July 29, 2012

"Medium" smudges in Priceline commercial

Priceline: Remove the Long Island Medium smudging commercial from the air

By Mary SharlowI am a non-native woman, married to an Ojibwe man living on the Lac du Flambeau Ojibwe reservation. I have been researching and teaching about spiritual appropriation for more than 10 years, particularly regarding Native American spirituality. I was appalled to see a Priceline commercial over the weekend, which featured Long Island Medium, Theresa Caputo. In the commercial, Caputo—who is blonde and appears white—smudges two clients, also white, fanning a fake eagle feather over an abalone shell filled with what looks like sage. (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PNgPXzlevyw) Caputo’s purpose is to bring back the negotiator to help with travel expenses. The entire commercial has an air of mockery to it.

This commercial trivializes and mimics the ritual practices of Native Americans to amuse television viewers. I find this offensive as do many Native Americans and their allies who have been discussing this commercial on the internet. Smudging is a sacred ceremony in my husband’s culture and that of other Native Americans. The eagle is sacred to most Native Americans because it is considered to fly higher than any other bird. Eagles are believed to be closer to Creator because of their ability to fly so high. Sage is one of four sacred medicines used for ceremonial purposes in many Native cultures. It is used for purifying and to take prayers to the creator. The combination of the eagle feather and burning sage during smudging is symbolically and spiritually very powerful.

A few responses to the YouTube video:Offensive, outrageous, once again, another moron using something sacred to us as a means to make money and mock our values....

I am deeply offended by the disrespect in this commercial.

I don't see what is funny about bastardizing a sacred ceremony of my culture. Clearly, you don't know anything about Native culture...or respect for other cultures in general. She's not Native...and has no right to use the ceremony of my people in the first place. The feather is fake (it's painted). I know a lot more about this ceremony than you...and it doesn't remove energy.... AND please don't comment back that you're great-great-great grandmother was a Cherokee princess...
Comment:  All this is bad enough, but I think Sharlow missed the worst aspects of this commercial.

Let's review the premise. A medium is someone who speaks to the dead. Caputo claims to sense a Priceline negotiator, presumably a ghost or spirit, in the room.

First, this has nothing whatsoever to do with a real or fake sage ceremony. Smudging is all about purifying and blessing a place, not communicating with the dead. This presentation is as offensively wrong as having a priest sense a Priceline negotiator in a church while conducting Mass.

Second, the commercial uses the stereotypical idea that Native religions are an interchangeable collection of weird rites involving spooky spirits. In other words, superstitious nonsense. Not complex religions that are generally older than Christianity, but parlor tricks suitable for a magic show or Halloween party.

As always, compare it to a commercial of someone pretending to worship like blacks or Latinos. How would we react if this person started talking like a Ghostbuster instead of a sincere believer? We'd rightly slam the commercial as racist for implying the minority was primitive and superstitious.

Same thing here. The commercial is bad for all these reasons and it should go.

For more offensive ads, see Stereotypical Inuk Adoption Poster and Patriots Kick Indian in Super Bowl Video.

1 comment:

Under Baggage said...

At first seeing the "medium" commercial I found it offensive. Then I thought, consider the source. How can I possibly expect otherwise. The motivation of the commercial is purely "bottom line" for Priceline.com.
So my response is simple--I will not buy any future tickets or serves from this company.
That allows me the last laugh.