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Stereotype of the Month Entry

Another Stereotype of the Month entry:

From the Salt Lake Tribune, 10/13/03:

Totally offensive ads

Totally Awesome Computers seems happy to one-up itself with obnoxious commercials. Their latest television spot, however, crosses the line.

It features a mock wildlife expert giving an explanation on the "Shiffer" Indians. According to him, the tribe died out long ago because they "were so foolish." Their legacy, apparently, appears when someone buys a computer from somewhere other than Totally Awesome. That person, therefore, is known as having "Shiffer brains."

Congrats, Super Dell, you've now become totally offensive — but not entirely inaccurate. "Foolishness" did decimate and even eliminate entire tribes of Native Americans, but it was not their foolishness; it was the brutal ignorance of European conquerors who massacred not just with swords and guns, but with deadly diseases as well.

If the owner and management of Totally Awesome Computers will not pull these appalling commercials, I ask the local stations to refuse to air them. Most of all, I ask the public to boycott Totally Awesome until they do pull the ads, as well as issue a public apology to the thousands of Utahns whose ancestors were here long before Dell Schanze's were.

Cynthia Sillitoe

Customer Feedback: feedback@totallyawesome.com


New 'SuperDell' ad offends Indians

By Bob Mims
The Salt Lake Tribune

In the latest of Totally Awesome Computers' typically bizarre television advertisements, a mock professor is asked about the mysterious "Shiffer Indians."

The Shiffers are an extinct tribe, the straight-faced academic says, whose members died out long ago because of their notorious stupidity. Then comes the punch line: And so today, people who don't buy their computers from Totally Awesome are known as having "Shiffer brains."

"Sure, it's juvenile. Very juvenile," Totally Awesome owner Dell "SuperDell" Schanze said Thursday. "But it's obviously intended to be funny. . . . I have nothing against Indians. All groups have people known for being foolish. Caucasians have Democrats, for example."

Nonetheless, the spot has generated more than a few critics. Forrest Cuch, executive director of the Utah Division of Indian Affairs — born and raised on northeastern Utah's Uintah and Ouray Ute Indian Reservation — is among those not laughing.

"I got some calls complaining about it," said Cuch, who offered to help Schanze revamp the commercial. "I called [Totally Awesome] and was told to send an e-mail. I asked for a meeting to sit down with [Schanze] and talk, but he doesn't want to talk, he wants to dictate."

The two carried on a spirited e-mail exchange earlier this week. In one, Cuch wrote: "What I am saying is simply this: You are making fun of one of the most vulnerable populations, especially the youth, and they don't even have computers; some don't even have telephones, hence Internet access."

Schanze responded: "That's just it; I'm not making fun of them," he wrote, claiming that his fictional Shiffer Indians were based on an actual ill-fated tribe called the "Beoceans" he found mentioned in an unspecified encyclopedia.

"You shouldn't let people take offense at something that has nothing to do with them," he added, offering at one point to put American Indian role models into a future commercial. "The ad is not the problem; their self-esteem is far more likely the culprit to their dismay."

What Schanze has no plans to do, however, is pull the Shiffer ad. It will run its course in Totally Awesome's advertising rotation. "I'm going to be me, regardless what other people think of me," Schanze declares.

"If you don't like me, fine. I try to offend everyone — that way, no one feels left out or singled out."

In the case of the Northern Utes, Schanze has succeeded; the ad is fast becoming a hot-button issue on the reservation 150 miles east of Salt Lake City, tribal spokesman Robert Colorow said.

"When I saw it, I was totally distraught. What are they thinking?" he said. "Even saying the word 'Indians' in that way. Why do they need to do that?"

Lora Tom, chairwoman of the Paiute Indian Tribe in Cedar City, had not seen the ad — but feared some of her people might think Totally Awesome's "Shiffer" Indians were meant as a close swipe at the Paiutes Shivwits Band. (Schanze said he had been unaware of the Shivwitses' existence).

"It sounds pretty close to Shivwits," Tom said. "Of course, it would be offensive to any tribe. I can see trying to sell things, but not by offending different tribes and cultures."

However, not all Utah tribal leaders were indignant over Schanze's means to sell computers by playing off a familiar vulgar phrase.

Bruce Parry, executive director of the Northwestern Band of Shoshoni in Pocatello, Idaho, also had not seen the ad.

However, after hearing it described, Parry wondered if the reaction was perhaps too strident.

"Some people are pretty touchy about things like that," he said. "I'm sure there are some people in our tribe who would be offended. But I'm not so touchy, and I don't mind a little humor . . . as long as it doesn't belittle Indian people or is in really bad taste."

Does a fictional tribe meet that standard? For some yes, for others, no, Parry said.

He pointed to this summer's Festival of the American West near Logan. Newspaper ads for the event depicted an elderly American Indian man with the words, "Meet an Indian Warrior and live to tell about it."

Parry said some American Indians thought the ad dredged up the stereotypes of violent, wagon train-massacring tribes. "It really didn't bother me," he said. "I kind of got a kick out of it."


