Bill Mounce is a top expert on exegesis and translation of the Bible. He was a major contributor to the ESV translation, and a regular contributor to the Koinonia blog. It is good that, as I announced last month, he has joined the Committee on Bible Translation which is currently revising the NIV.
Unfortunately Bill Mounce is not an expert on advertising. As a result he has made himself look rather stupid by misunderstanding a car advertisement, and by repeatedly posting his misunderstanding. The first time he posted this on his personal blog:
But “mankind” continues to be used as a generic term in English, as does “man.” I know there are people who disagree with this point, but the fact that it is used generically over and over again cannot truly be debated; the evidence is everywhere. Have you noticed the new advertisement for the Prius: “Harmony Between Man, Nature And Machine.” I’ll bet Toyota would be glad to sell to women.
Yes, Bill, this “fact” can be debated, as I do below. (Joel Hoffman also blogged about this.)
Bill Mounce repeated his error this week in a summary he posted at Koinonia of his SBL paper on the ESV and the TNIV, in which he wrote, in support of his argument that “man” can have a gender generic meaning:
Just watch enough football and you will see the ad for the Prius: “Harmony between Man, Nature, and Machine.” A person may not like using “man” to mean “mankind”; a particular subculture may not like it, …
I assume the ad that Mounce has in mind is this:
See also this analysis of the advertising campaign.
Now I don’t claim to be an expert on advertising myself. But one thing that I do know is that advertising is highly gender specific, and targeted to particular groups. Now of course “Toyota would be glad to sell to women”; indeed the only Prius driver I know is a woman. Nevertheless the advertising for most cars is clearly directed towards men, meaning not women. The days may be past when nearly naked women were draped across them, but there are all kinds of subtleties of design and presentation designed to appeal to men. I’m sure that is true, and deliberately so, of the very shape of the Prius.
I accept that in this particular ad, with lots of flowers, the message is a bit sexually ambiguous and might attract women also. But I also see a clear sexually charged allusion at the end in the way the car rushes up a hill with a somewhat phallic shape, and this is when the words “Harmony between Man, Nature, and Machine” are used. Perhaps the message they are trying to drive home is that you can be a real man, with a manly car, and still love nature and flowers.
One thing is certain: the advertisers considered very carefully what message they were giving with the word “man”, and it was by no means a simple gender generic one. As such Bill Mounce, in quoting this as an example of generic “man”, had missed the point of the ad, and in the process made himself look a bit stupid.
Nevertheless Mounce does have some very good points to make in his SBL paper summary, especially this:
I am not convinced that non-academic celebrities should be making pronouncements on translation theory.
Indeed. Let those who have never studied translation theory stop criticising translations.