll. Charles Stone, UI, is now a hot directing commodity who bas a movie deal, a contrad: wilh Anheuser-Busch for more commen:iaIs, and who gets meetinp with acton like Dustin Hoffman. There is also a lot of talk about a possible sitcom or movie deal for the friends. At any rate, their 1IQ;rating." a 1V recognizability quotient., is 10 high that Brooks. once a bmmcer in Philadelphia, was forced 10 quit his job. Also, Williams, a typically out-of-work adm, has been able to sift through scripts and pay his reat lOr an entire year (McGuire, 2000, ~).

This media buzz lraDsJates into the son of lltalk value" (McCarthy, 2OOOb, p. 2B) that is partly responsible for convincing the Cannes officiaJs to put aside their milgiviDp concemiDg the ads' popularity in the face of the 1IWhusup?!· guys' spectacularity (Garfield. 2000a). In other words, the public consumption of the ads and the acton is constitutive of a commitment to replicating image value. This commibnenl compels industry brokers like the Cannes folb to shift their values away from rewarding artistic accomplishment in advertising and toward recognizing ads "that work." ads that sustain spectacular consumption (McCarthy, 2OOOb, p. 2B). It also helps generate conflicted dilCllnive perfonnances that, through a crilical reading of the lint "True" ad, further reveal how white

MARCH 2(112

ambivalence helps mold public displays oC llautheatic" blackness.

"Watching the Game, Ha~ .Bud-:An~of Competlq S~ and VIaloDi of "TrileCcmmmptloD

The Budweiser "True" commercial offen a setting in which gender and culturaJ performances are conditioned by sports and spectatorship; llmasculinity" ami IIblackness· emerge as key themes in this world where men lounge in front of televisions and make seemingly inconsequential conversation. Allbaugh the repose of these men is casuaJ, even languid, there is quite a bit of action goina on. This is so despite the fact that Stone is lliaid back" on the couch IraDs6xed by the game on TV i he and his friends appear in this ad. as both observen and-players of a spectacular llgame." As acton in a commercial the fact that they are being watched cannot be denied. but their performances display a heightened sense or awareness or the politics and character oC the white (consumptive) gaze. And so. the ad. testifies 10 competing visions~ the -True" commercial demonstrates a fonn of self-reflexivity that focuses our attention on how the "Whassup?!" guys playa game in which they recognize (that is, see) the ways that their ·play" is overvalued as lIauthentic" cuftural perfonnance. The significance oC these competing visions CODleS into view as we integrate a textual analysis with a critical lena that takes into consideration how spectacular consumption is constituUve of images that mediate llreallire· social relations. The "True" ad emerges as a conflicted statement on how culturaJ commodities in the spectacle are made


self-coJllCiout-that is, made aware of how their appearance can maximize their market potential. In order to keep tndc: of all of dIiI seeing aDd beiag seen,let'. begin with the opening 1ICeDe.

Charles Stone &ebI the mood and tone lor the lint act of this Ihree-part drama. Clut:c:hiDs a beer bottle and. stretching out on a lOra he IItareI vacantly into the 6pt& of a 1V; we family hear the color commentllly of a game. Unlike advertisements where the sports fanatic is callpt up in the ecstasy and IIFDY of the spol1iDg event, Stone i. nearly catatonic, not inwated. in the sporting event, but bmed in nevertheleu to the ritualiatic characler ofmucuUne spectatorshi.p. Pat limply. Stone BeemS nearly perfect .. the Sunday aftemoon llcouch potato."

The telephone riDp. Stone, without diverting hU gaze, IIDIWefI the phone:


The camera cuts to Paul Williamr who IIipala for us both a departure

. &om how TV a.dvertisiDg depiCIs conventional male-bonding ritual. oriented around. sports spectaton!r ami an i~ or the mood toDe establiIhed by Stone. A.. we have already noted, WiI1iam8 was nol initially ccmsidered for hill own put in the ad became Stone was told to find acton to make up an ethnic rainbow. Since such a cut would. have been ·divene," the cast would nol only collectively lignify

: the ideal of American integration but it would alIa allow white viewers to

: "identify with feJlow whites, and. reIDnate to their on-screeD relationships with each other" (EntmaD It Rojecki, 2000, p. 167). William. iI, therefore, a violation of this ad strategy precisely

: becauIe hi. speech ad his look mark I him 81 other in a world of maiostream I marketing. Compared to Stone'l con-

servative style, Williams'. Afro ligni-

D WATI'S AND 0lUIE "exoticism." On the other hand, Williams wholly identifiefl with Stone'. tone and mood, endorsing a performance that testifies both to .ne timelessnesa of the ritual and the character of their relationlbip. WiWam. and Stone are walcbiug the IIlIIIe pm.e and having the IUDe beer; their shared interest in the game does not leIlily to its importance, but ralher it reinforces the siptificance of liar, 111m for .., atIIMr duri.og the game. Male boDdiDg tnnllllutel into black male affection a William. and Stone demORllrate Ibeir intrrperlODaI comfort and communa1linguistic: styles.

