Thursday, October 16, 2014

Stereotype Quest: how many stereotypes can you spot?

Watermelon and watermelon juice sellers... man I miss watermelon.

Taipei Times reports:
The video clip was said to portray Aboriginal women as ‘exotic objects of lust, and neglected to mention the artists it was promoting
Here's the link, filmed by aboriginal director. See how many of the millions of ethnic stereotypes crammed in here you can spot. Click read more for a quick list I compiled:

1. non-white woman exotic object of white man's lust, man is creepy stalker
2. non-white woman is still not very dark-skinned, white skin preference
3. foreign man is blonde and either green or blue eyed (can't tell). True foreigners are blond and blue eyed, of course.
4. Is foreign man that wants the woman. Not local.
4. just to be certain that the come-to-our-event-and-you-can-boink-an-aborigine sales pitch isn't missed, they shoehorned in another pair of hot women briefly glimpsed flanking Blondie on either side as he is clapping.
5. Aboriginals are shown in the stereotyped activities for indigenous people everywhere, dancing and singing, infantilized.
6. Feminists will probably weigh in with all the conventions: woman staring up and off screen in contemplation, a common pose in ads, women wearing heels, common in ads with women as sexualized objects, woman not doing anything powerful, useful, skilled, or important, etc.

In fairness, this unimaginative ad simply represents a dull reproduction of approaches common in Taiwanese ads...
Don't miss the comments below! And check out my blog and its sidebars for events, links to previous posts and picture posts, and scores of links to other Taiwan blogs and forums!


Domenic said...

Yikes! The protester are acknowledgin how ridiculous it is right?

Unknown said...

So a commercial showing a sober, pretty, self-confident, polite, clearly in charge of the situation, urban Taiwanese fmale aborigine is bad because it confirms ethnic and gender stereotypes?

As for the singing and the dancing, that does seem suspicious. When you're advertising a chance to learn about a culture, singing and dancing are the last things that come to mind. Nobody is interested in those. That's why when people go to New York they all want to see a Broadway Mathematical. A Broadway 'Musical' would be ridiculous. (Sarcasm alert)

Using sexual attraction in a commercial was also clearly out of bounds. Nobody does that. (more sarcasm).

Michael Turton said...

Yes, it's bad when it is nothing more than a collection of racist/orientalist/sexist stereotypes.

Chaon said...

Commercial could have been worse.

She could have been holding a beer.

John Scott said...

So is most of the anger due to the fact that it is a white foreigner who is shown being lured to attend the aboriginal festival? Is that what makes it orientalist? Or the fact that a pretty young woman is the bait?

I always cringe when I see "Mr. white foreigner" in some ad or public service announcement... ESPECIALLY if they are speaking Chinese.

They should re-shoot the ad, and find a scooter mechanic from Keelung with red teeth to play the part, instead of whitey.

Was offense taken at the native peoples' traditional clothing? I suppose the director wanted it to be obvious who the natives were.

A better idea would be to have a normal (Taiwanese)family going there and meeting normal local people or a family (who do not sing and do not wear traditional-style clothes).

Michael Turton said...

The local aborigine groups were angered by the portrayal of aboriginal women as exotic bait for foreigners. Local foreigners were unhappy about its use of local beliefs about the sexuality of foreigners. If you were a feminist you could have a field day with all the sexist ad conventions in it.


Chaon said...

Well I'm just shocked that people would believe some foreigners are irresistibly attracted to Taiwanese aboriginal women. I mean yeah, their dark skin is pleasant to look at, and those liquid eyes are in many cases absolutely captivating, but we... um, it's just...

Hey! Sean Lien just said something stupid! Let's all talk about that now!

Unknown said...

"exotic bait for foreigners"

There was nothing "exotic" (at least that I could see) about her until after he was clearly attracted to her.

As for the behavior or foreigners, is it that unusual for a commercial to show a male being attracted to someone based primarily on seeing them? And what was so bad about his behavior? He was trying to find some way to work up the courage to say something to her before she got away. I didn't see any suggestion that he was looking for a one night stand or anything else inappropriate.

And it seems she behaved pretty well too - "here, learn more about my culture (and by extension me) before trying to start a relationship with me".

What would have been a better commercial?

Unknown said...

@John Scott

So you think aborigine women are only good enough for toothless scooter mechanics from Keelung?

As for the suggestion about the normal families, etc. remember this is a commercial - the goal is to get people to pay attention and motivated. As you can see from so many other commercials on TV, sex sells. So do singing and dancing. How many commercials do you see that don't feature some sort of music? How many include dancing of some kind for products that have nothing to do with dancing?

