Whassup - true

Blackness and Budweiser beer

        This project (October 2004) examines arguably the biggest TV ad campaign at the turn of the century: Budweiser Beer - Wassup? (2000-2003).  While 2004 may seem fairly recent for academic research, when compared to today’s social media explosion, it is already light years away.  For instance, the rudiments of Google, MySpace, TiVo, and iMovie were only launched in 1999; Facebook in Feb, 2004.  YouTube was only created in February 2005.  And, each of these technologies took about two years to ‘catch on’.  But even in 2004, in my first exercise of critical critique, I argue that the new budding forms of social media tell us exponentially more about media-socio-cultural construction than any normative uproar questioning “blackness” representation.

        Indeed, the newness of these technologies explains why the videos in this project are of such poor quality: public, social video is a very new phenomenon.  When the Wassup-True project was made, I knew of no easy way to appropriate or re-mash video.  For example, most of the videos here were captured by pointing a Hi-8 video camera directly at the computer screen as it played, and then turning that video into something manageable.  What took about 80 hours of video work to find and assemble in 2004, would take less than 8 hours today. 

        While technology explodes around us, much of academia oddly sits on its thumbs when considering ‘writing culture’ with these new digital tools.  Is it because media is simply too fast a moving target... or, that ‘writing’ with media threatens much of what has gone before?  Hard telling.  Luckily, new forms of media critique continue to expand daily.  This is a good thing...

        As I awaited forthcoming rejections of all nine of my applications to U.S. PhD programs in Communication Studies, I proactively audited a graduate research methods class at UMASS-Amhearst.  In that class I offered my first ‘media rebuttal’ to an assigned academic paper.   Dr. Leda Cooks had no idea how to respond to my provocative approach... and so, being only an auditor, I received no feedback or support.

        Even now, this unconventional attempt to critique an article may at first seem curious, even awkward, but hopefully not numbing by the end.  It was an intensely involved experiment for me, and it took a very long time to make.  I had never done anything remotely like it before.  But I deeply believed, and still do, that one needs to discuss new ideas with new language styles (ie., using video to critique video).  So why not shut up and actually try it?  I did.

        Please remember, my intention with this critique was never to prove Watts and Orbe wrong; they certainly are not.  But after finishing this critique, I think you will discover they ignored some very obvious points - points crucial to their “blackness” premise.  (Admittedly, I clearly didn’t get some points, either.)  At the very least, you should ask yourself which examination of Whassup-True is most illuminating?  Watts and Orbe’s.... or this one?  

Comm 620  -- Professor Cooks

19 October 2004

An article critique and presentation of Eric King Watts and Mark P. Orbe:  “The Spectacular Consumption of ‘True’ African American Culture: ‘Whassup’ with the Budweiser Guys?” (2002)


        It should be stated at the onset that I did not choose to critique this article.  Dr. Cooks assigned it to me.  After examining the article, I came away with several questions:

  1. - Why is this article, like many others, so difficult to read and comprehend?  And why are quotes added around so many words?  Whose quotes are these?  Are these words to be read literally, passively?  When an article’s language reads so difficultly, to what use is the research?  Could Watts and Orbe have written in a simpler, efficient, and less pedantic style?

  1. - Where are Watts and Orbe’s definitions of “spectacular”, “authentic”, “universal”, “realism”.   What are their initial parameters?

  1. - Why are there no visuals?  How can Watts and Orbe adequately discuss a visual format without including visuals for reference?

  1. -Why didn’t Watts and Orbe interview director Charles Stone III, the ad agency, or the Anheuser-Busch people directly about the Whassup-True commercials’ intentions?  Why not go to the source?

  1. - Are these ads even primarily about culture, black, or “spectacular”?  Can there be alternative conclusions?  How can Watts and Orbe jump to such highly charged conclusions when so much stands in question? 

  1. - How dependable is Watts and Orbe’s qualitative study when stark conclusions are drawn from only one undergraduate communications class focus group of 37 students?  Might these control group responses be a wee bit skewed?

