Eva Longoria and the Billboard Bandits

Eva Longoria is no stranger to attention, no shrinking violet.  I do not even know who she is, and yet I know who she is.  Maybe because her perfect bronzed effigy looms over me at the supermarket, singing a siren song of miracle dream creams, secret potion lotions from the Oracle of L’Oreal?

(Thank you, but I think that  for me to look anything like the image on that poster, scientists would have to splice actual L’Oreal genes straight into my DNA.  After that, I’d have to morph into a body that is 10 feet tall and 6 inches wide.  I’ll pass.)

So when Eva showed up on the side of the road outside of  Marrakesh, well it’s no surprise that her presence caused a bit of a stir.

Imagine you are driving through peaceful Berber country, passing mud villages, olive orchards, and farmers harvesting their year’s supply of wheat.   Men and women’s voices rise through the sleepy sunlit air, singing traditional harvest songs, sheep roam in search of shreds of pasturage, an old man in a jellaba rides by on a donkey.  Nothing could mar this bucolic serenity.

Then, all of a sudden, why it’s Giant Eva Longoria.  Weird.

Wait, there she is again.

Oh, it’s just some kind of real estate thing.  Bah!  Gentrification!  I turn my nose up at you.

No,  you’re kidding me, I’ve been driving for 20 minutes, and I see ten billboards of Eva?  Because I missed the first nine.  But the tenth one really drove it home.  Why if this condo development is good enough for Eva, then what are we all waiting for?  Hurry up good people, and sign on the dotted line, because there are only 1,000 apartments and 400 villas left, and they’re going fast.  (I googled it, those numbers are factual.  So if you’ve ever wondered what it would be like to live in a beehive, give it a whirl).

Am I the only one who finds these adds in poor taste?  Folks, it’s plain old cultural insensitivity.  Berber culture is very traditional.  Cleavage, as shown in the photo, is considered a private part of the body.  Ok, I realize that for most of my western readers, and even my Moroccan urban dwelling readers, this photo is very tame, it’s ho-hum in our flesh-image saturated world.  Female bodies remain the go-to advertising commodity, with less and less left to the imagination.  (In fact, these same adds, along with the rest of the ladies from Desperate Housewives, are plastered all over Casablanca, and they don’t seem to have caused any ripples.)

But try to look at it from an Other perspective.  Imagine your eyes have not yet filled with such imagery.  Imagine that someone put up a giant billboard in your neighborhood, showing body parts that you consider private.  How would you react?

Eva Longoria billboard graffiti

Would you, say, sneak out in the middle of the night with a can of black paint and go on a crazy daredevil mission demonstrating your community’s protest against said billboard?  Because that’s what someone did to Eva.  All ten of her.

And if you are the advertising mastermind behind the Eva adds, would you get the point, and go with something a little more culturally appropriate?  Or would you photoshop 2 inches more tank top onto Eva’s cleavage, and pay for another 10 slightly more covered Evas to be re-plastered onto said billboards?  Because that’s what someone did.  Improbable, but true.

Eva Longoria billboard Marrakesh

(You can see the next billboard not too far off).

So everyone is happy, right?  The advertisers still get to associate their condos with glamorous, glorious Eva, and the locals can stop making such a fuss now that her shirt is hiked a few millimeters in the front.  End of story?

Wrong, this was just the first battle in the war that was waged between these two parties, whom I’ll call Ad Machine and Billboard Bandits.

The Billboard Bandits strike again.  No paint this time, but the billboards are in tatters when they are done.

Next move by Add Machine: a new add featuring a somewhat bizarre looking couple, meant to be Moroccan, each looking in the opposite direction.  (subtext: these condos are for couples that are drifting apart?)

Billboard Bandits, it’s your move.  Sure enough, the adds are again shredded.  Methinks this is no longer about cleavage.

Last attempt by Add Machine, this time they go with the most benign and forgettable add possible.  So forgettable that I can’t even remember it, see?  I think it’s a photo of a balcony, with of course, the snow-capped Atlas rising majestic in the background.

Soon I will take that drive once more and see if this last billboard has survived.  I can’t stand the suspense, can you?

But first, lets take a moment to analyze these events.  Because it would be wrong to think that this issue is just about showing the human body in ways that the local population finds degrading to women.  Certainly that is a mistake on the part of the advertisers, who should not use the same concept on a dusty country road as in the heart of a worldly metropolis.  However, I believe that the thorn runs deeper than that.  It’s the juxtaposition of two completely different realities that is so unsettling.  On the one hand, we have this world of image and fantasy, of unimaginable riches and luxuries, of ersatz culture that attempts to package and commodify the Moroccan experience with no soul whatsoever.  All of it a vacuous Orientalist version of a Morocco pandering to the every whim of the upper crust.  A vision of Morocco that would not hesitate, for example, to introduce alcohol to a valley that has been dry forever, with no thought given to how it might destroy the lives of the locals.

On the other hand, we have the traditional lives of the Moroccan Berbers.  Berber families that are still connected to the natural cycles in the most primordial of ways.  Whose actions and intentions stem from a deep faith in God, enjoying the contentment that ensues.  Whose meals are bread from their own land, olive oil from their own trees, served in clay dishes from the Ourika river, sitting on rag rugs they’ve made with their own hands from scraps of old clothes.  There is nothing more real, beautiful, spiritual, sustainable.  They, and all the traditional peoples of the world, are the original “organic, local and slow” ways that we crave and long to return to.

So Eva Longoria et al, you are more than welcome in this old and beautiful world, but on its terms, not yours.  If your goal is to use and plunder, then you will be met with resistance.  Bring with you the best of what your culture has to offer the world.  Then take the time to learn about Morocco, its beautiful people, its old ways that are still alive under the strain of globalization.  Peace and grace are yours for the finding.

