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Is This ‘SNL’ Sketch Racist?

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SNL’ s coffee sketch

On Saturday’s episode, in the first post-monologue spot, Saturday Night Live aired a commercial parody that’s led to some instant controversy in social media, with some calling the ad racially insensitive.

The bit is a parody of Starbucks’ branded Verismo home coffee machine, and in the sketch’s reality, it allows customers to call out their coffee order, Siri-style, and have the machine make it to order. The SNL version, though, depicts the machines as not working particularly well- and also having the voices of inarticulate, easily-confused, and stereotypically African-American Starbucks employees:

I hadn’t ever heard of Verismo before this sketch, but apparently it’s a real thing. Meanwhile, the sketch is making two points: That the Verismo doesn’t work very well, and that Starbucks locations are staffed by not-very-bright black people. So not only is it offensive, it’s inaccurate- I’ve been going to Starbucks for many years, in many cities, and that’s never been my experience.

This is strange, because I would expect SNL to know better- especially since it’s no Family Guy or Howard Stern Show-  in its nearly 40-year history, the show has mostly managed to avoid racial minefields.

 

 

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  • Eric Deamer

    I’m conflicted on this one. Since we moved to Cleveland after 12 years in and around New York City the first job my wife could find was as a Starbucks barista/”shift supervisor,” which she did for six months before recently getting a better job. So, I’m familiar with the reality of how the company treats its lower level employees and am always interested in depictions of the company in popular culture. I watched it with her and I have to admit we generally found the skit pretty funny. The general premise of the skit: making fun of the gulf between the actual Starbucks experience versus the way it’s depicted in the first part of those commercials, is a solid one. And I think the execution was generally pretty good, particularly the details like what a disaster the whole milk and sugar area of the store often is, was pretty good. However, I did find the choice to make both of the incompetent employees obviously African-American with stereotypical “ghetto” accents to be curious at best. I think they could’ve made the same point without the whole thing being so racialized.