Saturday, March 17, 2007

hutch: a study in contemporary corporate-sponsored racism

a recent hutch advertisement caught my eye. it seems to me a brilliant study in how to perpetuate racist stereotypes, so i'd like to discuss it here.

you can almost imagine the ad agency's pitch to the company. "can't sell your product properly? damn natives can't understand english?" or "damn natives too stupid to understand your procedures? spell it out for those brown savvidges". voila. a charmingly animated ad campaign. it probably had to be animated so they could plead who them?, racist?, awww, come on, cantcha take a joke? we didn't mean no harm. how very subtle!

the storyboard: shot of customer - sorry! - brown savage, complete in stereotyped details like war paint on either cheek, and a loin cloth. (there's also a very interestingly conspicuous absence of brown savage woman!) brown savage evidently doesn't understand company's contorted payment procedure. enter two not-quite-white-but-getting-there smarties, who show the savage how to do things. exit brown savage happily yelling as he swings away on the trees.

dumb savage still can't figure how to talk english, benevolent company offers customer care in *savagespeak*. two n-q-w-b-g-t smarties to the rescue again. savage repeats the happy-tree-swinging routine.

the advertising company handling hutch's ad campaigns is ogilvy & mather (india). an agency which, presumably, has indians working for them. i'm quite sure that these very people look into mirrors every day and do not see a "savage". so it is truly appalling, that they think that a savage is a coloured man, clad in a loin cloth and swinging from trees. talk of total cognitive dissonance!

it speaks volumes for how effective colonial conditioning has been, and how it continues to dominate the way we think. any system of discrimination is most effective when the subject starts internalising the discriminatory notions. so while it's awful enough to have a seemingly liberal white man write racist literature and be praised for it, it's a different set of worries and fears to see people beholding themselves through a racist lens and hating themselves.

use your power as consumers, people (especially those of you with hutch connections) - call and tell 'em racist ads aren't cute.

(we can take them up on the shades of sexism-sizeism from the second phone call.)



Anonymous WhiteSpeak said...

People like you blackmail the rest of humanity. You have zero professional qualifications and have decided to make mental masturbation on any topic under the sun your routine. (Exhausted all “feminist” topics?) I think somebody who has absolutely no speciality or expertise in anything and has nothing to give society has no right to criticize something done by people that go to work.

7:26 am  
Blogger m. said...

whitespeak: evidently since your racist (in)sensibilities were offended, you had to say something. since you could find no flaw as such in the content of the post, you boringly (and unoriginally) contented yourself with insulting me personally.


bug off.

9:02 pm  
Anonymous Vijayendra said...

Point taken sir. But here's my point. The ad has urban looking cartoons and a 'savage' cartoon. Why do you assume the savage is inferior to the ones in t-shirts? I see them as merely different. There is nothing derogatory there. Except probably that the savage doesn't speak English.

But he IS sweet enough to bother communicating with the text-boards.

I feel the superior/inferior concept roots from your own view of things.

2:36 am  
Blogger Shankar said...

came here via blog bharti

quite honestly, i think you are crying racism for nothing here. there is nothing derogatory there ... a bit of exaggeration saying "our service is simple enough for a tribesman to understand who doesn't even know what technology is" don't we make sardar jokes, blond jokes and Irish jokes??? all of them have to taken as a joke and forgotten about ... racism becomes an issue is cases where shreesanth was fined but not andre nel. ... personally, i was offended by this.

4:24 am  
Blogger Shankar said...

i was *not* offended by this

4:25 am  
Blogger m. said...

1. i'm not a "sir". i'm a woman.
2. read your own comment again.
urban= westernised, rural = the Other (and here) = savage? come, really, would you call that an unbiased pov?! once you label them so strongly, there is no "nothing derogatory" about it. the labels tell the real story.

shankar: thank you for bringing up the connection to "dumb blonde" jokes. sexism often doesn't even have the guts to come out and say mean things with a straight face - it needs to be able to masquerade behind the excuse of a sense of a humour. guess what, it aint funny!!

and so similarly,no, racism aint funny either. making a racist dig in animation doesn't make it hilarious.

5:06 am  
Anonymous bd said...

check this out:

Would you call them inferior? They are Indians too. They are just leading a different lifestyle.