The way I see it the things being complained about are just standard advertising techniques having nothing to do with ethnic stereotyping, while what's being missed is all the ways that the young woman was portrayed in ways to combat ethnic stereotypes.

Michael Turton said...

I see it the things being complained about are just standard advertising techniques having nothing to do with ethnic stereotyping,

How much background do you have in the deployment of stereotypes in ad? Have you ever taken a class in it, read a standard work on ethnic stereotypes in ads, or sexism in ads, etc? It's immediately obvious to anyone with any kind of background in those fields what is going on.


John Scott said...

Wow... talk about over-analyzing something and projecting one's own prejudices and suspicions onto other peoples' intentions, etc.! Yikes.

No, I was just posing a few conjectures as a way of trying to better understand exactly what the locals were most upset about and why. Not saying at all that they have no reason to be upset. I am genuinely interested in why. It's easy to say something is racist and sexist, it is a bit harder to say what would be considered acceptable.

If it was orientalist or disrespectful primarily because it was a "white foreigner" following the girl (and if that is why people were upset), then maybe the locals would have been much happier if a second version was shot with a typical Taiwanese worker or a college student (instead of whitey) being attracted to the village. But which of the two versions would the tourism bureau have chosen to put on TV?

If it was condescending to depict aboriginals as always singing and dancing in their traditional clothes, then shoot a version where there is no singing or colorful clothes. I don't know, in the 4 or 5 seconds they are shown in the ad, what activity should they be shown doing that would be more respectful?

I don't know who makes these ads, but I assume that some of the locals in these villages actually do want people to come visit their villages, stay a few days at a B&B, eat some food, buy some products, etc. Some nice music usually helps.

Even the fairly well-produced TV travelogue shows (like the one that features the woman who shifts constantly between Chinese and American English, going to all of the interesting villages across Taiwan) like to focus on the local dancing, music, rituals, beliefs, traditions, clothes, etc. that are unique to the particular tribes, regions and villages. They do that because that is what makes it interesting (and also because Taiwanese like to know exactly what they ought to buy and do in each town they visit).

Is it orientalist or disrespectful for people to visit those villages primarily out of an interest in the people, culture, cultural characteristics and unique cultural expressions of the people there? What about outsiders participating in those rituals and celebrations? We see a lot of such photos. Are they being racist, or objectifying these people?

Funny how TV ads are so full of uniformly beautiful and handsome people with good hair and nice skin...

Chaon said...

I create stereotypes in ads for a living, and Brian Castle is 100% correct.

Michael Turton said...

t, it is a bit harder to say what would be considered acceptable.

Actually, it is really easy to say what would be acceptable. Delete "the gaze", the hot outfit, and the heels, all sexualizing and objectifying. Dump the foreigner -- make it about the aborigines themselves and remove the whole idea of stalking/sex. It's an art festival, so show them making art, using a skill to do something human and meaningful. Show them making breakfast, doing accounts, raising kids, whatever. There's an infinite number of ways to enrich and humanize the presentation. Instead it is a collection of tropes and stereotypes.

You are correct about people in advertizing -- and ads are about conventions like the ones presented here. The trick is to avoid all them.


John Scott said...

Anytime these scripted promotional ads are made with coiffed and powdered actors, the result is almost always somewhere between ridiculous and creepy.

A better project manager would have shot 45 minutes at the actual festival, the scenery, the normal families doing normal activities, grandmas and grandpas, kids having fun, and then edited that down to the 25 seconds needed.

This would have eliminated choices such as "what shoes are least orientalist?", "what about the randy foreigner?" "will people protest about her gaze, or the aborigine citizens' stereotypical singing?", "would they really be doing that if they weren't in a studio in Neihu?", etc.

Anonymous said...

Guys, an ad doesn't have to be mean-spirited to be retrograde. As for the "sex sells" argument, appealing to base desires may get attention but that doesn't mean it's an appropriate tack for a government agency to be taking.

chinaphil said...

To be honest, I think the orientalist thing is a bit hard to avoid: cultural festivals inherently display local culture for the view of outsiders.
Much more alarming is the behaviour of the man in the advert. Rather than talk to this woman he seems to stalk her! Not cool.

Unknown said...

@ Karl Smith

@John Scott
I couldn't tell if you were being sarcastic in your earlier post, but either way I think there is something to be said about the ability to treat anything as a negative.

Had she been paired up with a Hoklo, was the ad implying that a well-dressed pretty aborigine was too good for an aborigine guy? Had she been with an aborigine, was the ad implying that people should restrict their dating to people of their own race? Had she been with a foreigner from a rich country, was the ad implying that dating such people was a step u? Had she been with a foreigner from a poor country (or a toothless blue-collar worker), was the ad implying that aborigine women shouldn't expect any better?

