February 04, 2012

Suzuki's dog-sled commercial

Super Bowl Ad Stars 2 Alaska Native ActorsA 2012 Super Bowl ad from Suzuki stars 2 Alaska Native actors in the lead roles.

Mary Rock and Davis Kamoff were cast for the commercial, according to Deb Schildt with Piksik, a production services company based in Anchorage.

The ad, called “Sled,” showcases the auto-maker’s sport sedan dubbed “Kizashi.”

Suzuki said the ad was shot in Canada about an hour outside of Calgary on a frozen lake and was made by the ad agency Siltanen & Partners Advertising.

Comment:  This ad isn't terrible. It gets bonus points for using Alaska Native actors who (apparently) speak their own language. But it has a few problems.

The ad begins with a clichéd hawk screech. Hawks in the Arctic? I don't think so. Stereotype alert!

But it's not clear the ad takes place in the Arctic. The setting appears to be a frozen lake nestled among tree-covered mountains. In the far north, where the Inuit traditionally live, there are few if any mountains, trees, or lakes.

An Inuit man in a parka prepares his dog sled outside his igloo. He hugs an Inuit woman, also in a parka, and leaves on his sled. Apparently he trades his sled for a car, because he and the dogs drive back to the igloo. His woman asks where the sled is and he says he upgraded it.

First, the commercial gives us three basic "Eskimo" stereotypes: igloo, parkas, and dog sled. These suggest the Inuit are primitive people with no access to modern technology. In reality, most Inuit live in mass-manufactured houses and wear mass-manufactured coats these days.

Besides, the igloo makes no sense. The Inuit build igloos as temporary shelters on the ice when they're far from home. They build them of ice blocks because they have no other materials handy.

But this couple has stone and wood nearby. If they couldn't buy a prefabricated house, why wouldn't they build a proper one? Oh, yeah...because all Inuit live in igloos no matter what their circumstances are, right? That's what a million "Eskimo" stereotypes have told us, anyway.

The man wears his parka inside the car. He must be sweltering, especially if he's using the car's heater. Part of the parka stereotype is that the Inuit never take them off and wear something else. It's as if furs are glued to their skin.

The man says he traded the sled for the car. He obviously means the wooden conveyance, since he still has his dogs. But I'm pretty sure the dogs are the most important and valuable part of the dog sled. In other words, the sled is worthless without the dogs. It's easily replaced while the dogs require years of painstaking training.


Overall, this ad gets maybe a "B" for effort. It gets points for featuring the Inuit in a high-profile Super Bowl ad. For showing they can drive something other than a sled or snowmobile--possibly a first on network TV. And for using genuine Alaska Natives and their language.

But it loses points for reinforcing old stereotypes. If we're to judge by commercials like this one, all American Indians live in teepees and all Alaska Natives live in igloos. In other words, Natives are stuck in the distant past...ho-hum.

I imagine the creators thought their ad was progressive. Not really. Natives abandon a 19th-century lifestyle for a 20th-century convenience isn't a cutting-edge message in the 21st century. Trading a sled for a car might've been a great idea in 1912, but not in 2012.

If you wanted to do this commercial right, you could start with a modern Inuit family in a modern home. The parents tell the children a story of the "olden days." Then cut to the actual commercial, with a traditional Inuit family upgrading their sled to a Kizashi. It's basically the same message, but it doesn't place the Inuit in a primitive and stereotypical setting. It doesn't tell us that igloos and parkas are their normal state.

For more on Eskimo stereotypes, see "Talking Eskimo" Wheat Board Video and Vilche the "Eskimo Warrior."


Anonymous said...

Yeah, but every time I hear "Inuit", I want to say "It's a masculine plural, and whatever you call them, political correctness springs from the myth that they have over nine thousand words for snow."

Anonymous said...

As for the ad itself, oh, Japan.

I should point out that Japan has this bizarre history. At one point, I know black guys who were excluded from a restaurant in Japan not for being black, but because of a Korean girlfriend. On the other, the "excluding Koreans from businesses" part. (To be fair, the rest of Asia hates the Japanese for the whole "trying to rule the world" thing in the 30s and 40s.)

Japanese commercial art has its share of racist caricatures. The game Super Mario Bros. 2 (US version) was a dolled-up version of another game featuring an Arab family. That's not the racist part. The racist part is that instead of turtle shells, you picked up blackface heads. Also, at the end of every level, you beat up a transexual dinosaur that spits eggs.

Shadow Wolf said...

Rob "the paraphrasing racist" notes a few "problems" in this ad. Which are very low key and egregious. I believed the main gist isn't to make a full fledge 100% Inuit ad with all the package of Inuit culture installed. Rather, it's to show a modern Inuit enacting their ways outside of a rural area and nothing more. The actual "stereotype" is for Rob to believe that Inuits should still live like they did centuries ago. Maybe some do, but most of them are quite modern today like the one in the ad.

Rob said...

Are you having reading comprehension problems, Shadow Wolf? There isn't one word in this posting to suggest the Inuit "should still live like they did centuries ago."

Rather, the point is precisely the opposite. The commercial implies that the Inuit do live as they did centuries ago. And I criticized that implication because it's not true.

My position is that the commercial should show the Inuit as they are today. Which is why I said the right way to do it would be to show a modern Inuit family in a modern house. What part of that didn't you understand?

Here, let me simplify the point as much as possible for you:

Traditional lifestyle = stereotypical = wrong.

Modern lifestyle = realistic = right.

Get it now?

dmarks said...

Yeah, Shadow. I read his post and he was doing the opposite of what you claim he was doing.