Willlmul: -Ay, who. whUlUp?"

SlOne: ·NothiD', II. watchin' the pme, hav.i.o' a Bud. Whauup wit'chur-

WilUamJ: -Nothin',' the game, havin' a Bud."

Stone: -True, b'Ue."

This dialogue punctuate. the epilOde, sigDaling ita end, ad BDDounces the following acL Fred ThOlDBl enters the .scene and greell Stone exu.'beratly. "WhauupPI" With flaring nOltrill aDd waging tongue, Stone mirrors Thomas'. performance. WiDiams asks Stone, "yo, who'l that" and Stone directl Thorn.. to "yo. pick. up the phone." Williams, Thoma. and Stone sharee a'o I and comical verbal hug that ri • oulward and embraces

Scou II Ide" Brooks. Stone'. editing

creates a vilual montap of Jdeerul faces and a kind or musical tribute to the group expreasion a each man's voice contributes to a shriIJina' chorus. As a display of black lIlBICU'Iine afFec:t:ion, the BCeRe ~tI brolberly respoDsibility. As iDiams SIb about Thomas and as Thomas wonder. ·where'. Dookie?," viewers bear witneu to bJack. men acknowledgi.og their need and



care for the well-being or other black men.

Thil mutual aJleclion il nonetheless potentially b'oubliDB to white audience members.. Ever since the importation of African slaves, black solidarity has been constituted u a threat to white power. Rather thUi being a detriment to white readinp of the commercial, however, this weU-spring of anpt pr0- vides a poleDt commercial reaource, specifically a reaource for humor. At the heart or humor is the release of repression, me releaae of~ h0stility in particular (Gruner, 1997). As a corporate sign of control aad regulation, -Whassup?!" mUI sigoilies the comic relief of white angst

It il precisely the affective display that is historically troubling to while COIlSWIIption and most subject to being made pleuurable Uld docile by the oeeratioos of spectacular consumption (hooks, 19'.rJ; Madhubuti, 1990; West, 1994). During this IeCO.Dd act, the greeting balloons ioto a full·blown caricature of itself and, thus, seems to fit within a ttadition of clowning and buffoonery (Franklin. 2000). The IIWhassup?!" guys playa role that is, in pan, constitutive of white ambivalence toward -true" black.oeSl. Enlman and Rojecki (2000) argue that 21·t century white attitudes find comCon in imapning racial comity because it affirms AmeriCUI ideaJs regarding our capacity to aU get along. But racial comity can easily be tumed into racial hostility if whites are confronted with portray. als of race that challenge the presump· tion of white privilege or articulate the presence of wide spread racism (Entman & Rojecki, 2000). Since the prelumption of white privilege is tacitly maintained through the promotion oC black fragmentation (LuSBDe, 1994; Allen, 1990). black community rune-

MARCH 2002

lions u a menace to white supremacy. And so, iIIusllations of black. cornmunaliJm are shaped at the 0UIIel1O that the BDXiety and fear aroused in white viewen can supercharge the consumption ofbJack humor or black. sex. Thus, the -aura" of -authenticity" that envelOp' me familial relations among the men functions like lightning in a bottIe-a brtlliaot danpr. White spec .. - ton have their fears Initially trigered by "authentic" blackness, only to have them strategicaUy vented by this selfparody of black community. AUuned in mis way, we can now hear the nervouslaupter of the AtbJmiIi", AgtstaJT that lldoem't quite get it but suspects [that is, A¥aI it is very funny ... " (Garfield, 2000, p. 4).

This comic display is, therefore, paradoxical. As a "play" in the game, it points to the impouibility of replicating black cultural -authenticity" even u it relies on its presumed aura. It gives the lie to claims of aumenticity u the IAWhasaup?!" guys dislon their real life expression-making it lAunlrue"-for the benefit or the white gaze. Rather than be IlreaI" for a white audience, the IIWhaaup?!" guys are uked to playa game that is predicated on hyperreality and hyperbolic black acting. Moreover, since Scott Brooks has described the performance u -exaggerated, " this play is understood as such by the -Whusup?!" guys themselves (Heller. 2000, p. 11). But this observation brings up another related irWsht If the second act is a self-conscious play during the game of spectacular consumption, the other two acts (the third mirron the fint) caD. be undentood as the -Whas· sup?!" guys attempt to remain "True," That is, they are representative or how the friends see themselves ami a dramatization of their collective undentanding of how one makes the llgame" work


for you. Indeed, Stone'. script teUs us umuch.

