June 13, 2010

Savage electronics in Radio Shack ad

Radio Shack has a new commercial out just in time for Father's Day. It's titled Shipwreck.

Blogger Stephen Bridenstine, who brought this to my attention, shares his thoughts on it:

Electronic Handheld Island IndiansThe RadioShack commercial plays on the classic stereotype of the tropical island savage. This stereotype says that people living on isolated tropical islands are primitive, unsophisticated natives ready to either cook and eat or worship the first white guy who washes ashore.

It has been worked and reworked in literature, film, and television for centuries. Ever since the first Europeans set foot in the Caribbean and the South Pacific, we have heard tales of half-naked, blood-thirsty, idol-worshiping savages that have lit our imaginations on fire. These tales of encounters between civilization and savagery are so powerful, they will probably never go away.

These same tales also serve to reinforce stereotypes about native people. While it is easy to laugh away these stereotypes as silly ideas about far away people from some long lost past, the truth is they still affect the way we deal with real people today. Ask yourself, how much do you know about the native peoples of the Caribbean or South Pacific? How many of your responses can be traced to something you saw in a movie or on TV?

Lastly, these advertisements once again demonstrate America's cultural obsession with the exotic Other. Whether they be natural/spiritual Indians or cannibalistic savages, our culture can't help but keep drawing on those Indians.
Comment:  First let's try to place the ad. Hmm...the island could be any tropical island. The spear-waving "electronics" could be any generic savages. The giant heads suggest Easter Island, of course. But the white guy and the Radio Shack brand suggest a Caribbean island near the US. So it's fair to discuss these savages as Native analogues.

Note that the white guy is afraid until he sees the giant heads of himself. The implication is that the island "Dadtopia" is a utopia where Dad rules. In other words, the primitive "electronics" serve the white master. Even when the savage is a multifaceted computer gadget, the white man is more civilized.

White man always better

These ads are the opposite of the Zagar and Steve ads I wrote about a few years ago. In that case, the "primitive" Amazon Indian had to function in the modern world. Here the modern man has to function in the primitive world.

Yet in both cases, the white man comes off as superior. Funny how advertisers can't envision a scenario in which the Natives have the upper hand.

In reality, the white man probably would die on a desert island. If he encountered Natives, they'd treat him as a guest or take him prisoner. It's unlikely they'd worship him--a poor wretch who couldn't fend for himself. More likely they'd laugh at him for being as helpless as a baby.

For more on the subject, see Cannibals of the Caribbean and Indians as Cannibals.

1 comment:

Stephen Bridenstine said...

While the ad may not be about Native Americans per se, the ad only works because of our narrow cultural conceptions of island people and culture of the Caribbean or South Pacific (not unlike the use of Native Americans in advertising which likewise relies on our limited cultural conceptions to get points across).

Zagar anyone?