Tuesday, March 22, 2011

DirecTV Commercials: Russia, You Have a Problem

Not that it's anything new... and yet, it shows - once again - that Russia, along with several other former Communist/Socialist states, has a major image problem in the U.S. On numerous occasions before, I have discussed these stereotype issues on this blog, and this new DirecTV commercial only reiterates it all. (The commercial might have been around for quite a while, but since I do not own a TV - quite fortunately - I would ask for your understanding on the delayed response.)

Here's the "new" commercial, which seems to have been launched this month:

I have no words to explain how it is supposed to be related - if at all - to promoting a satellite TV service. But that aside: what images does it convey and what stereotypes of Russia, and Russians, is it playing on?

In a series of papers, Ivan Katchanovski has demonstrated the negative representation of Russia and some other former Soviet countries in American news coverage, as well as in popular culture. His analysis of a set of Hollywood movies has shown that:
"most of the movies, incorrectly present Kazakhstan, Russia, and Ukraine as economically and technologically backward, extremely anti-American and anti-Semitic countries, which have pervasive “Russian mafia” and widespread female prostitution."

I couldn't not think of this excerpt when I saw this commercial "masterpiece".

Why is it a problem?

In his work on "imagology", William Chew has correctly pointed out that:
"[...] national stereotypes are generally rationalised by the spector as based on a supposedly objective reality, but [they also] tend to be omnipresent in comics, cinema, literature, computer games, public media, jokes and the like, and are constantly though not consciously invoked to confirm one’s auto-image, one’s national identity. Once established, they remain latent in the individual consciousness, or collective mentality, to be called upon when needed."

Just like on many occasions before, such representations only reinforce the not-so-positive images of Russia held by so many Americans, cashing in on long-held stereotypes. Unfortunately, the multitude of the people who will see this commercial will - most probably - never see a Russian ballet performance, for example, which will only help to perpetuate such negative attitudes.

This is a major issue to be addressed by Russia as a part of its public diplomacy effort. Of course, many would find this ingenious piece funny, and would argue that it works as great advertising... (for who, one might ask?) However, I wonder what the reaction would have been, had "the Russian" been replaced by an Israeli, for instance. (This is a rhetorical question, by the way. And yet, I would appreciate insights, if you're willing to share.)

In short, some more food for thought...

And just for your reference, here's the hideous "prequel", that has been on air for about a year now (to the best of my knowledge, that is).

I know you're dying to get DirecTV now, eh?


  1. I respect your opinions and your right to say /write them but I'm unsure why you state many Americans have a "not so positive image" of Russians? Is that not in itself a stereotypical assumption of what you think Americans think? I've seen both of these commercials several times over the past year and never once thought "Russian Mafia". I did think stupid rich people throwing their money away on stupid things, regardless of their nationality. It could have been any nationality in that commercial. One stereotype I may believe and maybe it is not so much a stereotype is that Russians are excellent athletes, who train hard which is also being portrayed here.Is that so negative? I think this commercial was trying to convey this man is a "winner". Winners have money, opulent homes,are surrounded by beautiful women, and have Direct TV. I think if you look for negative things you could find them anywhere.

  2. Thanks for the comment, Adele. Indeed, I do appreciate you sharing your thoughts as it gives me reason (not to say hope) to doubt all those opinion polls I've been looking at throughout my research. In my capstone project I am focusing on Russia's public diplomacy, particularly its image in the US, and *all* opinion polls and research has indicated that public perceptions are mostly (if not strongly) negative. I am not saying that it's all due to Hollywood or such commercials (but rather bitter history, politics, foreign policy, etc, etc...), but those *do* perpetuate such negative perceptions and make breaking stereotypes all the more difficult. THAT is what I was trying to point out in this post...

  3. I wish that I was a Russian billoinaire! What is wrong with the commercial. Stereotypes? We all have them. Plus, you forgot the stereotype that Russian women are spectacularly beautiful. Wow, these women are! I've read a great deal of Russian literature, history, etc., and I have a great deal of fondness for the Russian people. In addition, there are some brilliant people that come out of Russia.

  4. well, you see, I'm *not* saying that there are not brilliant people coming out of Russia, or that Russian women are not beautiful, etc., etc.. On the contrary, I'm afraid that dominant images held are largely negative, while the positives are being lost in between all this stereotyping.
    Thanks for the sharing, though. Glad to hear non-Russians still read their great literature :)