March 19, 2010

Native Census ad on Gossip Girl

I was watching this week's Gossip Girl (airdate: 3/15/10) on TiVo when I saw the strangest thing: Native faces on TV. Replaying it, I realized it was a Native-themed 2010 Census ad. It occurred during the commercial break in the middle of the hour.

The ad starts stereotypically with a solitary Indian in Monument Valley. He's beating a drum to the accompaniment of flute music. The narrator says, "The voice of the drum calls. It sings a song of those who came before us. And those to come."

The voice sounds familiar. I can't quite place it, but I believe it's a Native actor. Not Gil Birmingham, I think, but someone in his age range.

An Inuit woman in a snowscape and an Indian man on an urban rooftop are also beating drums. Answering the "call," several Indians hurry forward in ones and twos. The final shot shows 13 of them together, smiling and holding Census forms, with the slogan "It's in Our Hands."

One of them is actor Saginaw Grant. The others are men, women, and children of various ages, all dressed in regular clothes. Only Grant with his braids looks slightly like a (stereo)typical Indian.

Not bad. Other than the occasional gaming-related advertisement, this is the most Indians I've seen on network TV since 2008's Comanche Moon. I wasn't crazy about the drumbeat theme, but the images of Indians were decent.

Some thoughts

I presume this was an ad intended for Indians nationwide. It wasn't one of the California PSAs I've been posting on Facebook. A few thoughts on it:

1) I think this is the first Census ad I've seen on TV. Not to look a gift horse in the mouth, but what about an ad featuring blacks, Latinos, or Asians? The Latino population must be 20 times bigger than the Indian population, so shouldn't there be 20 Latino commercials for each Indian commercial?

2) I don't know if the ad ran nationwide or only in Southern California. If it was a national ad, it was suitably generic, with the emphasis rightly on urban settings. If it was a Southern California ad, it missed the mark by showing Navajoland rather than anything specific to the region. The urban scenes could've been filmed in Los Angeles, but it's impossible to tell.

3) A Native ad in the middle of Gossip Girl...really? I don't know the show's demographics, but I'd guess they mirror the show's rich elitist characters. I.e., young, upscale, and blindingly white.

I don't know which shows Natives watch most: American Idol or NCIS, just like everyone else? But Gossip Girl could easily be the show they watch least.

I can only imagine the ad ran as some sort of quid pro quo. I believe networks have to run a certain number of public service announcements. The government is pushing Census ads this month. The CW may have said, "We still have a open spot in the middle of Gossip Girl. We'll stick your Census ad there even though it has nothing in common with the show or its audience."

Oh, well. For more on the subject, see Video of "First to Be Counted" and Census Info Not Reaching Natives.

Below:  The perfect demographics for a Native Census ad?

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