In the tint aDd third. acts. Stone and WJIIiamJ are conc:emed with their colleclive participation in a spectator ritual. The 1CeI1e1 are centered on the black. ID8ICUline pze and cool pose (Majon .!t BilllOII, 1992). Stone and william. teatiIy to the fact that they are aotjut objectl under aurveillBDce here,

· bul rather they are enppd in IUbjecI live (mbvenive?) acta of observation i and~. Specifically, they are · -UMIItA., the pme, Iuai", a Bud." In I the openiDJ and cbiDi acta of this

commercial, the taaUne -.:rue" Upiftes the shared UIlCIenIanding of how to seU'-promote and shape-sbift for the purposes of ·haYing a Bud," of takina

· advantap of Budweiler'. desire for

(aDd fear of) their blackness and in the : procell, mllXimizing their own market ! value. The aec:ond act is a festive and : troubling demonstration of just luch a

· Ihared ~, &amed not by Individu&lism, but communalima. The coI: orful exchRIIF among the friends displa)'l a joy that can stiIJ. be IeeD and I heBrd deJpile the del'ormationI, contordoni, ancf amplification •.

It is Irue that apectacuIar CODmmp: Iion""...even the lint act and mere-

fore alwaya already makes demands

· on Ihe -whusupi'!" IU)'I. From this : penpective we can appreciate how pre~ vioualy private enclavea and penoDI I can be colODized and traDIformed into ; IOUI'CeI for spectacular CODIumptiOD. : We IhouId not be IUlpliIled that theae : ope_ra.tiom convert and mulliply

-whaaup"" into a aeries of commercialized .... that perhapa DO longer _y anytllins important cODceming black co1ture but are nearly aeJf'-referential, ltanding for little more than their own market. value. But the spectacular COIIIWD.ption of the -wbaasupi'!" guya


brinp up yet another concem. White imitaJion ofb1ack.liCe alters the cbaracter of IOCiaI relatioDa 8II1OD8 real folb. Not Oldy is the appropriation or black styles pm&table, tne pOtenda.l for racial hOldi1ity-ta function of white ambiva- 1ence-il ~ and cultivated by IlyIiBb. divenionl (Kennedy, 20(0).

Spectacular CODIUID lion fimctiona u a c:apacitor for : ambivaleDce, seizllll ita energies and re~ them in planned microbunta directed at lllimulating more CODIUIDption. White ambiwJeDce towaTd blackaea is, th1ll, replicated alonplde cODiumable "blackness." And althoup this operation nears the character of .. ,.,., we can feel iIB eJfects in our evezyday real world .. black. CoJk are told to "lighten up," or when ODe'. refusal to "pTay the fool" provokes racial eamily. It may abo be tLe case that ·lUthentic" black af£ection emerpa. however 8eetiDAIY, as an expression Ihat ill potentialJ.y redistributed among a wider circle of fIienda and commUDiliel as "'rue." But this is a question beat left in abeyance until we exp10re how -real" folb conlume these imaga.

FGaII Group Jnllp.:


ThUi far, we have explicated how spectacular conlDlDption provides in.. into the commodification of the -tYh~?!" guys and have provided a textual amdysil of the oriaiDal commen:ia1. Thmuabout these diacuuiona, we have made reference to the various wa)'l that the market:iag potential of the c:ommercia1I I8eIIII to be a fimclion of the perceived "authenticity" of the -Wh.::r.?I" gu,.. Conaequent1y, we Cacili a Dumber offocua group disc_onl to pinlDJight Into one gen-



eraI research questimJ.: How are "Whusup?!" ads consumed by dift'erent viewen? As can be seen in lhe lollowing section, accesaing divergent perspec. tives in this ma.ooer proved invaluable in strengthening our current critic:aI analysis. In order to gain insight into the various ways that television consumers iDteraded with Ihe "Wbassup?!" commercials, we conducted a series of diacussiomJ with mtdergraduate ltudenta at a IIIIF' Midwestern university.

