I came across this ad for Singapore Airlines the other day:
At first my thought was, ok, you have two White passengers being served by the Asian flight attendant, but I’m sure there are many White passengers on the airline and many Asian flight attendants, so in and of itself, I decided I couldn’t say much about that. What I was more creeped out by was the way the flight attendant’s outfit matched the carpet–she was being turned into just a part of the decor, there as part of the luxurious surroundings to make the passengers feel they are being well cared for. It’s one thing to portray someone as an employee who serves others; it’s another to literally make them part of the background.
But then I googled the airline and discovered that it is known for its “Singapore girls.” Here is a video that shows lots of images of how pretty Asian women, there to serve others, have been used in their advertising (the creator of the video claims to be a Singapore girl):
Apparently the Singapore Girl is such a phenomenon, she’s a figure at Madame Tussaud’s:
I had no idea that when most people think of Singapore, they think of this “pretty, smiling…girl.”
Anyway, I think it’s an interesting example of the way non-White women are often portrayed as exotic (the Singapore girls have become a symbol of Singapore itself) and also of what sociologists refer to as emotion work. The Singapore girls aren’t there just to bring us drinks and make sure we’re buckled in; there’s there to make us feel pampered and to warm our hearts–to do the type of emotion work (constantly smiling, being extremely attentive, being at the passengers’ service and making it seem like a joy) that makes customers feel cared-for and special…and thus willing to pay high prices for those business seats. And clearly these women are part of the decor–pretty, polite, accommodating women for passengers to enjoy while they fly.