At first, Korean Air’s “All About You” global ad campaign seemed like a fanciful satire. Orchestras and international landmarks glide across the heavens. The titular song (calculated to trigger James Bond flashbacks) lulls rich, white travelers to sleep while airline employees pamper them with serene smiles on their faces.
“At the heart of our world is you,” a female voice intones.
This had to be a joke…right?
Research and repeated viewings have since disabused me of that hopeful notion. While the commercial presents as tongue-in-cheek, its earnest undertones and ultimate endgame [read: profit] subverts any such satirical integrity. THIS IS NOT A DRILL.
The commercial (unwittingly?) lampoons the archetypal American business traveler, selling the airline by showcasing what is traditionally the subtext of American ads: the consumer as the center of a commodified universe. A be-stubbled white man closes his eyes, encased in headphones. A white woman plucks a giant shrimp from the sky with chop-sticks. Another makes meaningful eye contact with the folks at home before she (presumably) takes a sip of her freshly shaken martini. But not before her blue cocktail turns into a round pool featuring female synchronized swimmers, who in turn become the rods and cones of her blue eye.
It’s all about you, indeed.
It simultaneously celebrates and spoofs American travel fantasies, often at the expense of Korean women. Each of the travelers being served in the commercial are white. All of the airline employees occupying service positions (flight attendant, bar-tender) are portrayed by Korean women. Meanwhile, men exert their dominion in the cloudy kitchens. The shadowy background dancers–per James Bond standards–are all women, serving the voyeuristic eye of the casual American viewer. The commercial is selling its target consumers–business travelers and a (largely female) leisure class–what Korean Air presumes to be their ideal version of themselves, all while reinforcing a (racist) status quo that devalues the women serving them.
In short, the commercial nails white American entitlement by showcasing aspirational consumerism that trades in the tired trope of Korean women servicing white clients. The only “modern” twist is that many of these clients are themselves women.
*Note: This goes live around the fifth anniversary of the blog’s first “real” post, so I thought it only fitting to return to the blog’s roots of deconstructing commercials for gender trouble. Ah, nostalgia…