Culture Jam Assignment

Original advertisement

The original advertisement was part of Nivea’s campaign to promote its new line of men’s grooming products. It features a Black male model with a clean shave and buzz-cut, who is posing in a stance as if he is about to toss the head of a Black man (presumably his former self) with an afro and beard.

The problem I will be addressing in this advertisement pertains to the racially insensitive word choice when associated with this particular image. The motto, “RE-CIVILIZE YOURSELF,” holds a vague and unclear message when read alone. Being civilized often means to have higher social and cultural development, which primarily describe the people of western first world countries. Here, “RE-CIVILIZE” can be interpreted as the need to catch up with Western, White social norms for a person to become more civilized.

Throughout history, Black people in North America have been oppressed in various ways including slavery and un-equal legal rights as they were seen as an inferior race. Too often, they are referred to as being “uncivilized.” In this ad, Nivea may be playing on the prevailing racial stereotype which calls for the “RE-CIVILIZ[ATION]” of a Black man. More specifically, when “RE-CIVILIZE” is paired with a model of Black heritage in a stance suggesting that he is going to toss away the old “uncivilized” self-image, the advertisement is now interpreted with cultural racism.

This advertisement suggests that appearances that are culturally accepted in the Black community are “uncivilized.” Specifically, having an afro and thick, unshaven facial hair is regarded as a form of uncivilized appearance, which calls for the motto and the model’s tossing action captured in the advertisement. Contrary, embracing a close cropped and clean-shaven appearance that is commonly associated with Western White men is an accepted appearance of being “civilized.”

Jammed advertisement

My jammed version of the Nivea advertisement highlights the underlying absurdity of the original campaign. I changed the captions to further raise awareness to the subtle racial stereotypes and messages originally used in the campaign. The motto of “Toss Away Your Culture” appropriately helps the audience to understand the model’s throwing action while explicitly revealing the hidden message of throwing away the Black man’s stereotypical cultural appearance. Below it, I added a sub-motto of “To become more civilized” to rephrase the original “RE-CIVILIZE” motto as a way to highlight Nivea’s absurd idea of telling Black people to abandon their cultural norms and to stylize themselves accordingly to a western appearance that is deemed civilized.

To further uncover the hidden meaning, the advertisement has been altered to show the model looking into the distance where he can imagine himself “Look[ing] like a Western White Man” after shaving off his afro and having a clean shave. This highlights Nivea’s promotional aims to change the outlook of its consumers to one that is widely accepted in the Western culture. The substitution of this phrase further emphasizes the Western man’s attempt to enforce their radical ideas to “RE-CIVILIZE” individuals of different race and culture, perhaps due to the belief that it is their responsibility to do so.

The rest of the advertisement was left untouched as I found the nicely groomed model tossing his old look away very clever. To have a model of colour in the advertisement, I found it empowering for minority groups as it allows them to be represented in the Western society. Should it be a Caucasian in the advertisement, consumers of different skin colour may feel further excluded from mainstream society.

Ultimately, the jammed version of the advertisement aspired to uncover the racially and culturally inappropriate messages underlying the advertisement that were used to promote of Nivea’s new line of products. It highlights the absurd stereotypes that the Western White society holds on the Black community and their attempts to culturally ‘cleanse’ oppressed racial groups, such as those of a Black heritage, to advance Western civilization.