Hegemony and Ideology
by Kellee E. Warren
The past few days have been pretty interesting in the world of television advertising. Sunday super bowl 2013 aired, and there was much advertising to critique. Actually, this year’s controversial Volkswagen commercial brought up memories of super bowls past. For example, super bowl 2011 brought viewers Pepsi Co.’s Pepsi MAX’s representation of the angry black woman (Click link of previous text “Pepsi Co.’s…). This commercial was a reaffirmation of the dominant culture’s vision of African American women.
In the readings for this week, the most valuable for me was “Stuart Hall and Cultural Studies: Decoding Cultural Oppression.” The timing of this article couldn’t have been more appropriate. As a person that sits at the intersection of race and gender, terms such as hegemony, cultural accommodation, semiotics, and representation gave me new eyes. In other words, I had already become somewhat of a critic of media, but now these terms have given me more tools with which to analyze what I see. Also, I appreciated the James Lull chapter “Hegemony” from Gender, Race, and Class in Media: a Critical Reader. I was particularly interested in the terms “counter-tendencies” and “counter-hegemonic” (35-36). In any case, the timing was appropriate because super bowl advertising has become a part of its cultural tradition.
This year, the Volkswagen Game Day 2013 commercial was controversial because one could use cultural accommodation, semiotics and representation to analyze this commercial. Cultural accommodation is when “hegemonic culture draws bits and pieces of other cultures in without allowing them to dramatically impact central ideas and beliefs” (2). In the commercial we get a white male appropriating the accent of a Jamaican man. It wasn’t funny to me, but it didn’t make me angry. I kind of felt how comedian W. Kamau Bell felt that it was “diet racist with lime” (Totally Biased with W. Kamau Bell- aired 01/31/2013).When I analyzed this commercial, I saw that they have no actors of African descent in the commercial. And then it occurred to me that in America African Americans don’t work! Well, that is how we are most often represented. In the Stuart Hall article “Hall sees representation as an act of reconstruction rather than reflection” (4). It is typical of the media and Hollywood to find white actors, or actors of the wrong ethnicity to fulfill the racial quota. And Volkswagen did not disappoint as they placed an Asian guy in the mix. Further, the setting was strange—here is where semiotics comes into play with images as symbols—in an office where most likely a lot of the workers would not be able to afford a Volkswagen monthly car payment, and a trip to the Caribbean in the same lifetime. As a result, all of these images translate into words.
Within seventy-two hours, in response to the Volkswagen commercial, a commercial “The Germaican” (Click link in previous text “The Germaican)was posted to You Tube. I consider this response to be counter-hegemonic. According to James Lull, “Hegemony fails when dominant ideology is weaker than social resistance” (35-36). This video is what I would call a loving response to a slightly offensive ad.
What do you think? “Heyyy,” Black people do exist. Just sayin’.
3 cultural artifacts contained in this post.
- Stuart Hall and Cultural Studies: Decoding Cultural Oppression
- Lull, J. (2003). Hegemony, In Gender, Race, and Class in Media: a Critical Reader, Eds. Gail Dines and Jean McMahon Humez. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications, 2003.
- You Tube: Volkswagen Game Day 2013. accessed 02/04/2013
- You Tube: Pepsi MAX- Love Hurts 2011. accessed 02/04/2013
- You Tube: “The Germaican” -response to Volkswagen 2013. accessed 02/04/2013