10:08 am  
Blogger Sea and Sky said...

this comment is not so much about the blog but more about the comments above. what i believe is being talked about in m's post is the extent to which stereotypes and prejudices have penetrated our lives... almost that they have become parts of who we are and how we function. and why we fail to identify the hutch ad as prejudiced and biased illustrates precisely that.

i am sure (well, almost) that hutch ad wasn't created with an explicit overt agenda of attacking the tribal people. that wasn't their purpose. however, their ad has ended up perpetuating the stereotypes nonetheless, which is a dangerous thing in itself. and this shows how subsumed the prejudices and stereotypes have become in our routine lives and social realities. so much that we can be prejudiced without intending to be prejudiced, and subsequently fail/refuse to recognize it as prejudice. isn't that dangerous?

also, if going a little deeper into the post and the comments it invited, i guess the main problem is of "us-ing" and "them-ing"... it sounds like we the urban net-savvy people are discussing a different species of jungle inhabitants. and that idea, while not made explicit to ourselves stays on the back of our minds when do or don't analyze stuff as the hutch ad as prejudiced. for example, one of the comments here says that the ad reads- "our service is simple enough for a tribesman to understand who doesn't even know what technology is". in doing so, are we not making assumptions based on our pre-conceived stereotypes about tribal people, such as: (1) "they" have no concept of technology; (2) "they" need "our" help to understand technology; (3) "our" technology (read mobile phones, internet...) is the way to a better life.

and these stereotypes that work as undercurrents and inform our thoughts and actions need to be made explict, instead of being ignored by pretending that all id well with the state of Denmark.

8:18 am  
Blogger sriram said...

This discussion is getting quite interesting. I have not seen the ad. Can someone explain a few things to me?

1) Was the guy a savage or a tribesman? I believe this is a big difference. If it is tribesman, maybe people who saw a savage should ask themselves why they did so.

2) On the pre-conceived notions, this is what I would infer.
--- Tribesman find it hard to use understand billing procedures. Just like elder folks might have (starting) problems with using computers, kids have problems reading books for hours, geeks can't play a physical sport well to save their lives, or everyone finds it hard to file taxes. Now are these all pre-judiced statements -- maybe. Are there exceptions -- absolutely. But does these make these generalizations racist/sexist, etc. -- I don't think so. Generalizations are very useful in many cases (including say assuming mothers love children).

3) I would not infer the following:

3a) That they have no concept of technology. That is why customer support exists. I call customer support all the time -- for things including billing queries, even though I consider myself technology-literate.

3b) That our technology is the way to a better life. I don't know my lack of understanding of something, and willingness to ask a question, make users/practitioners of that thing better.

4) @m: You commented on "dumb blonde" jokes as sexism. But you missed talking about Sardar jokes. How would you classify madrasi jokes, manager (dilbert) jokes, PhD student jokes, professor jokes, military jokes, ...? Funnily, some blonde jokes and these are very similar/identical.

5) I am new to sociology. But in the sciences, we always try to distinguish between a random chance, correlation, and causality (among other things). How possible is it that the colours were chosen randomly? Would changing the colours have made the ad any less effective (in content, humour, or most importantly (for the advertiser) monetary effect)?

Maybe things are interpreted differently in sociology. Could someone please refer to some classic/textbook case of sociological interpretation that can help me understand the causality (the colors were chosen so because of deep-seated racism) here?

Now, I would come to that conclusion if a hundred random groups were given the same exercise and say 60+ of them gave the tribesman a dark colour.

6) I absolutely believe there is racism. I have seen it. But I do not see it here, atleast not beyond random chance/reasonable doubt.

10:15 pm  
Blogger Whoiscb said...

I agree with you

I think the long years of western domination have blinded our eyes, and we dont even see that there is "racism".

I donot want to talk about this specific case here, but I think it is this inherent inferiority within us that we need to fight in order to overcome this tragedy. The white man has done quite a lot of damage I must say.

More than the Gold and other forms of wealth he stole from us, he stole our culture/education system and our values which is what I hate the most.

1:24 am  
Blogger m. said...

sea and sky: as usual, "thank you"! :)

sriram: it was a caricature of a tribal person. the ad allowed much scope for the implication that a brown tribal person = a savage.
re your second point, a generalisation has its merits, true. but please make the distinction between a stereotype (a highly stylised, caricatured, no-longer-true generalisation) and a generalisation.
true, i didnt expand on mockery of sardars - i think the concept of picking a group has already been explained in my post. i wanted to pick the next bigger abstraction: picking on a group, which however qualified for several subgroups.

whoiscb: hi. er... i'm not so sure about "stealing" culture or values. i think we were able and independent in inflicting damage!

7:08 am  
Blogger the saint said...

have they cancelled your phone yet?

4:32 am  

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