Specifically, we drew from one 300- level communication class whole content focllled on iuues related to race and culture. A total of thirty-seven people were involved in this aspecl of our analy· sis. These penons were divene in tenDs of their race-etImicity (17 African Americans, 11 Europea.o Americans, 3 Aaian Americans, 3 Hispanic/Latino AmeriCBDI, and 3 individuals who identify as biracial) and gender (24 women and 13 men). Thirty six. of the participants were 18 to 24 yean or ••

Our focus group diBcussions included severalsleps. Fint, alilhirty-seven par· ticipanta were shown four of the "Whassup?!" commercials reaturing the "Whassup?!'" guys in different sellings. Participants were then asked to write down their responses to a number or questions, including: what was your initial reaction to these commercials (either now or at an earlier time)?; is the reaction the same for all of the commercials, or do they vary from commercial to commercial?; and who do you think the target audience is for these commercials? Then, two spoofs althe -Whassup?!" commercialsl"eaturing "Superheroes" and "Grandmas" were shown. These spoofs were not produced by DDDO or AnheuserBusch, but we thought they JDi&:b.t help give depth to our undentancljng of audience re5poD.lel to the advertise-


ments. Apin, participants were asked to record how, if at all, their perceptions of these commerciala were different than the previous ones viewed. In addition, each penon wu asked. to expreas their opinions about the appar· ent marketing strategy behind the series or "Whassup?!- ads.

During a subaequent sessioD, the tt;::r;-Ieven participants were ran· d y divided into seven smalJ (5-6 penon) groups to diac:uss their reactions to the commercial •. FoUowing these brief 100minute discU5lio.Ds. a larger 3D-minute diac:uuion of all participants was racilitated in order to clarify and extend those inslJhts that were included in the written responaea. This larger discussion was UDStruCtnred in that participants were simply asked to share some of their percepIioD.s or the commercials as diacussed via their individual comments and the small group discuasions.

Our thematic analysis of the written and oral comments provided. by the rocus group participants was guided by three criteria outlined by Owens (1984): repetition, recurrence, and ron:efulness. As such, the ll"xts generated via the written comments and larger group disculliom were reviewed for prelimi. nary themes. Subsequenrly, eight preliminary themes were reviewed until a smaller number of core themes emerged that we believe captured the essence of the participantB' comments. Through this interpretative reduction procell, three specific thematic insights that enhance our critical analysis of the "Whassup?!" guys were identi· fied. Each of these is explicated in the remaining lections of this essay.

RlIIlti", To 1M "~"

Almost wilhout exception, the participants found the "Whassup?!'· ads to


be hiply creative. UDique, and entertainiDg. In fact, bunta or auch"ble 1qb.ter BD.ed the room wbiIe the cammercialI were being shown. IDitiai written deacriptiOD8, u well u mbsequent pup diIcuIIiooI, dilplayed a pDeral CODIeDIIlI that the "Whlllll1p?!- IDYl had "hit a comedic nerve" with mBa audiences. However, a deeper level of ICIUtiny in terms of why participants felt the adJ were 10 funny reveal. some

o iDtereIting palteIDI.

Analyms of written TeIpOIIIeI providea insipt into dUJerences between

o non-African AmeriCIUII and African Americu.. Nearly every African , American woman and man perceived.

o the "Wha&mp?!" commercial. u targeted at fOUDI African Americans in general, and young African American maleI in particular. Several commeDIed

o specifically ~ the use of an all-black. cut. while others pointed to the waya

o in which the adI featured "Ihe com-

o mon Ianpap ofblack: mea." Without

. African Americans raponded

:=i; to the ads becauIe of the "authemic" waYl in which black culI mre wu represented. The black: 1Itu: dentl tended. to concI.ucIe chat moat

o non-A&ican Americans would not relate to the content of the commercialI. One African American explajned in no uncertain terms that:

: This ad. in particular, ill r~ at ~

o BJac:k men. The reuoa [why I .)' this1 is bec:aue otthe JaDpap and the Ityle otthe commercial ... these are DOt tbiDp that a : man 35+ would do or phrues that a maD

35+ would Ole. They are lhmp that young

o Black men do.

What the African American particii pan.bI did DOlanticipa.te, however, were : the powerful ways in which non-AfriI can Americ:am also identified with the : depiction of the "W'ba..up?J" IDYl- For : example, only one European. Ame:ri-


can commented on bow the ad targeted. the African American community:

I've never IeeII these COIIIIIIeI'ciaI before, but I've heard 10 much about them.. I tbIDk that Budweiaer iI trying to appeal to the A&icaa American commUDlty becaue iL .... been Imown in the paR u IDIt ot a "hill-billy, oJ' boy brew." TheIe cammerdais bring BUD out ot heiDJ juIt a "'white man'. beer" ••• Tnut me, I UIed to cocbd.I waitrest-it II!!!

