We Are All Hindu Goddesses (If We Own the HTC Rhyme)

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?

-Tory

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6 thoughts on “We Are All Hindu Goddesses (If We Own the HTC Rhyme)

  1. I’m so glad you chose to write about this commercial. As I was watching it with you during Desperate Housewives last night, a lot of the same issues popped out at me. I think this speaks to a few topics, one being that of decontextualization. The combination of cell phone technology and ancient deities, not to mention the use of a white woman, raise a lot of questions about the message being sent. I personally felt relatively disconnected from the commercial because of these strange juxtapositions and decontextualization. Although it may be wildly misrepresented, it is a good point to note that there is a flow of information back to the center from the periphery. It may not be perfect, but it’s a start. I can’t speak to it’s offensiveness, but I definitely believe that a parallel idea using Jesus to sell phones would certainly not go over well with a large part of the Christian population.

  2. Although I’m not Hindu, that was my first question, too: If appealing to a certain audience is what they’re going for, then why are they using a different race? I’m not sure that it makes any sense to use a different race. But the interesting thing is, even when different races are represented, sometimes it still falls into the stereotypical route. I took a video production course two years ago, and in it, we examined an advertisement that seemed, on first glance, to show a lot of diversity. But after we looked at it more closely, we saw a black man talking in slang, an Arab guy driving a taxi, etc. You make a really good point, what is it that makes us try but then still leave out a fundamental difference? -Tara

  3. I actually don’t think the commercial was made that way to appeal to a Hindu audience. The woman with six arms certainly calls to mind a Hindu goddess, but that’s really the only connection to be made. The actress, music, color scheme, and background imagery all seem very 21st century Western. It made me wonder if there was a conscious decision made to reference a Hindu goddess, or if the advertisers were just going for “futuristic” or “different.” I don’t think it’s cultural appropriation. You pose an interesting question, though, about making a religion seem cool in mainstream U.S. culture. Personally I am not comfortable with that kind of approach for my own religion, and I doubt many others would be. The idea of needing to legitimize a religion by making it seem cool is very strange. Religion has always been a sensitive topic. Educating and debunking myths about misunderstood religions is one thing. But trying to jazz them up in commercial ads doesn’t go over well.

  4. Maybe if you call Verizon for Customer Support, your call will be answered by someone from India or maybe it will even be answered by Vishnu? Doesn’t convince me that Verizon is an American company who wants me to be their customer…

  5. For me this is simple. If Verizon is willing for their next commercial series to feature Jesus Christ, then go ahead with Vishnu or Kali or whatever avatar it is supposed to be. If not, then think through why not, and those reasons should have guided their decision to show a Hindu goddess. “We don’t believe in Jesus.” “Christians might be upset.” “It would be disrespectful.” “It might pull us into the culture war.” “Humor sells better than serious stuff.” Then ditto for the goddess.

    So Verizon’s choice shows their disregard for the Hindu faith. If they took the faith of others as significant, they would not have shown the goddess. Actually, because of that, I’m pretty sure that Jesus could well be in their next commercials. It might even be biblical:

    Jeremiah 33:2-3 (ESV) “Thus says the LORD who made the earth, the LORD who formed it to establish it—the LORD is his name: Call to me and I will answer you, and will tell you great and hidden things that you have not known.”

    In John 10:27, Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me.”

  6. I think if you view this commercial as religiously offensive then you have missed the point. I don’t believe that it is meant to stereotype anything or anyone. I think they are trying to convey how seamlessly the features of this phone work and adapt to your life style. Thus the six arm goddess works great. Add the music and that gives you the futuristic mystical feel. The fact that they did not cast the actress in the native race, even further draws it away from the religious stereotyping.

    I like the commercial, but do not believe that since I am male and in my 50s, am the targeted consumer.

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