11 thoughts on “Eva Longoria and the Billboard Bandits

  1. One of my favorite things about Morocco was always how you could be transported to another, more peaceful and simple world by leaving the ‘city limits’. Be it driving through the countryside or even in some of the old souks (well, if you weren’t close to a bootleg cd vendor). Hearing about these billboards makes me very sad. Way to crap up the landscape marketers! And yes, extremely culturally insensistive!!!!

  2. MST says:

    I thought I was the only one who actually noticed the difference between most adverts in Casa vs. adverts in Amazigh country (where I live too). So many of the adverts in Casa would never be plastered up in Agadir.

  3. Gosh, what an unsuitable image for the countryside.
    What were they thinking?
    Were they thinking at all?
    Couldn’t they just have had a picture of the condos or whatever.
    I’m rather pleased that people took action.
    In the US ‘hot babes’ are draped over high performance cars
    so the men who buy them will get EVERYTHING!!!

    What fascinating essays you write.

  4. sumayya says:

    My first reaction: “Allahu Akbar!”
    in the beautiful and gracious use of the expression not the scary tv-movie hijacker use of the expression.

    Praise God for some people who are still willing to use elbow grease to stand up for what they know is good.

    I miss you and love you and think of you often.

    Fi Amaanillah

  5. Abdurrahman says:

    I, too, watched this saga unfold, so thank you for setting it down in writing. It deserved to be mentioned, if for no other reason than in the context of what democracy means and doesn’t mean in a country like Morocco. What it means for the moneyed investors is the right to use just about anything to make money regardless of who you offend. What it doesn’t mean, for the poor country dwellers, is the right to have any say-so by any judicial means about what goes where — be it posters like this, one of which was across the street from a roadside mosque, or so-called guest houses plopped down in the middle of what was once the seamless culture of the countryside. And so, billboard destruction becomes the only means of getting rid of what you feel has invaded your space and your life.

    There is one little footnote to the story you have told, however, that I’d like to add because it’s amazing, almost miraculous. When the raised neckline posters were replaced by what you called the strange (and very unhappy-)looking couple, yes, the posters seemed to get new rips in them every night. But then in the first week of Ramadan a tremendous wind followed by torrential rains hit Marrakesh and its surroundings. It went on, on and off, for about a week, and the next time I drove that road, the wind and rain had completely ripped the posters off most of their ugly steel backings!! I swear this is true. Most of the canvas posters were hanging by threads or lying in soggy piles at the base the sign posts.
    Just erratic weather, or a mercy from heaven?
    Anyway, let’s link all this to the website of that so-called developer. If they knew the fate of the publicity, would anyone really want to live in one of those boxes?

  6. Melanie Boast says:

    Hi Nora
    How are you? Thanks for the interesting blog – I always enjoy your posts and your viewpoint. I would add that a certain percentage of the developers who are building between Marrakech and the Atlas are companies based in Dubai, and other countries around Saudi, and owned and run by Muslims. Sadly the ‘religion’ of making money – and all the marketing that goes with it – has triumphed over truly following the principles of Islam.
    Warm wishes,
    Mel

  7. salam alaikoum nora,
    and thanks for that article. I am not up to date with adds behind the Atlas mountains, but I would surely be shocked by seeing such thing – shocked as I am always when I come back to the modern world by entering Marrakech – shocked not only by adds but also by the quickly changing lifestyle of that town, the prices that constantly rise, the traditions that have to make place for western standart, mashaallah.
    may Allah protect this city and its lovely inhabitants.
    thank you so much for you previous article and the lovely words.
    barak Allahu feek and ameen.

  8. This is interesting because we don’t even have these billboards in the Houston area. She must be a lot more popular in Africa then here in the US. I agree that she should have worn something more culturally appropriate instead of the Desperate Housewives garb. That is what she is famous for! I have never watched the show personally primarily because I am a Christian and that show is not appropriate for even for entertainment. That is what I hate the most is that other countries view us as being a Christian nation, but that is far from the truth. This is our constant fight between believers and non-believer.
    It shows up in the political arena daily.
    We are at most conscious of the God, but that is as far as the entertainment industry goes. The crap they put out is beyond frustrating and then when it hit an Islamic country the label is put on it that the wicked Christian nation is sending out more crap. This is not what Christian put out. They don’t speak for us. Trust me on this. We Love God and we Love modesty and that is what I teach my children and that is the way we dress. Not the extent of covering everything from head to toe but with restraint. I really love your blog and that desire to bring clarity to what you believe. Be blessed in Jesus’ name.
    Ashely

  9. Abdurrahman says:

    I appreciate Ashley’s remark. The Quran says that the closest to Muslims in love are Christians and explains in the next sentence that that is “because they are not proud.” (5:82). When we see Christians who are humble and charitable, we know they are following the way of Jesus (upon whom be peace). We also understand that the people who put up the scores of billboards along the beautiful Ourika road or who beam shows like Eva L’s all over the world have no religion than the worship of their wallets. May God increase us all in mutual understanding.

  10. Your post is music to my ears. I lived in the Emirates for three years and was disgusted by the lack of cultural sensitivity, and actually how people simply dropped any moral fibre they might have had and took on a hedonist neo colonial ego. The kind of people that got pets for their kids and then dumped them n the streets in mid summer when they left.

    There is a way to live in a foreign culture where at least if you have trouble immersing in it…you don’t have to offend it.

    • Glad it struck a chord with you Andrea. I often look around at my city and think, is there any thought at all being put into this? And if so, what are the priorities? What you describe is just awful.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s