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Covert Prestige - Essay Example

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The use of slang in an advertisement, speech, or editorial comment automatically projects the image of originality, rebellion, and the backbone required to flaunt your originality in the face of the status quo. This is especially true when the phrases or language is obviously lifted from African-American English, or popular black slang…
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Covert Prestige
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Covert Prestige

This phenomenon, known as covert prestige, implies that the speaker or organization has a favorable affinity with the minority group that the slang is borrowed from (Savan 65). This gives the audience some instant familiarity with both groups and promotes their sense of fairness and individuality, even while exploiting the concept of race and using a mass marketing technique. However, this instant bonding may be an insult to the outgroup and embarrassing to the speaker. The bond formed by this appropriation of language is a shallow pandering to the fragile white need for acceptance by an out group, as well as having the potential to be insulting and demeaning to black people and their culture.
America has witnessed an onslaught of products that have been promoted by loosely linking the product with the black culture through the use of black slang. These products run the gamut from individual promotion to political parties, and from underwear to news items. They are all advertisements used to promote a product or an audience. However, care must be taken when analyzing an advertisement as Savan points out that black talk has become "part and parcel of American talk" and is not easily separated or categorized (Savan 72). A recent promotion for a political segment on FOX News illustrates the multiple factors that need to be considered when using cross-cultural slang for promotion, and the difficulty in effectively implementing it. Figure 1 is a televised byline that was used to promote a FOX News segment that was meant to inform the public of Michelle Obama's impact on the presidential campaign. The byline referred to Ms. Obama as Figure 1 (Koppelman) "Obama's Baby Mama". The phrase is used among the black culture to indicate the unwed mother of someone's child. Used in the black environment it has the potential to be a term of endearment, but may also be an insult and does not stand up to cross-cultural translation. It is in the same class as the 'n' word. Assuming that Fox news would not be so egregious as to blatantly use racism in their broadcasts, it must be that Fox was trying to appropriate a black phrase in an effort to appear to be more black. This effort was not too far from the early 20th century vision of the misguided white men in blackface that used black language to entertain a white audience, and in doing so became a horror show (Savan 75). It was an attempt to show that they understood black culture without any true racial sensitivity. Savan seems to underestimate the potential for racial backlash and contends, "For the most part, that rented association is working" (69). Savan has failed to recognize the importance of cultural and social contextualization when evaluating an audience's response to black slang.
The Ms. Obama characterization demonstrates the difficulty that advertisers face when trying to capitalize on 'covert prestige'. Some phrases and words have worked their way sufficiently into the mainstream as to have lost much of the African-American monopoly that the words once held. There is some safety in using a word that is connected to a culture, but not owned by them. The phrases 'you go girl' or 'Whassup' may have become sufficiently mainstreamed as to be 'part and parcel' of the American language, but it still requires a degree of cultural sensitivity and knowledge to make ... Read More
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