  1. - Is the reader surprised by Watts and Orbe’s conclusions when the authors describe most everyone in terms of skin color or ethnicity?  What is authentic blackness-whiteness?  Are the authors suggesting I can’t see other truths in these commercials because I’m white.  Is this racist-reversal?

-  Of course issues of consumption, culture, and media are interconnected.  It is a way of life and should be examined.  But could these commercials simply be about using forms of media to encourage re-communication via memes?  To bond one to all.  To build tribes, communities, languages - and not particularly about consuming “otherness”?

        My above questions were posed on 4 October when I began to design this assignment.  I’ve learned a bit since then.  For starters, I contacted Eric Watts at Wake Forest.  I wanted to “interview” him, the logical nexus.  I feared I was misreading the article, and I clearly did on several elementary levels.  Indeed, it is dawning on me that:

        “Various qualitative methods offer different prisms through which to view the world, different perspectives on reality, and different ways in which to organize chaos.  Further, they use different aspects of reality as data, and it is the combination of these different data, different perspectives, and different modes of handling the data that gives us different interpretations of reality”  (Morse, Janice., Lyn Richards, Read Me First, 2002). 

        In Watts’ own words (below), “I want to focus on race.”  Ok.  Simple enough.  Let this article stand as more good research.

        “The essay isn’t meant to do everything”, Watts continued in email.  Yes, I should build on this, and not so quickly criticize this article for what it ignores.  I need to hold my own critical “prism” to more lights.  I can only imagine how this critique presentation might differ two months from now, by semester-end.

        Also, I purchased the original Stone short film DVD, true, to examine the other obvious nexus to this article.  The Whassup-True commercials are surprisingly faithful to the original film.  But the film further questions Watts and Orbe’s notions of discourse and identities.  There is little in this collection that speaks to ethnic pandering and consumption, or appropriating black authenticity.  To advertisers, all demographics are red meat.  The actors (commercials) are delivery devices, meaning the meme content would be (and is) just as effective if the actors were East Indians (funny dialect), elderly citizens (“where’s the beef”), the Simpsons (“doh”), valley girls (“for sure, like, totally”), or even Yankee fans (“who’s your daddy”).  Charles Stone III, in this DVD, speaks to this directly. 

        And so, in some ways my resolve was strengthened by the true DVD, and by my email exchange with Watts.  Visuals (and audio) must be embedded deeply into all research and presentations.  It can make our texts so much richer.  In this regard, I fear the field of Communications is about 12 steps behind the world of communication.  Visuals are discourse.  Excluding them risks omitting vitally relevant data.  I already fulfilled my article critique requirement for Comm620.  Unfortunately, I wrote it at the wrong time.  So this go-round I want to stretch.  I want to focus deeper, and differently, upon some of the questions I’ve outlined above.  I’ll provide the heavy lifting the authors didn’t.  I’ll find the visuals.  I’ll illustrate an innocuousness of the Whassup-True brands by archiving their sheer delight, topicalness, expressiveness, and social communicative power.  I will illustrate that there is a new, growing, obvious, undercurrent “discourse” and reality that Watts and Orbe conveniently ignore or simply do not understand, and which completely skirt ‘black‘ motivation by the makers of these Budweiser commercials.  My critique will point out only a few of Watts & Orbe’s glaring ommisions.

        Lastly, I will make my own silly 3 minute QTmovie to humorously overplay the notion that the Whassup-True ads can certainly be interpreted as less about consumption or black discourse, and much more about a new form of meme-speak.  “We made an argument that seeks to understand the peculiar manner in which race is constructed for people to ‘buy’” says Watts.  Maybe so.  But the race-indentity war is winding down... maybe gone in another generation or two.  Demographic statistics illustrate this at every turn.  The new wars will center around language.  Language of religion-belief , language of class-money.  And the spoils will go to those who tell the “best” (sensory) stories.  Dr. Cronen, gets it.  And so do kids today.  They see nonstop media and, through seductive repetition, are simply assimilating that same language to speak to each other.  It’s an obvious observation.  At the very least we can be sure that Hispanic and Asian communities would dearly love to get this kind of “face time” on network TV.  (My bearded observations here are no more sensational than Watts and Orbe’s... indeed, they are clearly more positive, forward looking, and socially progressive.)