It is Iipi.8C1U'1t that out of all of the European, Latino. and Asian American partidpanlB she WlUI the ",." nonAfrican American to perceive the .Whauup?!" gu)'l u tupdDg the black community. Contrary to African American perceptiODl, nearly aD adler racialIethnic group memben perceived. the ad u representative of male life experieIH:eI. Re.Decting on our earlier cIiscusdon of bow -authenticity- func. ticms, it became apparent that DODAfricao. American men related to the images of ·PY'''-Dot neceaarily "Wh8IIup?l· guya-doing "guy lhiDp." One European American man shared that:

[IJ had IeeD. the commercJab befme and fouadrtbem1 hishly comical bec:auIe I could reJate to the experience of baWls a beer and watching a same with my friends act· ing silly ••• The tupt audience of the commercial Is cleady men in their earlylate twentiel.

By and larp, non-Amcan AmeriCUll focuJed on the ·universal" Dature of male bonding and sports. Oae Asian American male apeed that the target audi.eac:e WBI ·anyone from the ages of 18-80 who drink beer,· but added, -yea, the 'what's up' PYI are all black:, but I don't think that bJacb are the tarpt audience becaUle everyone lovell thOle



commercials." European American women were quick. to point out the lack of cultural specificity in the behavion of abe IIWbassup?!" guys. The quota.ticm below il represenlative of severallimilar commeuts.

I had never seen lhoIe actual commercials but J bad heard about Ibem ... all of my male rriend. acted like the men on the video a lot Jut year. My iDitiai reaction is that it was just a bunch or burly men (weird) ••• GuYI always have an inside joke or way ofshowiag off to their bucldies.

The contrast between how differenl racial/ethnic groups perceived the target audience ofibe IIWbUlUp?!" commercials is of particular sigoificance given Anheuser-liusch's explicit objective to create a campaip Ihal would be appealiDg to predomiDately while audiences. How, then, was it also able to sell the IIWb8lll1p?!" guys to African American audiences who yeamed for media displays of black culture? The basic principles related to spectacular

consumP:U:bf.rovide a schemata lhal makes av' e answen to this IiDpr-

ing question. & explicated in the next thematic section, we argue that marketing Itrategists are able,, to negotiate such tensioDl by emphuiz· iog the cultural llauthenticity" of the IIWbllllUp?!" guy •.

(RI-)Emp/ulsId", CrIItMrtd A.ulMnlit:ity

As stated earlier, responses to the initial "Whusup ?!" ada were overwhelmingly positive. However, when participants were asked to comment on their perceptions of two apoof commercials. their reactions were quite var· ied and signifiCBDdy dift'erenl thaD thOle based on the initial ada. Specifically, many commented on how the ads -didn't make seose." -, really don't know what the intent of these two com-

merciall were,'" shared one biracial woman. Some, but certainly DOt an. of the African American participants felt that the chanp in acton reflected a different tarpt audience. This makes sense given that the pnera! consenlUS was that the initial ada that featured the "WhBIIUp ?!" guys were targeted at you'DI African AmericlDI. Many didn't knoW how to perceive the spoof adl: "111ese chancteI8 don't fit the voicel. The voices are very African American; the faces on the screen are very WHITE.'" However, one African American articulated how the ad did, in fact, continue to target African Americans. She concluded that these two ads "were a cool, creative way to target blacks • • . , still believe the intent il to attract African Americans by subliminally maki"l fun of Whites. to

In com~lOD, non-African Americans aaw these ada 81 exteDIions of earlier IIWhassup?!" commerciala. One European AmeriC8D woman described the lpoofs u:

... really lUnny! They are difl'erent because you've BOI these '"white- people trying to be "black" ... That's the perception I got anyway. I allO that that's why Ibey were 10 funny- becaule it was Olltr'8pOUI in that you never should see that.

Another European American woman exlended Ihese comments and implicated associations of ltereotypical behaviors and subsequently connected Ihem to the perceived tarpt audience:

They ue funny beca.uIe they took. two sroupa: Superhero cartoon. and elderly white women who don't nonnally IaIk LOUD and made them do the IIIJI1e dia· logue. Neither of die two groups were the I.IIJel audience: The lIUpt audience remained the 1lIIIU!'.

As had the African American participan1l, several oftheae European Amen-


cans undentood how thete parodiea exteadecl earlier attempts to make use of the -authentic· to attract a 1arp audience. IateratiJlsly. it appean that ROn-A&ican Americanl continue to identify with the -univerul- appeal of the -Whasmp?'- pys in direct relation to seeing how abmrd it could be when -Uncool" people try to imitate them. In other words. -we- (those ofUi who are -cool.., can continue to relate-or even

· streDB'hen our relatiODIhip-to the -Wbauup?'- pya because or the perceived distincdon between ..... and

· thoee who are apoofed.

Several key idea emerge u central to the way the spoofs reinforce the

· oriplaI advertisements. Flrlt, &om the perspective of DOD-A&ican Americana.

