restricted access 4. Playing with Consumption
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. 121 4 PlayingwithConsumption “ROLL HOME PHAT” A 2013 commercial for the video game store GameStop features a mother as a household consumer of video games. In this ad, we see a middle-­ aged white woman, in a beige sweater, wearing light makeup, with her hair pulled back, driving a white minivan. The mother character—­ we do not know for sure that she is a mother, but she appears to be embodying that role—­ has thumping bass music playing loudly, blasting out of her suburban vehicle. She owns the role, nodding lightly to the seemingly mismatched music. Along with the tunes, the minivan is trailing down the street—­ its back end is weighed down so that it hits the pavement, referred to as a “rolling” car in low-­ rider culture. The minivan rides low enough that it creates sparks on the street. As she drives down the street, she passes a concerned black police officer, giving him a menacing two-­ finger gang-­ style salute. The police officer has pulled over a white male, who is positioned solemnly with his hands on the car. The soon-­ to-­ be-­ arrested man looks wistfully at the low-­ riding mom. Then, in slow motion , she passes a younger man, who appears to be Latino, in his own low-­ riding vehicle. The young man nods approvingly at the white mother in her absurd, bass-­ thumping minivan. She returns the nod and smirks, pleased. The commercial ends with the mother pulling up to a white suburban home, lit with bright, non-­ garish Christmas lights. As she pulls up and opens the back of the minivan, we see the reason why she was low-­ riding in the first place: the back of her vehicle is completely packed with GameStop bags, video games, controllers, an Xbox, and a PlayStation. The weight of everything she purchased had pushed down the car to such an 122 . PLAYING WITH CONSUMPTION extreme that it emulated a low-­rider. The announcer reinforces the theme of the commercial with the voice-­over,“This holiday, roll home phat1 with the hottest tablets from Samsung and Google.” The television commercial is fascinating in a variety of ways. It attempts to broach a conversation about authenticity—­ the video games in the back of the car seem to be granting the white woman a kind of trespass into a cultural aesthetic that is traditionally neither white nor feminine.Yet there is clearly a tone of appropriation here—­the mother is not fully invested in the othered culture in which she trespasses, and she concludes her voyage in potential deviance within the safety of her white, suburban, nonthreatening home. The contrast between whiteness and non-­ whiteness in this commercial is jarring. Not only is the woman white, but her whiteness is reinforced by the white minivan and white home (drizzled with white lights). Those she encounters, however, are primarily not white: the black police officer and Latino driver are both reminders of her appropriation of other cultures. Her physical appearance is not what allows her to represent in othered cultures. It is the consumption of the video games that weigh down her vehicle that permits her appropriation. Yet what is truly fascinating about this commercial is that she does not appear to be purchasing these games and gaming systems for herself. Her ticket into othered cultures, her questionable behavior, and the perception of her“gangster” style is presumably related not to her personal tastes but to those of her family. Nothing in the commercial is meant to indicate that she actually plans to play the minivan full of video games she has purchased . Her consumption is not her own—­ it is de facto consumption for her family. As she pulls into her safe suburban space we know that we have all been played, just a bit. She has been able to “roll home phat,” but only because she has purchased gifts for her family. In many ways, this woman is other within the cultures she is fronting—­ she is both othered from the low-­ rider culture she has emulated, and she is simultaneously othered from the video games and systems she has bought in great surplus. The commercial is not particularly surprising. While video games might not be frequently advertised to women as players—­ with an obvious exception being the Nintendo campaigns discussed in the previous chapters—­ women are still the primary shoppers in most households. The commercial functions as a signpost toward a long history of constructing women as...


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