        I want to clearly state that most all my archived visuals were taken freely from the internet, or recorded directly (from broadcast) off a TV screen, with a handheld camera during the evenings of 2-3 October 2004.  I like the fact, and it is important for this study, that these movies are raw and low-fidelity.  My production ‘value’ within is kept to a minimum.  It helps the content to come forward.

        As for my presentational text quotes, I essentially used one source:  Wynter, L. (2002). American Skin: Pop culture, big business, & the end of white America. New York, NY: Crown Publishers.   I have also included interviews of Charles Stone III.  (Available from no fewer than six websites found through simple Google searches.)  Who better to initially paint Whassup-True commercials’ realities?  Various texts from other publications are

duly noted.

        This unconventional attempt to critique an article may at first be curious, even awkward, but hopefully not numbing by the end.  This was an intensely involved experiment for me, and it took a long time.  I’ve never done anything remotely like it before.  But I deeply believe one needs to discuss new ideas with new language styles.  So why not shut up and actually try it?  Please remember, my intention is not to prove Watts and Orbe wrong; they certainly are not.  But after finishing this critique, I think you will discover they may have missed some obvious points by a mile.  (Admittedly, I clearly didn’t get some points, either.)  And then, at the very least, you should ask yourself which examination of Whassup-True is most illuminating?  Watts and Orbe’s.... or this one?  



BELOW:   The series of emails conducted between Dr. Eric King Watts and me, in chronological order.



From: Holland Wilde <holland@pencilogic.com>

Date: Mon Oct 4, 2004  9:04:34  PM US/Eastern

To: wattsek@wfu.edu

Subject: From: Holland Wilde - hello and help

Professor Watts,

Greetings.  I'm sorry to bother you so late.  I've been sitting here for nearly 10 hours (literally) reading-studying an article of yours: “The Spectacular Consumption of ‘True’ African American Culture: ‘Whassup’ with the

Budweiser Guys?” (2002) I'm a beginning student at UMass Amherst. 

I was given your article as a project for a research methods class.  I'm not sure I really understand the article.  Some parts are very obvious and clear.  Others are obscure to me.  Can you help?  I figure why not ask the author himself.... so there is no misrepresentation. 

My question: Can you crystalize the article's scope and conclusion in just a few sentences? I know this email sounds weird.  And it may sound like I'm asking you to do my home work.  Believe me I'm not.  Truly.  I'm just seeking clarity.  So why not go to the source? (respect to Orbe)  I look forward to hearing from you.  I apologize if this sounds dumb.


Thanks a lot for your time.



From: Eric King Watts <wattsek@wfu.edu>

Date: Thu Oct 7, 2004  9:39:33  AM US/Eastern

To: Holland Wilde <holland@pencilogic.com>

Subject: Re: From: Holland Wilde - hello and help

Hello Holland,

It is difficult to summarize the scope and conclusion of the article in a few sentences because the argument is complex; I think the complexity is necessary because the

problem addressed is itself complex. The article attempts to make sense of the relationships among diverse "authentic" cultures, the culture industry that seeks to

package and sell that "authenticity" as a market value, and the consumers. We argue that these relations alter the character of "authenticity" (making it an even more

problematic notion), the business practices of the industry, and the perceptions of consumers. We question methods that seek to isolate consumption or the industry

from the character of cultural forms; spectacular consumption is a concept that demands that we look at the relations AMONG these spheres of life.

hope this helps and good luck.