I the spoof ads appear to Itrengthen the

-um,venal- appeal of the -whaaup?l· I guys; this il accomplished by featuring · the abaurdity of attempting to repro! dace it. -aura- with different faces and ; in different aettiDp. Second, for Afri-

can American viewen the spoof ad, streD&then the -au.tbentic· nature of

· the -whump?!. guys for a very 1Iimilar reuon: the ads hint that white (unhip) cbaracten can't -really" imitate

· black c:u1tIIre. At. deacribed earlier. one

· of the bask: tenets uaociated with spectacular conmmption is that the plea: sure of consuming olheme. i. advanced by the DIber', uniqueueu.

· Perhaps theBe spoof ads help to rei eltabfiah the unique nature of the -Wb.assup?I" guys by parodying at: tempts to aerialize the autheutic. Thia

· point is best captured in another spoof ad Ihat W8I never aired but iI available at the Maitie.etIJII website where it fre; quently ill listed in the top teD. This

commercial features a poup of YOWll' : European American friends who at~ tempt to use -whassup?!11 u a meam ~ to diIplay their -coolnessll at a RImmer


pthering. Despite their continued efforts. thOuab. ~ are never able to capture correctly the authentic greetiDg. Apia, mi. spoof euhances the -whuIup?!. aura Dy ilhutrating that the c:ooliaeII usociated with it. aDd with black culture pnerally. is virtually impouible to replicate. In thiI way. the commodity value 01 the image that is already -oWned- iDcreasea by virtue of its -uniqueneu.·


The fiDaI quesdons poaed. to particlpanb in our £oclll groups related to their perceptions 01 the I1IBI'ketiDB strategiea that manufactured the -WbaIIUp?'- ada. MOIl participants felt that the adverl:iJiDi cam.paip. was hiPJy eff'ective, with African American. f0cusing on the inclusion of the black community. and non-African American. appIaudi"l the uae of -humor [that could be] enjoyed 8CI'OII racial burien.· Acrou rBcial and ethnic groupt, however, aevenl participants ~ tioned what the -Whassup?!- ad. had to do with aeUing beer. One African American WOIDaD commented Ibat-me strategy was humol'01ll and auentiongetting. bot the product could have 6een emphasized more.- What aeemed to be just below the level of consciousne. for ICJIIIe put!cipantl was the idea that the -proctw:t" was not the beer, but the -authenticity- of the -Whassup?'- guys. This critical undentanding, however, was not 10I1l on all participants. Several participants dilCUued the increuecI expoaure that the company got in light of the commercials' popularity and elTective UIe of humor ia IIIIOCiatiDg their product widJ the -iD-crowd.· In fact. ODe Korean! AmerIcan womaa applauded AnheuserBUlh'. markel:ing creativity:



Budweilel' knows how 10 capture their audience's adendoD by using humor. I think [the adI] are elJective bec:auae they're calChy and people are a1wayslalkiDg aboul their commen:iala. As to how much beer they sell, I'm not sure because I don'l drink; however, I think becall8e people think the commercials are cool, they might think their beer is too.

While some participants made this connection, only one penon taJbd specifically about the historical pattern of the dominant culbJre co-opting black cultural artifacll for profit. Consequently, comments that focused. on the "Wh"up?l- guys (e.g., -.bey are hUarious!!!'") were few; more Bignificaot attention was paid to the llgenius" or Anheuaer-Busch. In this regard. it was the corporate marketing team-and nol the IIWhauup?!W guys-that was given IDOIt of the Mcredit" for the SUcc:eBS of the ads. One African American woman, for instance, pn.iaed -the foJlu at BUD [fori ulinS an everyday phrase for lOme and tumling] it into a million dollar commercial. - Commenll lauding Anheuser-Busch's ability to use humor to market their prodUCIs were consistenL Interestingly, the "WhUlup?I" guysdespite the central role that Charles Stone played in the development of the ada-were seen 81 pawns Itrategically deployed by corporate culture, Consistent with abe operations of spectacular consumption, the focus groups believed lhat the Mauthenticity" of the -Whassup?!" guys was at once IIoreal" and manufactured for mllSll conswnption.

One final point of critical analyBis cryslaJlizes the powerful ways in which the -Whassup?!" guys were commodified by mass mediated marketing_ Within his written responses, one biracial man (FdipinolEuropean American) described his reaction to the ada

in relation to a previous Budweiser advertising campaign:

I've seen these [IIoWhBIIUp?!"] ada before. My initial response to IheIe was thallhey were pretty funny. Wheal aee them now, I still can't help but laugh. These ad wizard. at Budweiser out-did lhemselves this limr_ I love Ihese guya---c lot belief than the rrop. The mukeUDg IIrategy iI GENIUS. I am a Bud man. It i& the Xing or Been. They've won my vote.

