January 30, 2009

The Alaska Airlines Eskimo

Correspondent DMarks was curious about my thoughts on the Alaska Airlines Eskimo. He wrote:Qantas has a kangaroo on the tail, and Alaska Airlines has an Inuit on the tail. If you have not covered it before, it is probably more worthy of inclusion in Newspaper Rock that Pontiac's arrowhead.Some background on the subject:

Many Frown Over Possible Removal Of Alaska Airlines' Smiling Eskimo FaceThe controversy began when the Seattle-based airline last year hired a design firm to come up with a new logo to possibly replace the Eskimo. A company newsletter Nov. 6 showed a drawing of the proposed new logo, a stylized mountain.

The newsletter said some customers have had trouble figuring out that the picture on the planes is an Eskimo and it was difficult to use the logo in small size on stationery. Also, Alaska Airlines flies to California and the Southwest and some potential customers there have a perception the airline flies only within Alaska, says Kennedy.

If that's the case, "they're going to have to do a better job of advertising," says State Sen. Willie Hensley, an Eskimo from Kotzebue.

Kennedy also says the airline for years has gotten comments from passengers that the Eskimo face looks like Charles Manson, Moammar Gadhafi, Johnny Cash or Willie Nelson. Comedian Jay Leno on the Johnny Carson show has joked about the face.

"It may not be the best representation of an Eskimo, but it's our Eskimo," says Kelly. Alaskans want a say in the matter because "they feel an affinity with the airline. Alaskans feel it's their airline."

Satch Carlson, an Anchorage Daily News columnist, wrote recently: "The Eskimo is a friendly, human symbol of the north, of the spirit of Alaska . . . Take him off the Alaska planes in favor of some abstract, hip, meaningless design, you're taking one step closer to that impersonal austerity that characterizes most other airlines today."
And:Sen. Hensley says the Eskimo face is that of the late Chester Seveck, "a reindeer herder and a phenomenal Eskimo dancer" who greeted deplaning tourists at Kotzebue for years. "His face is a symbol of Alaska."The Alaska Eskimo gets a temporary makeoverAlaska Airlines reports today that the popular Eskimo image on Alaska Airlines' aircraft will now wear a Hawaiian lei to celebrate the airline's upcoming flights to Hawaii. The lei will appear on 10 of the airline's 114 aircraft.Comment:  First, let's note that "Inuit" is plural. A member of the Inuit is called an Inuk.

A couple of thoughts about the airlines' use of a stereotypical Inuk or Eskimo.

1) Although the face supposedly belongs a Native, it looks Caucasian to me. I'd prefer someone with stronger Inuit features.

2) If the image isn't stereotypical, the fur-lined parka hood makes it so. That's why comedians have made fun of it. If the face had stronger Inuit features, we wouldn't need a parka to identify it.

Oh, and don't bother saying the image can't be stereotypical if it's a real person. It's not this particular person that's stereotypical. What's stereotypical is the general idea of using a parka-wearing Eskimo to represent Alaska.

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