Friday, August 15, 2008

iPod Indian

LAST WEEK, I WAS on the White Earth Indian Reservation in Northern Minnesota, and I came across this fantastic t-shirt. In San Francisco, as in most places around the country I'm sure, iPod billboards featuring the silhouetted hipster rocking out with the iPod in white relief are everywhere.

One of the things that's always interested me about these ads is there attention to but silence about race. It seems to me the artists of these ads often accentuate the ethnic markers (an afro, for instance) of the shadowed figures. It's a way of using semiotics to show that iPods connect cultures, cross cultures, and are consumed by cultures.

It is as rare to see an American Indian in a popular ad as it is common to see ads themselves. Name the last time you saw an Indian model for The Gap, Abercrombie and Fitch, Mercedes-Benz, Tag Heuer, Target, or Rolex. Also, think of the last time you saw any semiotic representation of an Indian using and enjoying technology.

Imagine my joy, then, when I came across this shirt. The woman I bought it from told me that at their last powwow, the sold more of these shirts than any other.

On one hand, I wonder about the decision to continue to indicate Indians through powwow and dance garb (fringes, head dress, feathers), but perhaps the entire image is a play on the power of icons, the ubiquity of racial and commercial semiotics.

Either way, I love the shirt.


  1. How do I get one? Actually, these might be good for our December show at Ancient Traders Gallery.

  2. Hey Heid,

    I got this at a little place in Menomen, right on the White Earth reservation. I think it's called Native Harvest. Good coffee.

    Hope you're doing well. It's great to hear from you.

  3. Do you remember about a decade ago, Nike had an campaign that was called, I think, "I run"? One installment had young American Indians running, perhaps from a cross country team at a rural or rez high school. I thought it was great, but it didn't last long.

    Scott Andrews