ThiI comment is especially didactic as it unwillingly brings to the surface the paradox of spectacular consumption. The commodification of abe MWhassup?!" guys is perceived Crom the perspecdve of other Budweiaer fabrications. The mdintion that, pbilolOphicaJly speaking, a fabricaIion camot De Mau_

thentic" in the way that. the rocus groups articula.led is diBcourapd by the simulbLneous replication of the "'aura. "This conInIdiction can be apparendv maintained, in part, because "real life" social reladons are themselves always already mediated in the spec:tac:le_


Thro1J8hout this essay we have argued. that the "Whaaup?!- ad campaign is constitutive of an ambivalence in the white imagination regarding; Mau_ thentic" blackness. Idealism concerning racial comity interpenetrates racial pessimism in such a way .. to produce discursive tensions within cultural artifacts that seek to sell Mrace." In the IIWhassup?!" campaip, this Sb'els is actualized within the discursive conloun of -authenticity." In terms of denoting MuniversaHIII11" or "sameness, II the ad campaign is perceived as delivering a male-bonding ritual with which "everyman" can identify. Conversely. -authenticity" also implicates distinctive black style and culbJre. The -True"


ads ex.pJici.tly reference a notion or realism. thal holda in teDIion differences ,1IIIOCiated. with how BpeCtatorI lee the "IllIhenti.cW .. either co1or1e. or color-

'ful. Moreover. we contend that the opendimu of apectacuIar consumption replicate and amplify this ambivalence becauae the anxiety inscribed in it enhancel the market value of black imarery.

Our rocu. group 8II8IysiI demonItrateI how white CODI1IDleI8 overtly reooptu the 'imivenaJ.- character or the "authentic" muculine :ri.tuaI while tacitly appreciating the ads .. (black) ullra-hip. We pOIit that this cultural dillOCiation is a lip of how the white imagination appropriates b1ac1mea as commodity wbile denyiDg such appr0- priation. Blacknea here intenlli&ea the pleasure of lleatiDg the otherw (boob 1992. p. 21) and broken lID. escalation

: of the commodity value of the 1IWhu! IUp?!" SUys. Such "pleasure- is a sympII tom of ambivalence. But also wbite

ambivalence toward -rrue- blackneu forcea a .",.",.. of the character of IUch conlUlDption precisely beauue its conllCioua recognition would tum the white gaze upon itself. That is. white conlUlDen would be compeBecl to interrogate the reuons why consuming Othemeu as a hiIt:orically cultivated taste iI predicated. on wbite supremacy. Since this lort or public deliberation may reduce the anpt white people experience when faced. with blackness, spectacular CODIumplion seeb to prefabricate the coacIitions in which such denial il an effect of pub6c CODIUIDption itself. This is why the replication of white ambivalence toward bladmess becomes a central facet of these COIII1.UIlptive proceIIeL Endoning Ihe 'imivenality" of

I "colorlessw male bonding pays tribute I to American idealism about race rela-





tioDl but it C8IIDOt (and is DOt meant to) displace the sipificlDCe of distinctive black culture. In the white imaplation. IUch a tribute is replicated just as carefully and COIIIIlIIled. just as voradously as the llauthentic" blaclmess that it obscures.

Our textual BDBl)'lil of the origiDal IIWhusup?!" commercial demonstrated how the ad is made up of compedDg CODIUIDptive impulses. SIDDe'I script is itself a stl'atepc respoDIe to the operationJ t:broup which be and hiI frlemla were beiDg commcvJified. The ad vecton in two clirectiona at oncei it uti_..,. and molUfieI white detires and

lean reprdiDg -real" bJack br0therhood by turning the greetiDg inIo a cartoon version of itself. It also PI'" tureI toward a lite of cultural integrity beyond the shouts and shrills of the corporate lip of "Whauup?!W In the first and third acts of the commercial, Stone and Wdliams -have a Bud" and observe how the spectaculBl' game il played. Their lubjective and consumptive acts help reshape the conditions of their commodification because they serve as a D8II'I.Iive frame for the second hyperbolic seene. Understood from thia perspective, the ad begins and endI with a commentary on how to -keep it teal" whlle playiDa the IIpme.W

The game continues. While there have been several iDreIestiDg IIWhatlOp?!" spin OtTl. the -True- ad that appeued during the 2001 Superbowl critically dramatizes the problem that spectacular consumption poses for critia who seek to conceive of llrealityw and "power" in cODventional termI. As a replica of the oriplal ~ the ad reintroduces us to DOticm& of cultural authenticity and surveiDance. 11IiI ad. however, features two white



guys and their brown friend and represents the invenion of cultural cool.

