East is East and West is West, particularly when it comes to American icons like Steve Jobs, even if he is portrayed as an angel
As I reported on my home office blog "Say It in 17 Words" on January 21, long before this news story surfaced anywhere in the world, a Taiwanese computer firm called Action Electronics released a TV ad last month with a local American-born Taiwanese comedian named Ah-Ken posing as Steve Jobs hawking a new product called "Action Pad."
In the now controversial commercial, the apparently heavenly Jobs, played by Ah-ken sporting the late Apple CEO's famous black t-shirt and blue jeans and this time wearing a white-haired wig with angel wings on his back and a halo above his head, is seen selling a new kind of tablet pad, made in Taiwan and marketed by Action Electronics.
The ad was meant to be both funny and humorous — but it appears to have backfired
judging from the reactions by Westerners overseas in North America and Europe.
"'Steve Jobs' ad blasted as disrespectful," was the headline of a news story in Taiwan after the controversy erupted on technology news blogs and YouTube channels last week
The ad "has been broadly criticized in Taiwan as disrespectful," wrote the Central News Agency in Taipei. noting that "the commercial has attracted worldwide media attention — Reuters, the Los Angeles Times, CNN, Fortune magazine and other media have reported on the 20-second TV commercial, with most of them quoting critics who described it as tasteless and shameless."
The responses were particularly vehement in the United States where it was well-known that Steve Jobs accused Google of stealing Apple technology to create the Android OS, the CNA reported added.
Jobs branded the technology as "grand theft Android" and promised to spend all his company's money to wreck Google. He vowed a "thermonuclear war," saying that he would not accept any compensation because all he wanted was the company's ruin.
"I will spend my last dying breath if I need to, and I will spend every penny of Apple's $40 billion in the bank, to right this wrong," Jobs said in his biography.
Some overseas netizens have lambasted Taiwanese as a whole and have called for a boycott of Action Electronics, the Taiwanese company that makes Action Pad and other gadgets, a major daily Mandarin-language newspaper, the United Daily News, reported in a front page banner story on Sunday.
Taiwanese media critic Wu Juo-chuan termed the ad a "shallow creation that hurts." Wu said he believed that the commercial was a natural product of Taiwan society, which is obsessed with entertainment and low-class jokes.
"In such an atmosphere, the basic values of our traditional culture – empathy and respect — have been overwhelmed," Wu said.
In a blog post on Jan. 30, Wu said the commercial was made without the consent of Jobs' bereaved family and showed no empathy for them.
Wu said that from his experience in the advertising industry, he knows that the commercial has hurt the feelings of the Jobs family, and Action Electronics could be sued for infringing on the personal image rights of a famous figure.
Niu Tse-hsun, an associate professor of advertisement at Chinese Culture University in Taipei, said the electronics firm may think it is a creative approach to use a Jobs portrayal in its product promotion campaign.
However, Niu said, he would not recommend using the image of a deceased person since this could be seen as inconsiderate and cold-hearted.
Nonetheless, by making Jobs appear as a lovely angel, Action Electronics has not slandered the late electronics guru, Niu said.
Amid the fracas over the issue, some netizens in Taiwan said they saw nothing wrong with the ad.
"Is Steve Jobs a god who cannot be portrayed in an ad?" one person wrote. "Many of our ads feature portrayals of Dr. Sun Yat-sen (founding father of Taiwan) and Meng Jiang Nyu (a woman in an ancient Chinese legend whose tears of mourning for her enslaved husband's death led to the collapse of a section of the Great Wall of China)."
The netizens berated Wu as taking the "high moral ground" to find fault with the ad.
In response, Wu said "respecting others is a basic moral ethic — not that high a standard."
Meanwhile, Ah-Ken's agent said the ABT entertainer never meant to show any disrespect for Steve Jobs when he decided to take the job.
"We were just doing what our client asked us to do," said the agent, adding that Ah-Ken never thought of it as making fun of Jobs.
Sun Yi-min, a deputy CEO at Action Electronics, told the United Daily News that the ad was aimed simply at promoting the company's latest product and not at disrespecting anyone.