"Napoleon Dynamite" filmmaker Jared Hess fears racism is behind the Utah State Fair Board's decision to pull his television spots, which feature a black singer celebrating the sensual wonders of the fair.
Fair board members say the 2010 television spots which had earned a worldwide audience on YouTube were too suggestive and reached the wrong "demographics." On Friday afternoon, the commercials were pulled from the fair's website.
"We took them down [from YouTube], just as we took the commercials off the air," said Denise Allen, marketing and public relations director for the fair.
Hess points out that the board didn't pull the radio ads, which contain the audio from the television spots. "They're identical, but you can't see the actor. You do the math," said the filmmaker noted for the quirky humor of 2004's "Napoleon Dynamite."
"It's very strange," he said. "The spots celebrate the iconic things you can only find at the State Fair. I can't help but think that the main actor being African-American is the reason they pulled them which is very disturbing."
But board chairman Lorin Moench says the $22,000 advertisements didn't accurately portray the State Fair to the people the board was trying to attract.
"We felt that the ads didn't meet the demographics that we felt need to happen," he said. "We are trying to get families to come to the fair and to represent the agriculture interests of the state."
Moench insists his "demographics" comment is in no way a reference to the star of the ads being a sultry African-American singer reminiscent of Barry White and Teddy Pendergrass. The Afro-coiffed singer regales the pleasures of the Utah State Fair, which opened Thursday and runs through Sept. 19.
"No. Absolutely not," Moench says. "We want all kinds of people to come to the fair."
It was the sexual tone of the two "The Utah State Fair: Uncommonly Good" spots that were offensive, board members say.
In one of the ads, the 1970s-retro singer is in a judging barn witnessing the glories of a hog. He sings: "When I see your shoulders I know that you might make a great stew. And when I see your hamhocks yeah, I love your ham, baby I know I'm falling in love with you. And your rib meat, so beautifully sweet."
The second spot is an ode to funnel cakes, with the lyrics: "I'm going to put you in the butter. Turn your heat up higher. Sprinkle sugar all over you."
The ads were selected by the State Fair staff, but weren't previewed by the board. The board passed a motion Thursday decreeing that in the future, it must preview all fair advertising.
"It did not adequately represent the image of the State Fair," complained board vice chairman Roger Beattie. "We all have a visceral reaction to [the spots]. There were a number of board members who thought it was a little too edgy and a little too provocative."
Beattie counted himself among those who were uncomfortable with the ads. "This would not incentivize me and my family and my circle of influence to attend the fair."
Info • The Utah State Fair runs through Sept. 19 at 155 N. 1000 West, Salt Lake City. Admission is $9 ($2 discount tickets are available at Smith's Food and Drug stores). Kids 5 and under get in free.