From: Holland Wilde <holland@pencilogic.com>

Date: Thu Oct 7, 2004  12:09:42  PM US/Eastern

To: Eric King Watts <wattsek@wfu.edu>

Subject: From: Holland Wilde - thanks


You are a mensch, my friend.  I was half betting I wouldn't get a reply.  I truly appreciate your time with this.  I'm going to rant a bit.  Partly because this is how (who) I am, partly

because I've worked as a designer in TV for 20 years, and partly because I'm just beginning the most exciting career shift in my life.... I will be attending a PhD communications program (TBD) in '05.  I'm presently non-matriculating at UMass to get my scholarly toes wet.  But, trust me, I'm getting the hell out of TV.

Below are my "points" to your article, so far.  I just want to run them past you.  (I figure communication works best when you speak frankly to the source.)  I'd dearly love if we

could establish some brief give-and-take on this article, but I also realize you are most likely really busy with your new work.  The best people always are.  So if you are

inclined....give me a shout-back.  If not, no worries.  I understand.  Maybe I can buy you a beer at NCA next month.

1. I'm visual...throughout my MFA and my entire 30yr career.  It's also what I intend to focus on in grad school.  So this is MY bias.  And that brings me to an overarching

issue with most everything I see about media analysis.  How can you (and most everyone else) discuss the power of  image images - yet not include any images for

reader reference?  At first blush this may seem like a ticky-tack point ...but I think it speaks volumes to an utter lack within "communications" research.  I get that academia is text based...but "we" are about 12 steps behind the folks (me) who produce these images.  Academia needs to catch up.  Like ethnographic research, it really helps to speak in the language of those you are studying.

2. And that bridges to my next point.  (I say this very respectfully.)  I've struggled my entire life to (non-verbally) communicate in the clearest, most succinct, efficient

manner possible.  And so I'm flummoxed, for much of the academic writing I peruse is virtually impenetrable.  If I can't understand the writing...what use is the research? 

We need to encourage as wide a base for understanding as possible.  If folks had to ask me what my set design was about, I knew I failed on some level.

3. I can't tell exactly from your article, but it seems to me if you are going to focus on Charles Stone, the ad agency, and Anheuser-Busch.....why not directly interview

the players?  ...like I'm trying to do here with you.  Maybe you did.  Maybe you didn't.

4. I may be a white guy, or a beige-ish guy, or a Dutch Northern European American East Coast Guy.  But much more, I’m a guy trying to live an engaged life in a world increasingly carpet bombed with media.  But we can "duck and cover" for only so long.  Then, at some point, we must realize that this is a (some) way of life. 

Evolution dictates that we assimilate or die.  Ways to assimilate could be: carpet bomb back, become fluent in the bombs, or even just accept that the bombs won’t

stop and simply get on with things.  Do not get me wrong here, I would personally like to ‘shoot’ a majority of the media corporations myself.  Who wouldn't?  But I find it difficult to dance with your proclivity to parse this article into race-group terms.

No one (or group) is getting bombed more than anyone else.  Corporations want us all by the nuts, and they'll do it BY ANY MEMES NECESSARY.  (Apologies to Malcolm)   Our survival task is to inoculate ourselves from (with) the media virus.  I contend that Stone gets this...and so does Bud...and so do we.  That's why the meme of Whassup was so effective.  It became a bullet in everyone's gun.  There were so many knock-offs of the commercials because:  folks, for maybe the very first time, were personally (and most likely unconsciously) experiencing THE convergence - using the very same media to bomb back....or to obscure and defuse the bomb. 

I found no fewer than 40 video versions of the ad.  I suspect you did too.  How many total viewers is that?  That to me is what's most interesting....not that one particular group is getting jerked again.  We're all in this fox hole together.  .....there I go again....sorry.

Look, I understand one very necessary and vital approach to research is to zoom in and extract specifics in order to later pull back and posit wider conclusions.  I think that's what you are doing.  That's cool.   But, personally, I would have championed an approach that suggested that we are ALL getting spanked, and then "hey, I'll show you these black-bud commercials to illustrate it".  (I'm on your side here ....just blowing my own preferences.)

