The staff of Johnnaryry's Soapbox will refrain from purchasing or using Anheuser-Busch products until this offensive campaign is removed...
Schmidt: Racist ads feature ignorant Indian
Posted: August 24, 2006
by: Robert Schmidt / Pechanga.net
Steve and his new roommate, Zagar, share an apartment. But the half-naked
Zagar, a Native tribesman, is tough to live with. He eats Steve's canary,
tries to light a fire under the bathtub and shoots arrows at the cat,
hitting Steve instead. This wacky "odd couple" can't seem to connect ...
except over a refreshing beer.
So begins the latest ad campaign for Bud Light. Titled "Zagar and Steve,"
it consists of several television commercials and flash videos. The
commercials have aired since July on programs such as "Saturday Night
In an ad about playing basketball, Zagar attacks his opponents with a
blowgun, club, and bow and arrow. A spot set in a bowling alley has Zagar
smashing his hand through glass and chucking a ball into a rival's head.
Another bit takes place in a restaurant, where he shoots one patron in the
back and hurls a knife into a waiter's chest.
The campaign has its own Web site, www.zagarandsteve.com. Here you can find
Zagar's phony history, Steve's faux blog entries about his roommate and
fawning comments from fans (probably invented). Presumably it's an example
of "viral" marketing, with visitors downloading videos and spreading the
Like the ads, Zagar's made-up background spoofs indigenous peoples.
According to this narrative, Zagar once strapped a starving wolverine onto
someone's back. He made a stereo out of coconuts and barbed wire. His folk
spout such gobbledygook as "jhiojuior khjjik oiuj," which looks like
something a chimp typed.
The Web site tries to obscure Zagar's origin by saying he comes from "parts
unknown." This may be an attempt to locate him in a remote, fantasy-like
setting and thus immunize him from criticism. But with his bowl-cut black
hair and coppery skin, Zagar is clearly an Amazon Indian.
Why exactly is this ad campaign so problematic? After all, some would
argue, aren't some Amazonians still "primitive"? Well, yes and no - mostly
no. Anyway, just who gets to define "primitive"?
First, the choice of settings is unfair because it undermines the Indian.
If Steve were dropped into a jungle, he'd seem just as foolish as Zagar
does in the city. But the campaign doesn't try this switch because it would
subvert the message: that urban life is best and Bud Light is its
Second, Zagar supposedly left his village to see the world. To get from
there to here, he would've had to learn the basics of human customs and
communications. He would've mastered such rudimentary rules as not firing
weapons or destroying property indiscriminately.
Today few if any tribes exist beyond the pale of civilization. Almost
everyone on the planet knows about cars, television and Coca-Cola. Yet
Zagar might as well have come from Neverland. He's apparently ignorant of
everything that's happened since Columbus.
Third, the ad shows no awareness that Indians have their own complex
cultural heritages. For instance, does Anheuser-Busch think Indians don't
understand pets? They domesticated such animals as the llama, dog and
turkey. Does Anheuser-Busch think they don't play sports? They invented
lacrosse and the precursor to basketball, using raised hoops and rubber
balls. Does Anheuser-Busch think Indians can't act nonviolently? Many are
pacifists and all have moral relationships, like every other race of
This campaign is a throwback to the days when Americans portrayed Indians
as pure savages: unable to speak English, uninterested in peace and
harmony, intent only on killing and ravaging. It's no better than a 19th
century minstrel show that depicted Negro behavior as stupid and
stereotypical. George Washington once labeled Indians "beasts of prey" and
this endeavor does the same.
It's not hard to imagine how an advertising agency might defend its use of
Zagar. It's what people always say when accused of stereotyping. "We didn't
mean to offend anyone. It's just harmless fun."
How many times have media experts refuted such self-serving statements?
"The usual task of these representations is to cast us as part of a distant
past, rather than a dynamic present," said Loretta Todd, a Metis/Cree
filmmaker, to an interviewer. "Media image is especially crucial because it
is that image that looms large as non-Indians decide the fate of Indian
people," said Rennard Strickland, a retired Osage/Cherokee professor of
law, in the Native Times.
Finally, consider the closing shots of Steve and Zagar communing over beer.
Should the advertisers really show an Indian endorsing alcohol despite the
pain it's caused Native people? Would they also show diabetics eating
chocolate or children playing with dynamite? For Indian people, alcohol is
just as explosive in its destructiveness.
Anheuser-Busch should halt this offensive ad campaign before the next arrow
hurts someone. If it doesn't, Natives and others concerned with minority
stereotyping should make their voices heard.
Rob Schmidt is a freelance writer who specializes in Native and
multicultural subjects. He maintains a Stereotype of the Month contest at