Depending on what stereotypes you have floating around in your head, you can make any ad seem bad.

@John Scott and Michael Turton
Your ad ideas would certainly go a long way toward removing sex and what you perceive as infantilizing singing and dancing but it would have one problem - they won't sell any tickets to the event.

Unknown said...


I guess it could be interpreted as stalking, but I saw it as simply trying not to lose sight of the woman before he was able to do exactly what you propose - talking to her. He didn't take out a camera and start snapping pictures. He didn't camp outside her house. He saw a girl and was smitten but as he started to approach her (apparently before she saw him - it didn't look like she was trying to escape) she got up and started walking. Was he supposed to start the conversation by yelling loud enough to be heard, or do as he did and catch up first?

I guess there is the whole thing of approaching a stranger on the street, but that does seem a whole lot better than approaching a stranger at a bar.

Unknown said...

Anon wrote:Guys, an ad doesn't have to be mean-spirited to be retrograde. As for the "sex sells" argument, appealing to base desires may get attention but that doesn't mean it's an appropriate tack for a government agency to be taking.

I'll grant you that a government agency should be held to a higher standard.

Unknown said...

As Michael Turton points out, ads are generally thought through very carefully with a reason behind even tiny details.

What puzzles me about the ad is why they chose to have a white guy in it. Are there really that many white guys in Taiwan that their considered a major target demographic for the ad??? How is a beautiful woman smiling at and inviting a white guy over to meet the family supposed to appeal to the average Taiwanese male or even the average Taiwanese female?

vin said...

I’m kind of stunned that so many are buying into the idea that the ofay is stalking her. The mere act of following does not, in itself, constitute stalking; and given the context portrayed in the commercial – the young woman making coquettish eye contact over her shoulder as she leaves -- there’s no way that the guy’s actions qualify as stalking. Here, from an article on stalking by Professor of Psychology Robert T. Muller is what stalking actually is:

"Stalking is defined as repeated and unwanted attention, harassment, contact, or any other behavior directed at a specific person that would cause a reasonable person to feel fear."

And yes, chinaphil, he "could have talked to her," but most guys don’t have the sack to do so in the first 8-9 seconds. She apparently understood that, decided to give him another chance (by looking over her shoulder at him), and he at least showed some secondary courage then.

But it looks like there’s some real, actual stalking close at hand all the same – the inexplicable lion (or is the resolution on my old cathode-ray monitor really that bad and it’s actually not a lion?) in the bottom right corner of the blog's banner photo appears to be stalking its lunch.

About the commercial overall: it’s difficult to imagine the chain of decisions that resulted in this product. Sorry Brian and Karl, but this appears to be an arts festival with real artists –something far beyond the usual in Taiwan --, and here’s an ad that expresses the fact. The singing in this second ad is nothing like the rubbishy A Mei/KTV/kiddie-camp stuff in the ad in question in this thread.

As for sex selling, whatever one’s view on the ethics of that, who is it going to sell to (real cash flow) in this case? Western males here? Few if any will get past the last pub on the edge of their town even if they did have designs (few will) on going to the festival – and they’ll arrive broke if they do ever get there. Western males abroad? Right: a gal who’s an 8, a bit of song and dance, and an intriguing canoe prow (cliché to all who’ve been here a mere six months) is gonna flood incoming flights.

And the ad gives even less reason for Western women to attend. And zero reason, as several have basically said, for locals of either sex or for local families – the actual money – to attend.

In other words, it’s pure potatohead.

Not only, as John Scott said, does a government agency have no business making a sell-on-the-basis-of sex ad like this; it also has no business wasting money, and thus, in effect, merely pretending to do its job.

And WTF with the director being an indigenous person? Did the government agency acquiesce to him/her? What was THIS person thinking? Or was he just following potatohead direction from above?

Finally, what does “orientalizing” have to with anything in this ad? The ad contains quite a lot of “otherizing” -- which Taiwanese (in general) , like other East Asians (in general), are among the world’s primary practitioners of. But if somehow the director is responsible and prevailed over a patronizing, colonialist government agency in deciding the product’s content, then the ad is a slap in the face to colonialism – meaning that any “orientalism” is a device used for that end – and any “orientalism” perceived by us ofays is, itself, in its knee-jerk reaction to a common trope being used differently, orientalism.

Unknown said...

On further reflection I think I wrote too hastily in saying the ad with the families meeting wouldn't sell. If the target demographic is families, which seems more appropriate than targeting white guys, then such a commercial could work.