I liked your article.  I'd like to meet you sometime.  Hell who knows, we could even team together on our own project someday.   Regardless, I truly hope you read this email with the tone I intend...respectfully.  Believe me, I have no intention of flaming anyone.  That's why I'm writing.  Like you, I plan on changing some heads.  But if I question someone' s work, I want to do it fairly, respectfully, and with full discloser.

Thanks so much again.



From: Eric King Watts <wattsek@wfu.edu>

Date: Thu Oct 7, 2004  2:05:24  PM US/Eastern

To: Holland Wilde <holland@pencilogic.com>

Subject: Re: From: Holland Wilde - thanks

Attachments: There is 1 attachment

Holland, I shall not "rant," but try to clarify my position on just a couple of your points.

On the visual; Orbe and I don't talk about the power of images in the essay; we talk about the power of discourse. This may seem like a fine point, but it isn't; there is a

substantial body of work on the power of visual rhetoric, if you will. I am familiar with it, but our central argument does not depend on it.

hey, you know, the essay isn't meant to do everything. If you feel that communication research slights the visual, then you should trailblaze...I'd be delighted to follow your


We made an argument that seeks to understand the peculiar manner in which race is constructed for people to "buy." It's not meant to be a universal construct. I want

to focus on race. Feel free not to. Feel free to also say that I'm wrong regarding my conclusions about how race is shaped here.

I am aware that everything is shaped for consumption, but not in the same way. I'm interested in how products are shaped (packaged) differently. Ironically, the article won an NCA award in part for clarity of writing and its accessibility....

I'm in a rush to a meeting so I'm writing in a clipped sort of way; do not take this as a dismissal. It is not. I value this sort of dialogue; I am far from thinking that I know much

at all.

be well,



From: Holland Wilde <holland@pencilogic.com>

Date: Thu Oct 7, 2004  2:41:05  PM US/Eastern

To: Eric King Watts <wattsek@wfu.edu>

Subject: From: Holland Wilde - true


Touche.  You hit the ball outta the park.

I am a virgin in all this...a true rookie and I know not of what I say...yet.

I was hoping you'd respond with words like these.

I appreciate this (advice) perspective.

I will review your work (and any others you may point to me) in this clearer light.

I intend to jump alongside intellects with moxie.

...and I'd be delighted to follow your work.

Stay close.




5 May 2008:   Update on the above series of emails.

While this entire Budweiser “whassup” project has been uploaded publicly to my Internet website for years now, I recently redesigned its title page.  For the last month or so, the name of this particular email file is now uploaded directly to my server – meaning that the file’s name (Watts Emails.pdf) can be directly searched on the Internet

using keywords like “watts”, etc.

Yesterday, out of the blue but on cue, I received an email from Dr. Eric King Watts, Associate Professor Rhetorical Studies, Communication Studies, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.  Interestingly, his areas of specialization are Rhetorical Theory, Critical Theory, and Aesthetics.   Apparently he just recently RE-discovered this 3 1/2 year old project and felt compelled to question its




From: ekwatts@email.unc.edu

Subject: be honest

Date: May 4, 2008 7:24:06 PM MDT

To:       holland@culturalfarming.com

Mr. Wilde:

I do not recall ever having an email conversation with you about my analysis (with Dr. Orbe) of the Budweiser commercials. I certainly hope you vetted your

information since it contains erroneous information and "quoted" material that cannot be attributed to me. I consider your actions consistent with those who


eric king watts


From: holland@culturalfarming.com

Subject: From: Holland Wilde - Re: be honest

Date: May 5, 2008 11:06:04 AM MDT

To:       ekwatts@email.unc.edu

On May 4, 2008, at 7:24 PM, Eric King Watts wrote:

Mr. Wilde:

Greetings.  I hope things are going well for you.

I am currently up here in Canada, getting my PhD.

Are you still in Winston?

I do not recall ever having an email conversation with you about my analysis (with Dr. Orbe) of the Budweiser commercials.

It's OK, Dr. Watts, you did.  It was an excellent series of email exchanges.  I learned a lot from them.  That was why I originally contacted you.  And that was a good thing.