Relevant Links:
Totally Awesome -- http://www.totallyawesome.com
Superdell Sucks -- http://www.superdellsucks.com

Dell Schanze responds
Dell Schanze apparently correspondended with at least one critic of his ad. Here are Schanze's response to some message and a Native woman's response to him:

All contention is of the devil and all you guys are trying to do is create contention where there doesn't need to be any. Yes, that does put you into the following satan category. You intentionally and maliciously are trying to cause me harm by your wrath over nothing.

I still love you though; I don't care if you don't believe me. Again I'm not offended by silly little things. Love, Dell

I still love all of you even if you hate me. Too bad your computer won't play the ad, had you purchased one from me it would hehe. Love, Dell


Mr. Schanze,

You give yourself too much credit. No one hates you, it'd be a wasted emotion, time consuming, causes wrinkles, acid reflux.

Indian country is fraught with problems of import, our elders, our youth, health, land, Federal theft of trust monies, education, warmth for those in need, food for the hungry, wannabees and culture vultures, prejudice, racial profiling, 470 plus treaties made, broken by the Federal government—the list is endless.

Your importance is way down the list of many items, actually a sub portion of one of the (names, stereotypes, mascot issues, etc. category) issues—and—

you'll be thrilled to know, your 15 minutes of fame—is used up.


Rob's reply
One could say the Indians were foolish...to believe the white man's lies. If only they'd known the Euro-American culture was built upon a philosophy of might makes right—i.e., the end justifies the means. Instead, they assumed white men would be as honest as they were. Big mistake.

Schanze claims "all contention is of the devil," but making fun of people without their permission is almost certain to cause ill feelings. In other words, he created contention where none existed beforehand by running his denigrating ad. If he didn't know people take offense at being denigrated, he's as foolish as a "Shiffer" Indian. Either way, he's satanic by his own definition.

Unfortunately, making fun of a fictional tribe, or a little-known real tribe, doesn't excuse the offense. A few comments on that:

>> Schanze responded: "That's just it; I'm not making fun of them," he wrote, claiming that his fictional Shiffer Indians were based on an actual ill-fated tribe called the "Beoceans" he found mentioned in an unspecified encyclopedia. <<

That's like saying minstrel shows and Amos 'n' Andy didn't make fun of all blacks, but only the ones portrayed. It's a ridiculous argument, and research has disproved it many times over. People take what they see and apply it to all members of a group. It's inherent in the idea of stereotyping.

>> "You shouldn't let people take offense at something that has nothing to do with them," he added <<

Another ridiculous argument. How many viewers know the "Shiffer" Indians didn't exist? Viewers are likely to think "Shiffer" is some technical or Native word and ignore it. They're likely to think the ad applies to many, most, or all Indian tribes.

Why? Because stereotyping like this has convinced people that most Indians died long ago because of their primitive "foolishness." People don't know any better and this commercial reinforces their ignorance.


The debate continues (6/17/06)....
Out of the blue I received a message from "SUPERDELL." Since three years had passed, I didn't know who he was or what he was referring to. The following exchange ensued:

>> Still spewing hate and evil I see. <<

If you say so. Did I spew it before? When, exactly?

>> What a terrible image you demonstrate for a people that are mostly humble and loving. <<

Which image is that?

Actually, I'm working in the same vein as several Indian activists I know. Presumably I have roughly the same image they do. Needless to say, it's a positive image.

FYI, Native people overwhelmingly support my work. See The Web Fans Speak for examples. They like my work enough that they've asked me to contribute to several of their projects.

>> You give Indians a bad name. <<

I'm not an Indian myself. My views are my own, not theirs.

>> You could have turned a wonderful situation into something good and uplifting but instead you still hold onto your satanic hatred. <<

Most people think my website and comics are good and uplifting. And whom do you think I hate, anyway? About the only people I dislike are right-wing fanatics like George W. Bush. I guess you must be one of them.

>> You are a terrible example of what a wonderful people should be. <<

Oh, you think white Anglo-Saxon Protestants are wonderful? Thanks. Most white people must have low self-worth issues because they're always attacking minorities.

>> Shame on you for disgracing the very race you think you are fighting for. <<

How have I disgraced them? Really, this content-free criticism of yours is worthless. Come up with specifics or buzz off.

>> I'm embarrassed for you and your wickedness. <<

I'm embarrassed for you and your use of pejorative terms that have no meaning. "Wickedness"? You mean like launching an illegal and immoral war against a country that posed no threat to us? I'm guessing my efforts are a lot closer to what Jesus would do than yours are.

Rob Schmidt


The debate continues (7/20/06)....
Finally "SUPERDELL" let me know what he was talking about:

>> http://www.bluecorncomics.com/stype3a8.htm <<

Oh, I see. Well, I'm not "still" doing anything on this page, since I haven't updated it since 2003. But I'll be sure to update it with your remarks eventually.

I presume you're the infamous Dell Schanze himself? At least one Native person attacked your position on that page. No one, whether Native or not, has defended your position. That makes your claims about me sound even sillier than before. Judging by the evidence in front of your face, I'm the one respecting Indians. You're not.

If you have anything to say about the substance of my criticisms, free free to do so. Again, what's your justification for making fun of Indians in any way, shape, or form? Your unsubstantiated claim that my criticism of your ads is somehow hurting Indians is worthless. It isn't worth the pixels it's written on.

Rob Schmidt

Related links
Uncivilized Indians
Savage Indians

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