Samsung's Galaxy S4 show misses its mark

“Why does the little girl have to be the ballerina?” I shoot indignantly at fellow TechHive contributor Kevin Lee.

The launch of Samsung's Galaxy S4 and I weren't getting along. The temperature in Times Square was progressively becoming unbearable for anything but a polar bear, blue-garbed Samsung representatives had spent the last half an hour or so attempting to entreat the half-hypothermic crowd to show their support ("What's in the - ?!" "...box."), and now? Now, there was a genuine-article, pint-sized ballerina on a giant screen. Naturally, she would be the one to stomp off stage because her father did not own the coveted device.

Sigh.

The skits continue. Another family replaces the first, and a woman attired in what was probably the cutting edge of fashion in the 50s coos over a blonde-haired, tap-dancing protege. She doesn't do much else. Her biggest contribution to the vignette is the declaration that a photograph must be taken for Grandma.

To be fair, I get what Samsung is doing. It's trying to talk to the layman. It wants to be more than a collection of facts, figures, and professionally edited videos—the company wants to drive home the ideology behind the Samsung Galaxy S4. (It's supposed to be a Life Companion and not just a phone.) Samsung wants to show it's focused on fitting technology into daily life as opposed to simply delivering bigger, badder specifications. How better to do so than by putting on a grand show? Unfortunately, in its attempt to appeal to the lowest common denominator, Samsung might have alienated plenty of other demographics.

It's like the 1950's all over again.

I'll be honest: I'm not much of a feminist. As much as it distresses me sometimes, I've grown accustomed to politely declining sexual propositions from interviewees. It's an occupational hazard. It's not okay, but it happens. Heck, it happened in Time Square that night itself—an interviewee threatened not to participate in an interview unless I 'snuggled' him first. That said, there was something uncomfortable about watching how women were being portrayed in the night's performances.

When the tow-headed tap-dancer and his family vacate the stage to make way for a backpacker and a bespectacled Chinese man, I find myself only mildly discontent over how they had decided the latter was speaking Chinese instead of Mandarin—proper terminology is never bad. Then, things take a turn for the worse when the backpacker's friend "Jeff" and his paramour take over.

“She's just standing there!” I yell, cutting my colleague off mid-interview even as I rattle his arm in frustration.

Jeff spends more time talking about her than he does actually talking to her.

Jeff's flavor-of-the-month is dusky-skinned, svelte, all smiles, and has only one line: “Hola, Jeff.” That's all she does. A decorative thing that's compared to the scenic vistas of Rio, she doesn't contribute much to the scene except to exist in a state of winsomeness, something that is further driven home when Jeff's family crowds around to ogle pictures of her without saying anything about her role as a person. But, somehow, that's not the most cringe-inducing element of the night: About halfway through the performance, it cuts into a skit about a gaggle of women from Miami. They're dressed anachronistically. They have wine glasses. They screech.

The real housewives of Miami.

Spins. More forced giggling. Then, oh god, then they dance.

Samsung definitely could have done better here. The launch was held in New York City, a veritable hotbed of hip-hop culture and dance. The company could have walked into PMT Dance Studio, Broadway Dance Center, the Hip-Hop Conservatory, or any of the dozens of dance studios in the metropolis and walked out with a clutch of people who can actually move. It could have picked up break-dancers and salsa teachers from the street. Instead, it went with a gaggle of women who really did look like drunk people re-enacting a dance from someone's half-forgotten Sweet Sixteen.

Jenny's husband-to-be calls. He has just played an 'awesome round of golf'. She titters a greeting back. (“I'm hanging with the girls!”) The women assemble and the scene segues into a three-way video conference. Outside of the stereotypical portrayal of gender roles, this could have been cool and, in its own way, it was, but more inanity had to follow. A woman named DeeDee moves to demonstrate the Smart Pause feature. Midway, a man struts out and poses on the side. DeeDee turns to stare.

Drunk women are funny, right?

It feels like an awkward attempt at reversing gender roles, at embracing equality. Instead of having a man gaze lustfully at a nubile co-ed, it has a woman peering hungrily at a strapping lad. Such a startling switch from the norm should be funny, right? Maybe. If the man had been a little more attractive, if the host had not sounded quite so much like an exasperated pet-owner, and if DeeDee had been scripted to have any measure of intelligence or dignity, it might have been funny.

It wasn't.

The women come together again. They discuss calorie intake and the benefits of the S Health accessories. DeeDee is reprimanded when she makes a ridiculous comment about walking while consuming cheesecake. The crowd doesn't laugh. I can't imagine anyone who could. Eventually, a red-head named Kelly slyly comments to the group, "My mother always dreamed I would end up with a doctor. I bet she didn't imagine this."

The announcer intervenes. “The Galaxy S4 is never intended to be a replacement for a doctor, Kelly."

“You're such a party pooper!” She retorts shrilly before assuming her place in the scripted conversation once again.

Party pooper. Does anyone actually talk like that outside of grade school? More importantly, had Samsung genuinely intimated that women would not be capable of understanding that a mobile device is no replacement for a doctor?

I'm appreciative of the sentiment behind Samsung's endeavors but it's galling to think that somewhere, somehow, there were people who thought that this was behavior appropriate for women with friends of the marrying age. Where were the career women? Where were the single parents? Where was the attempt at being edgy by introducing non-heterosexual couples? Where were the damned pants? Because, really, Samsung, it would not have killed you to have at least one woman dressed in sensible shoes and well-tailored slacks.

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