Samsung GS4 launch: Tone-deaf and shockingly sexist

I don't get offended very often. But Samsung's long parade of '50s-era female stereotypes, in the midst of an entirely other long parade of bad stereotypes, just put me over the edge. Oh, they announced a phone? You'd barely know it.

Molly Wood Former Executive Editor
Molly Wood was an executive editor at CNET, author of the Molly Rants blog, and host of the tech show, Always On. When she's not enraging fanboys of all stripes, she can be found offering tech opinions on CBS and elsewhere, and offering opinions on everything else to anyone who will listen.
Molly Wood
4 min read
Image: Samsung thinks drunk women are hilarious.
Drunk lady! Drunk ladies are hilarious, aren't they!? Yeah, they are. Always. The Verge

Dear Samsung: What just happened?

In the middle of a red-hot conversation about women in technology, the resurgence of the equal-pay discussion, and Sheryl Sandberg reigniting the very concept of feminism in America, Samsung delivered a Galaxy S4 launch event that served up more '50s-era stereotypes about women than I can count, and packaged them all as campy Broadway caricatures of the most, yes, offensive variety.

To be fair, everyone in Samsung's bizarre, hourlong parade of awkward exchanges, forced laughs, and hammy skits was a stereotype. The kid was lispy, tow-headed, and tap-dancing (the little girl did ballet, of course). Will Chase, the emcee-as-actor, was orange and desperate for fame; his in-skit "agent" was clueless, abrasive, self-absorbed and vaguely Jewish. The backpacking guys were horny, the Chinese actor in his 60s was an "old guy." So, it shouldn't come as a surprise that the women would also be a little, let's say, underdeveloped, as characters.

But tow-headed little boys don't grow up to make less than their other-gendered counterparts, and orange-faced actors generally don't get offers of explicit and increasingly violent sexual favors in the YouTube comments on their videos. So, it felt a little unnecessary for the tow-headed kid's mom to be a stage mom all the way. For example. And then, to her, our orange-faced actor emcee reeled off a mother-in-law joke worthy of the worst kind of sitcom laugh tracks. It went on and on.

The Brazilian woman was hot (duh). A bride-to-be arrives on stage with a chirpy, "check out the ring!" The Air Gestures that let you control the phone without touching it are presented as a boon to giggly women with annoying voices whose nails are wet and who don't want to put down their drinks. The comically alcoholic one, DeeDee, then proceeds to demo how eye tracking can pause a video when you look away from the screen... as she looks away at a hunky gardener type who proceeds to take off his shirt.

"While the women are cooling down," says the emcee, "why don't you tell us about S Health?"

By then, it's almost too easy to have there be a joke about marrying a doctor and then the one about eating too much cheesecake ohyeahthatoneIshouldhaveseenthatcoming. Of course those jokes are in there. Why would those jokes not be in there? We already had a tap-dancing tow-headed kid and a hot Brazilian girl.

I mean, really?

Stage mom and her annoying stage child.
I just can't even. Sarah Tew, CNET

Again. To be fair. Everything about this phone announcement was a weird, one-dimensional, faux-Broadway-style otherworld where good taste and, in fact, technology were almost completely nonexistent. And you could definitely argue that the delivery and the occasional zinger from Chase suggest that the show was meant to be over the top, ham-handed, and all in good fun. And maybe, maybe that would have worked if it had been well executed. Maybe it would have been funny if the sarcasm factor was just a little higher, or there were a little more edge to the cartoony lights and makeup.

But you know what's even better than better acting, better production, and better script-writing? Dumping the crappy female stereotypes in the first place. In fact, I would have settled for the "slightly better" scenario of including only 1 or 2 crappy female stereotypes. Once you get hit with 5, 6, 8, or 10 in a row, it really starts to feel a lot less hilarious.

I started my journalism career as a sports writer. I've been in the tech industry for 14 years. I'm pretty good and used to being one of a few women in the room, and it generally suits me just fine because there's never a line for the restroom and I can take it. But once in a while, once in a very rare while, something comes along that I just absolutely can't ignore. And this show was one of those things.

Because yes, it is frequently kind of sucky to be a woman in tech. I do a great job of telling myself not to read the YouTube comments and of ignoring or blocking the caveman trolls that make it hard to even want to do this job sometimes, and yes, of pretending that I don't know I make less than men who do less than I do. But don't mistake any of those coping skills for some kind of obliviousness to the fact that the number of booth babes hasn't declined all that much since my first MacWorld and we just keep having these same conversations and troll attacks over and over and over.

So you know what, Samsung? You're not helping. Shut up and make me a phone.