It was during a research methods class I audited with Dr. Leda Cooks at UMASS in October 2004.  She assigned me the project of critiquing your paper - on blackness and the 'Whassup' ads.

Moreover, as to your recollection, in fact, I believe it was a month or two after that UMASS class assignment, November 2004 in Chicago at NCA, that I looked for you there.  I found you in a session-room, walked up and introduced myself, and actually handed you a CD of the entire (video) project, for you to personally have.

Indeed, you were the first, after Dr. Cooks, to receive it.  Remember?  I believe I had also emailed you, prior, to say that I would be attending the conference as well and that, hopefully, I could buy you a beer, sometime...  as a thank you for your exchange.  I bet you remember that CD.  It had a cover image of a half-filled (half-empty) glass of beer on it.

I certainly hope you vetted your information since it contains erroneous information and "quoted" material that cannot be attributed to me.

I'm not sure what you mean by this statement.  I quoted it all, in its entirety, exactly as we both wrote.  It is an example of the kind of email exchange I've had with several others.  Informative, professional, honest, straight-forward.

I consider your actions consistent with those who plagiarize.

Well, that's an entirely different topic and a rather harsh opening salvo.  But, the fact remains, we had a series of email exchanges; you helped clarify your (and Orbe's) position and intention; I asked more questions, you answered again; I thanked you earnestly and professionally; and later at NCA I handed you a CD

with that whole 'project' on it. 

I was appreciative of your help at the time.  There was nothing 'bad' said.  Nothing.  Besides, it was part of a qualitative research methods class. Why would I fabricate?  I wouldn't.  Nor will I start to do anything remotely like that now. 

What's up, Eric?  Be honest.

eric king watts

Holland Wilde


From:    ekwatts@email.unc.edu

Subject:     Re:  From: Holland Wilde - Re: be honest

Date:   May 5, 2008 5:34:25 PM MDT

To:          holland@culturalfarming.com


I recall our face-to-face now; thanks for reminding me. What got me pumped is the quoted material assigned to me. It sounds so much UNLIKE my worldview

(that criticism is not supposed to "do anything") that it sounded completely made up. Indeed, the very reason I do what I do is because I profoundly believe in the

power of critical intervention. Didn't want to sound "harsh," but I've been misquoted and taken out of context several times in the last few years that my guard is up.

be well,



From: holland@culturalfarming.com

Subject: From: Holland Wilde - honest reply

Date: May 5, 2008 6:00:46 PM MDT

To:            ekwatts@email.unc.edu

On May 5, 2008, at 5:34 PM, Eric King Watts wrote:

Didn't want to sound "harsh," but I've been misquoted and taken out of context

several times in the last few years that my guard is up.



I accept the above as the apology I'm due. 

There is an age-old carpenter's proverb:  "Measure twice, cut once."

I think it applies here.



From:   ekwatts@email.unc.edu

Subject:   Re: From: Holland Wilde - honest reply

Date:       May 5, 2008 6:31:41 PM MDT

To:            holland@culturalfarming.com

yes, you're right; I should have clearly apologized for my tone.  Mea culpa. but, you did take me out of context.  my decision to focus on race is not "simple enough."  it is belittling.  every scholar knows that one's work cannot do "everything," but you make a truism sound downright devious.  if you think we're in a post-racial context, turn on Fox (or CNN, MSNBC, etc.) news and look at their coverage of Obama.     



But course, all that I quoted of Watts is -- in its entirety --

IN CONTEXT, word for word.   And so it goes.

Below - I super-impose images of public response-videos directly over the Watts-Orbe article text, for comparison.


And then, because I could, and because

this article-response was meant

to be experimental....

I included these videos, too:

..and of, course, these too:

        ...The last video is my very first attempted

‘academic- response mash-up’... it opened the door to everything in Cultural Farming.


written  portion                                               visual  portion    





An American

resident in Canada, experimenting with new forms of critical media ethnography in Cultural Farming.


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