February 09, 2011

Maya pyramids in Kia commercial

Correspondent DMarks notes another Super Bowl commercial with a Native bit:

2011 Kia Optima:  One Epic Ride--Big Game 2011 CommercialMeet the midsize sedan that everyone is trying to get their hands on.

Featuring superior performance and technology for a midsize sedan, sport truly meets luxury in the new Optima. Bringing together comfort, safety and design, the Kia Optima is built with care and precision inside and out.

Change the way you think about a midsize sedan with the 2011 Kia Optima.

Discover the midsize sedan that is the envy of Poseidon himself.

Comment:  The Kia Optima goes through a series of cinematic adventures--a James Bond-style capture, a grab by the sea god Poseidon, and an alien abduction--before it ends up in the final scene: a crowded Maya-style plaza. The message is that the Optima provides "one epic ride."

A few problems with this:

The commercial obviously means "epic" as in out of the ordinary, exotic, far removed from everyday life. A Maya scene from another place and time seems to qualify.

But the Maya are still alive. Still living in farming communities in rural Central America. Still practicing their traditional culture while using modern resources, tools, and equipment.

Portraying them as car-worshiping savages sends the message that they're dead and gone. That they're as alien to today's world as gods and, well, aliens. It reinforces the message we hear constantly about Indians: that they vanished long ago.

Why not show a Medieval European scene instead of a Mesoamerican scene? After all, Mexico is closer to most of us than Europe. Wouldn't a quaint English or German village qualify as "epic"?

Well, yes and no. Yes, if it included such horrors as the Black Death, drawing and quartering, or bear-baiting. But no, if it merely showed white Anglo-Saxon peasants. According to the prevailing mythology, these people are us. They're the people who founded America and made it great.

We are normal and commonplace--i.e., the default. They--minorities such as blacks, Latinos, and Indians--are something else. Same with our ancestors. Ours read Bibles quietly by firelight; theirs conducted Satanic rites involving human sacrifice. Ours are the good guys; theirs are "the other."

Would an audience accept a village of angry white people burning a witch at the stake? Probably not. Would it accept a village of half-naked African savages shaking their spears? Probably not. Once again, Indians are America's primary source of stereotypes for strange and otherworldly.

For another Native-themed Super Bowl ad, see Native Commercial on Super Bowl Sunday. For more on Indians as the exotic "other," see Shooter on Dark Horse's TUROK, Indian in RETURN OF BRUCE WAYNE #4, and Tiger Lily in Peter Pan:  An Allegory of Anglo-Indian Relations

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