The phone riDp. "Brett," looking rather IItifF while watching TV, answen the phone:

"This is Brett."

'"Whu are you doing?" -Whal are ",. doiDJr

"jUll walchiag the market recap. driDking lDimpon:."

wrhat il correcL 11w. is correct!"

A knowing audience is immediately clued into the fael Lhat thiI convenlLtion is "lame" and even ItrBnge compared. to the familiar rhythm of the IIWhusup?!" guys. Indeed', the fact that these new friends are drinkiDs imported beer signifies a ~ of forIipII1II'. -Chad" (who is brown) enten carrying a tennis racket and exclaims IIwhat are you doing?" aud '"Brett" direels him to IIpick. up the cordless.. " The friends exchange their cumbersome greetiDg with comedic gusto. Despite tlae fact-that the scene is silly, we would like to note some serious implications. Viewers who are knowledpable about "Whassup?!1t cool are encouraged to ridicule the IIWhat are you doing" guys. Although signifyiDg economic privilep, they are ~ as un-~and, perhaps, un-American} IIwann .It ~oreover, the -What are

you doing'" guys seem unaware that their cultUral performance is out of fabion. At the end of the commercial, Fred Thomas and Paul Williams are shown having a Bud and watching the "wannabes'" on TV. Here, the ad characterizes the black male gaze as central and authoritative as the .Whusup?!" guys look at each other with facial expressions that say" IIthese guys can't be for reaI"i their capacity to lit in judgment over the ·wannabes" places llauthentic" black cullUre in a position

oC cultural commodity privilep. But popular culture dominance is not the only significant illUe. While the "Whas· sup 1!" guys are watching their imita· tors fail, the ·What are you doing" guys are keepiD&' an eye on nuctuatioos in the value oC COD.IWDer culture in general; they are "watching the market recap."

Such competing vilions of llauthenticity" and power are provocative; in spectacular CODlllDlption, "real" cultural value is produced through both perspectives. An audience CAmiliAr with the "Wbaisup?!" guys can &bare in their repose even 81 it identifies wiIh the IIWhat are you doing" guys' focus on capital invesbnent. Critics are encouraged to see that the ad, in part, represents the notion that spectacular CODsumption itseJC ill cool After all, .. arbiters of sooc:I lute the IIWhaaup?!" guys are transfixed by the other guys" spectacle. Thus, their consumptive habits stand in for oun and culminate in increased market value Cor llauthentic'" black culture and any oC its manufac· tured opposites. This process is also paradoxical because it relies on the notion of culblral esaentialism (like IItrue" blackness) even as cultural boundaries become more permeable and lived experiences become more malleable.

But this dialectic brinp up the chsracter of white American ambivalence once spin. The IIWhusup?!" guys' consumptive gaze is energized by representing the "What are you doing" guys as "inauthentic" and "foreign" laughing stocks. In so doing. however. the ad constitutes "authentic· black· ness as authoritative and, thus, perpetuates the threat. So, not only does the ad's humor help to alleviate such angst. but the ad seems to mediate this danger by placing the IIWhat are you do-


big" guya' economic power over Bpjnst the cu1turaI allure of the -Whauop?!guys. The diacunlve space of white capitalilll power (despite the fact that -Chad- is brown) iI tacidy maintBiDed by the reproducIion of this ambivalem:e.

The schemata of spectacular CODsumption not only allows UI to explore how i~ .. value is manufactured and magoilied, but alJo to perceive how

! penDIlI and life worlds are transformed i in terma of values pnerated by their I public CODIIlIDption. Hem:e, the aitic I is .Ieered away from an overemphull : on forma of autonomy, individual or : c:uJturali IIIlCb autonomy is not wholly ! denied, but symbolic forma are underi stood 81 COD5litutive of IUbstances and

of relatiolll that are shaped by Ihe characler of public consumption. From


this penpective, the ClIlture ind1ll1ry doeI not dictate fonns of conlUlllplioni nor does aD apat determine her own imap; they are both aIterecI by the ways that fonns are COIIIUII1ed. The relations 8DIODI the iDdUltry, the life worlds of persons, and cultural f'omUI cannot be adequately undentood u characterized by ,..,., of IDI!8Ding and value; they are more precisely meaning and value IrtIIufiuitnu. And 10, we contend that the 'Tme· c.harKtel' of the -authentic- in the land of apectacular CODIumption iI neither an ontoIop:al given nor a aemiotic project. Rather, It is a decealralized and localized achievement baaed only in part on one'. Dved experience, DOW underIIlood. 81 a fimction of how ways of life are mmmndifiecl ami CODsumed.

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