Over the past couple of weeks, you most likely have seen at least one of the “Your Cousin From Boston” commercials done by Sam Adams Beer.
For those who have not had the chance to see it, you can find the series of commercials through this Google search. In general, it shows the funny but hapless antics of a person that is portrayed as your cousin from Boston. So you see him trying to play golf, camping, getting the vaccination, at a wedding, etc.
Funny and light-hearted, it puts this guy in a humorous light for the nation to see. Relatable to some especially from that part of the country, it seems like a regular piece of gentle ribbing of an ethnicity or culture. And in many ways, it’s nice to see in comparison to the heavy, loud, and sometimes overwrought discussions about things like racism and critical race theory that the nation is currently embroiled in.
However, as a person from Hawaii watching these commercials, it was natural for me to ask if the people from Boston find this portrayal to be offensive. We’ll get back to the reason why this question came up in a second.
To find out, because as a born, raised, and lifelong resident of Hawaii, one naturally has a pre-disposed thought about this. To either affirm or learn more, I reached out to my friend Michael Kissel, who runs the new podcast/blog called “Excogitate”. Although he is from Pennsylvania, and not Massachusetts, his familiarity with the area was enough for me to consider him knowledgeable of whether people from Boston were offended by this portrayal.
His answer did not affirm my feeling that they were offended. On the contrary, “Southie” people have a sense of humor about themselves. “Southie” is about the type of person portrayed – a person who is from South Boston. Typically, Irish, they are working-class whose joking amongst themselves can be, as Michael said, “generally abrasive and coarse in their joking – very urban, very provincial”.
For this type of portrayal as Michael then told me, “don’t think there’s a person in Southie upset about it”.
Going back to the idea that anyone would be offended by this portrayal of someone from Boston, I had to check myself and note that if a Hawaii person would be portrayed in a similar (funny, stereotypical way) the people of Hawaii would not take it well, not well at all. Especially if the portrayal was done in a national campaign.
And this is where the contrast between Hawaii and the rest of the nation comes into clear relief.
First off, some do portray Hawaii in a funny light, our quirks, nuances, stereotypes. However, unlike allowing a corporate entity to portray us, Hawaii people literally “give permission” to select people to portray us in this light.
This was made very apparent about 2 years ago when I happened to be at an event in which Andy Bumatai, Augie Tulba, and Frank Delima were performing. In it, they pulled out a suitcase full of stereotype jokes about people from Hawaii. And the crowd both laughed and enjoyed it.
To give an even more clear example of how Hawaii permits individuals to portray us, I bring up two mainland comics – Joe Koy and Gabriel Iglesias. Both of them are beloved in Hawaii and are known to have sold-out crowds whenever they perform here. They do (a little less than the locals) jokes about local stereotypes, with the crowd in Hawaii loving it.
But to take these stereotypes and tropes, put it in a commercial and broadcast it nationally, that is not “pono” or right in Hawaiian and the complaints would ensue. Even if the commercial is produced by a local company that has a national presence, that would also be a no-no. Just take a look at how Kings Hawaiian Bread (yes, I know they are California based but they were founded in Hawaii and still have strong relations here) portrays its product in its recent commercials. In short, nothing about Hawaii, and nothing that even approaches any trope or stereotype.
And you can forget about portraying “your cousin from Hawaii” in any light like how Sam Adams portrays Southies, whatsoever.