“Miami is an ass town.”
Years ago, an American expat in Miami used that phrase to point out what I, a Cuban-American Miami native, hadn't seen with my own eyes. ¿Que se habrá creído el gringo comemierda este? I thought he was full of shit.
But he was right. And Estrella Insurance's ongoing sexist ad campaign is the latest in a long line of proof.
For years, the company has wallpapered the Magic City in advertisements trading on commodifying women's bodies. In 2014, Estrella showed a woman’s legs from the thighs down, knees clamped together with shorts at her ankles. The English-language copy read, “No one drops them like we do” and “No one goes lower than us.” Panty-dropping, get it? The awkward pose of the legs suggested the woman was surprised, embarrassed, or worse; it's certainly not the confident stance of a woman proud to drop trou for low, low insurance rates. Ad Rants described the racy ad as “a joke about as old as a bunch of fourth-grade boys telling a silly fart joke in the bathroom in 1972.”
But Estrella didn't stop there. Recently, the company released an ad in which a woman named La Platica (“Money”) wears a tight, short green dress and is bound to a chair while pleading, “Saaave me!” The model is bombshell Jennifer La Mai, whose claim to fame is working with radio hosts Los Pichy Boys, a popular comedy duo known for video spoofs who is also associated with Estrella Insurance.
(It’s not clear if Los Pichy Boys produced this campaign. Estrella Insurance reacted on Facebook but declined to comment for this story. Los Pichy Boys did not respond to a request for comment.)
The bilingual, mass-media campaign is ubiquitous in Miami, hitting television, bus stops, bus wraps, print, and social media. The bus wrap, which set Miami afire on Twitter, shows a full-lipped, adolescent-looking La Platica sans ropes, evoking an image of a prostituted child con bemba. In the TV spot, she's tied to a chair in a warehouse and looks barely legal while teasing the viewer with sexually suggestive talk about saving money.
"You know that once I'm in your hands, I let you do anything you want," she promises.
The concept that sex sells is nothing new in advertising. And in Miami, “sex sells” comes in the form of ass.
While American feminists were burning bras in the 1970s, one local agency got slammed by the Metro-Dade Commission for its "Miami: See It Like a Native" ad, showing model Gail Kelly from behind, wearing nothing but a bikini bottom and snorkel gear. 2 Live Crew made 1989 a banner year for ass on its controversial As Nasty As They Wanna Be album cover, which displayed four rumps in butt floss. Today the 1950s Coppertone Girl, with her cute tush on display in the MiMo District, stands in direct competition with un tremendo culo on the Palmetto Expressway, where a Brazilian butt-lift ad gives drivers an eyeful of colossal booty nearly spilling over a rectangular billboard like un bistec de palomilla.
Miami’s ass Zeitgeist treats women like slabs of steak and shapes Estrella Insurance’s ad campaign. It sets Miami back decades in the struggle for women’s equality and drops its ranking among First-World, cosmopolitan cities.
By letting Estrella plaster these ads across the city, Miami sends this message: We're sunny, but we ain't enlightened. We have shiny new buildings, but we’re still a bunch of vulgar yahoos. We have world-class cultural institutions, but we still condone the behavior of pussy-grabbing boys exchanging locker-room banter.
What's worse, this kind of public advertising sugar-coats the painful reality of sex slavery in Miami-Dade. If you’re a woman and you’ve peed in a county bathroom, you’ve seen public-awareness notices about human trafficking. Department of Children and Families can tell you more.
What was Estrella Insurance thinking? The sex trade is a crime against humanity. The kidnapping industry in Latin America is part of the culture of desperation, violence, corruption, and fear many of Miami’s immigrants, both rich and poor, are fleeing. And the age-old, offensive trope of women as currency is all too real in rape culture across the world. La Platica might look sexy, but the context is barbaric.
The campaign also begs the question: WTF was Miami-Dade Public Transit thinking? The department has made praiseworthy efforts to add culture to Miamians' commutes by working with groups such as the New Tropic and O, Miami to display art and poetry on its rides. But Estrella's ads undermine those efforts, eclipsing them with a larger-than-life, in-your-face image of a woman tied to a chair against her will.
According to Alice Bravo, Miami-Dade’s Transit director, the government agency has little control over what’s plastered on its, um, assets.
"The provider of the advertising solicits and receives advertising from a wide array of products and services that are often linked to large-scale multimedia advertising campaigns, reaching beyond solely bus advertising," Bravo says in a statement. "Given the nature of these multimedia campaigns, it is difficult for Miami-Dade Transit to modify advertising content.”
That’s why "ass" is in our faces.
You might think jaded locals would passively accept this atrocity as another only-in-Miami moment. But you'd be wrong. Many residents have reacted viscerally, cringing at the image of La Platica. And it’s no wonder.
The submissive floozy with fake tits and ass who needs rescuing, that vulgar chusmona who wears crop tops and stripper heels to Publix, plays into a deeply ingrained legacy of Latino misogyny. She’s the butt of jokes who skirts the thin line between stereotype and reality. She’s the object of the male gaze, perpetuating the idea of woman as a sexualized, submissive object ready to be rescued by a man who, at best, is un pinguo who thinks he’s a baller. And she has Latinas like me todas encabronadas because we don’t play the persecuted maidens of telenovelas who make their sexual availability contingent upon el rescate. We also don’t get jacked-up booties by quacks in Hialeah.
So, naturally, Estrella Insurance has gotten its ass whooped by a serious social media backlash. The damsel-in-distress trope is too real, too ugly, and too close to home in Miami-Dade, where human trafficking underscores an insidious mentality of objectification.
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In 1980, Nicolas Estrella established his insurance company to help Miami’s low-income immigrants with their insurance needs. In the years since, it has won awards and grown into a successful business. Estrella now boasts more than 100 franchises, but it still serves the very population that is most vulnerable to exploitation. That woman buying car insurance might have an underage daughter getting pimped out at a strip club. She might have crossed the border packed into the back of a dark, sweltering truck with other immigrants to get here.
I wonder if the founder of the company and his son, tycoons with multimillion-dollar mansions in Miami, would subject their daughters to the same paternalistic double standards that treat women as nothing more than pedazos de nalgas — pieces of ass — in a world that takes advantage of desperate children and women, coercing them into captivity through the promise of a better life.
In spite of all of this, Estrella Insurance is a household name and trusted brand. It's a mom-and-pop immigrant business that grew exponentially over the years — a fine example of the American dream come true. Using sexist messages and lowbrow, sophomoric humor to sell a needed product shows lack of corporate responsibility to the community Estrella serves.
The company has made an ass of itself, proving that money doesn’t buy class. Que verguenza. But Estrella Insurance can turn things around — if it would just pull itself out from under that giant Miami ass.