So I was sitting on the couch last night, watching Desperate Housewives and trying desperately to think of something to write about this week (I can’t rant about China EVERY week) when the following commercial came on TV:
Instantly, our conversation this week about globalization came to mind. Many critics of globalization say that globalization is a means for “the West” to impose their culture on the rest of the world. In development scholarship, we would say that they allege that the Dependency Paradigm is valid, wherein there is a one-way flow of communication: Core –> Periphery. However, we see here that the Core (the US) is drawing influence from the Periphery (India). Verizon appropriates the imagery of a Hindu goddess, using her many arms to illustrate how the phone has great utility for multi-taskers.
So my first reaction was, “Oh that’s cool, they are bringing global influences into their advertising!” But then as I thought more about the commercial, my opinion began to drop precipitously. The commercial uses Hindu goddess imagery in a way that is divorced from its original religious context. Would someone of the Hindu faith find this commercial offensive? I can’t speak to that (Hindu readers, help me out!), but I think of it this way: In the US, a predominantly Christian nation, would we ever try to use Jesus imagery to sell a cell phone? I can see it now: “I don’t need to rise from the dead, cause Verizon’s 3G network provides excellent reception from here inside my tomb!” You may find that amusing, but your fundamentalist aunt may not see the humor.
Additionally, I noted that the actress playing the Goddess appears to be Caucasian. Why did Verizon make that casting choice? It brings the Goddess even further from its original context- does that make its usage more or less okay?
So what do you guys think? Can the commercial create a positive effect by featuring a religion rather unknown in mainstream US culture and making it look cool, or is it an example of inappropriate and offensive cultural appropriation?