August 24, 2011

Froot Loops "Witch Doctor" commercial

Another article about Kellogg protesting the Maya Archaeology toucan notes the nonprofit's counter-attack:

Mayan group's logo too much like Toucan Sam, Kellogg's squawks

By Tiffany HsuThe San Ramon-based Maya Archaeology Initiative said its toucan looks nothing like Kellogg’s cartoon and that the two birds aren’t in competition.

The group added its own accusation: Kellogg’s Froot Loops advertising strategy sends racist messages to its young target audience with the presence of a dark-skinned villain named the Greedy Witch Doctor who steals from children, it said.
Comment:  Racist messages? Yes, indeed!

Kellogg quickly removed the video after people noted it was blatantly racist. But every good blogger knows to save screen images of controversial items. So let's see how many problems this commercial has:

  • The time-frame is presumably the present...or is it? The Maya pyramids look old and abandoned, but the "witch doctor" acts as if it's his era. If the commercial is set in the past, where are all the Maya inhabitants of this city-state?

  • What's going on here is obvious. The commercial is treating Indians as primitive people of the past. There's no hint whatsoever that millions of Maya Indians still live in Central America.

    "There are no Maya Indians or government officials around. Let's climb these irreplaceable ruins without permission."

  • The toucans see the Froot Loops and move to take them. But the witch doctor clearly says they're his. The toucans don't acknowledge this or care about it. What they see, they want, and what they want, they take.

  • We've seen this attitude in everything from the Indiana Jones movies to Avatar. It's a classic example of Western (white) privilege in action. Historically, Euro-Americans haven't cared if someone owned something they wanted. They simply assumed their divine right to possess everything and took it.

    "Treasure! I see, I want, I take! Because I'm an American toucan!"

    Note the unintentional irony when they call the witch doctor "greedy." They think he's greedy because he objects to their taking his possessions without permission. Another word for the toucans' actions is thievery.

    In reality, the toucans are the greedy ones. They want something they haven't earned. They exemplify this infamous John Wayne quote:I don't feel we did wrong in taking this great country away from them. There were great numbers of people who needed new land, and the Indians were selfishly trying to keep it for themselves.As I wrote on my John Wayne page: "Those darn Indians. They selfishly tried to keep themselves alive while the US selflessly tried to exterminate them. The nerve of some people!"

    "No, you can't have my Froot Loops. I'm greedily keeping them to myself rather than giving them to you for no reason."

    Indian looks evil

  • So-called witch doctors come from Africa, of course. They have nothing to do with Mesoamerican Indians. But they represent everything Westerners don't understand about indigenous religions.

  • The witch doctor has beady eyes, a huge hooked nose reminiscent of Jewish caricatures), and thick lips reminiscent of black caricatures. His skin is mostly shadowed, making him a dusky brown. Indeed, he has an aura that makes him darker than his surroundings. In short, Indians are dark and demonic.

  • "Look closely at my beady little eyes and big hooked nose. And the weird lighting that keeps most of my body in shadow even though you toucans are well-lit. Clearly I'm not just evil, I'm evil incarnate. I'm as evil as the Jews who were also caricatured like this."

  • He wears a toucan headdress with fiery red eyes. This suggests he's the evil counterpart of the "good" toucans. In reality, the Maya didn't wear toucan headdresses. I don't think toucans played any part in their religion.

    The point again is obvious. According to this commercial, Native religion is primitive, superstitious nature worship. It's a Halloween mask, chant, and dance. And Kellogg can fabricate Maya beliefs because (it thinks) no one is left to care.

  • The witch doctor tries to ward off the toucans by throwing "magic sprinkles" at them. These form scary mask shapes in the air. So the primitive religion involves Harry Potter-style tricks. It's a form of black magic.

  • "All us superstitious savages practice primitive rites that involve black magic. Here's an example."

    Catholic Witch Doctor?

    Imagine the toucans entered a cathedral and said they wanted the gold altarpieces. A Catholic priest in a toucan outfit tried to stop them. He used magic dust to scare them off with images of Christian saints. Like Kellogg's Indian, he's identified as "Greedy Witch Doctor."

    This scenario is identical to the one in the commercial, but it's inconceivable that it would appear in America's mainstream media. People would immediately condemn it as false and prejudiced. Kellogg would apologize profusely, chastise the executives who approved it, terminate the ad agency, etc.

    But, some may object, the scenarios are not identical. Catholic priests don't wear toucan outfits and aren't witch doctors. That's the point: The same is true of Maya priests.

    In fact, central Africa is much closer to the Vatican than it is to Mesoamerica. Some Africans are now Catholic bishops and priests. And Catholic ceremonies supposedly heal or prevent Satanic influences, same as witch-doctoring. So a Catholic priest has more in common with a witch doctor than a Maya priest does.

    No blacks, just Indians

    It goes without saying that Kellogg would never show an actual witch doctor. You know, an African in a grass skirt with a bone through his nose. Like the one below.

    But the company thought nothing of showing an evil Indian in the same position. Once again, Indians win the "Oppression Olympics." Sometimes America's racism is simply incredible.

    For more on the subject, see Stereotypes in Tarzan of the Apes, Tribalism in Madagascar: Escape 2 Africa, and Indian Religion Isn't Shamanism.


    dmarks said...

    "Comment: Racist messages? Yes, indeed!"

    But surely Toucan Sam is a member of the Rainbow Coalition!

    Anonymous said...

    Technically, the picture you showed was of a Papuan with Obama's head shopped on.

    Whatever the case, it's Kellogg. I mean, yeah, they've moved beyond their alternative-medicine roots, but still...

    dmarks said...

    "Alternative medicine" is a generous term for the healthcare scam that was the original Kellogg's.

    Rob said...

    Yes, Anonymous, I know about the image. I posted about it in Obama "Witch Doctor" is Papua New Guinean.

    "It's Kellogg" it's a major corporation that should reflect America's racial and cultural diversity automatically? If that's your point, I agree.

    Apparently the video accompanied a children's game on the Kellogg website. Here's more on the story:

    Mayan Message to Kellogg:  Toucan Play This Game

    After receiving the letter from Kellogg, Haswell said they went to the Froot Loops’ website to figure out what the company objected to. There they found a game in the Kellogg’s Adventure series, which supposedly puts kids in a Mayan setting, and the only character of color is the villain, an evil witchdoctor who cackles and steals. “Suddenly, it became a little bit more important to us than protecting our trademark,” he said.

    Haswell got emotional talking about the atrocities committed against the Mayan people, once one of the Americas’ most sophisticated civilizations, first by the Spanish Conquistadors in the 1500s and then by the Guatemalan government during a decades-long civil war in the 1900s. Haswell said of the Froot Loops game, “It is just so insensitive. You scratch your head and wonder how people can be that dumb.”

    Dr. Christina Gish Hill, a professor with the Department of Anthropology and American Indian Studies at Iowa State University, sees the logo issue as very extreme and even laughed a little at the idea of a company owning rights to representations of the toucan. But the Froot Loops witchdoctor game was not at all funny to her. “It is very shocking that a company as prominent and far-reaching as Kellogg would create imagery that is just so blatantly stereotype and certainly offensive,” she said.

    dmarks said...

    " it's a major corporation that should reflect America's racial and cultural diversity automatically?"

    Actually, Kellogg should hire the best employees, without any regard to skin color or culture.

    jaine said...

    dmarks said
    "" it's a major corporation that should reflect America's racial and cultural diversity automatically?"

    Actually, Kellogg should hire the best employees, without any regard to skin color or culture."

    absolutely, but isn't the first quote referring to what they portray in their advertising?