Media Portrayal of First Peoples: "Civilized Whites" Meet "Untamed Savages"

On the TV the other day I was watching a Capital One ad, you know, those ads that always end with, "What's in your wallet?" Basically it was a "typical" white American family and the father says something like, "We're going to visit our relatives everyone."

Then his son says, "We're going to Ireland?" With a gleeful looking face.

The father, a little nervous, explains. "No, I'm meaning much more distant."

The next scene is in a genertic jungle scene (I thought Paupa New Guine when I saw it) and he greets his "relatives" with open arms. The natives greet him back by a croached native (in the usual native garb and paint) who shoots a posion tipped dart into his neck.

What's important to note is the contrasting of the civilized white family against the "primitive" natives. Also, the commercial plays up on nearly every racial stereotype of native "Amazon like junlge" peoples in just a few seconds.

This commercial got me thinking of other commercials, more specefically Budweiser commercials (the ultimate in white male stupidty). One of the ads I remember seeing was another stereotypical portraral of a native "jungle person." The ad series was called "Zagar and Steve." And, according to Rob Schmidt, the author of the blog Newspaper Rock the ad:
starr[ed] an "odd couple" of roommates, Zagar and Steve. Zagar is an Amazonian Indian who relies on deadly violence and is completely ignorant about modern life. He's essentially a Neanderthal--as savage and uncivilized as any Indian portrayed in the last 500 years.
In another post done on Conscious Media Maker the blog author states that the:
Steve and Zagar” ads for Bud Light featured a single, young white man named Steve with his roommate Zagar, a half-naked jungle savage of undetermined ethnic origin. Each spot found humor in juxtaposing the “civilized” Steve with the savage Zagar, and included just about every offensive indigenous stereotype you can imagine: cannibalism, eating domestic animals, spear-chucking, etc
Also, the author than goes on to point out how this isn't just a new phenomenon. Racism has played a role in Budweisers commercials from the very begining.
This is an old Budweiser ad from 1934, click on it for a larger view (hat tip to copyranter). The tagline reads “Good times coming, boss!”

The white man smirks at the camera, bending over slightly to supervise as his black manservant serves up some Bud and cold cuts for the guests.

And the "Zagar and Steve" commercial isn't only recent commercial that's smacked of racism by Budweiser. In a blog done on Counter Punch by David Zirin, Zirin goes on to describe a Budweiser ad about a whiney sports star:
"Leon" is Bud's big joke parody of the modern professional athlete. "Leon" won't do interviews unless his special dimple is on display. "Leon" is far more concerned about looking "pretty" than playing well. "Leon" is egomaniacal, lazy, and all about the bling-bling. "Leon" only speaks in the third person. Oh by the way, "Leon" is Black.
Zirin goes on to write:
"Leon" is supposed to be a harmless caricature, but of whom?...So who is "Leon"? "Leon" is corporate America's gob of spit in the face of modern Black athletes and anti-heroes. They are striking not only the players themselves, but also us--the fans-for embracing them. We shouldn't accept that. Let's load "Leon" on a bus with Stepin Fetchit, Mammy, Charlie Chan, and that damn Taco Bell Chihuahua--and push it off the pop culture cliff. Until "Leon" goes, Guinness will suit me just fine.
Images From:
Newspaper Rock
Conscious Media Maker


La Otra said...

To sell their products, Corporate America pulls out the mammies, savages, barbarians, and dutiful servants. Apparently, people of color don't buy Budweiser or use Capital One's financial services, if one is to believe their advertising.

But let's be real: We're not the customer, we're the PRODUCT! We represent good times, easy living, exotic locales, (un)reliable service, untamed wilderness, and anything else that white folks can pull out of their imaginations.

More and more, it hits me that imperialism, pornography, and capitalism are more closely related than most of us want to admit. Good people, we're only beginning to scratch the surface here.

Rob said...

Good coverage of the "Media Portrayal of First Peoples" subject, Jack. If people want to learn more about the Zagar commercials, they can visit Zagar the Horrible.