Goodness knows, I am still pretty ignorant and young in my understanding of both God and race. I'd like to start incorporating some guest contributors to BTSF so we can get a range of perspectives and opinions. This week we have a guest post from Miss. Maxine:
One of the most talked about commercials after the Superbowl was a Pepsi Max commercial, “Love Hurts,” featuring a wife violently monitoring her husband’s eating habits:
A quick summary: The wife violently intervenes when her husband tries to eat unhealthily – kicks him when ordering fries for dinner, sticks soap in his mouth when she catches him trying to eat a burger in the shower, slams his face in a pie, etc. We then cut to a park bench where the man starts to drink a Pepsi Max. His wife finds him and he winces, but she smiles and starts to drink one too, noting that there are zero calories. A blonde woman in a sports bra and shorts sits near the husband in a part and smiles at him. He smiles back, says hi, and his wife gets mad and throws the Pepsi can at him. He ducks, the can beams the blonde in the head and the couple holds hands and runs, with the wife apologizing as they go.
The reactions to this ad – which features a black couple and a white woman – have spanned from “racist” to “funniest ad of the night”. When watching the ad, initially I felt uncomfortable, but didn’t think the ad itself needed to be taken off the air or was intending to use race in an offensive way. The following ad is one that I’d call offensive on its own for blatantly using racial stereotypes:
This ad bothers me much more than the “Love Hurts” ad because the joke rests on the stereotypes of the Black woman w/ attitude, Black men as thugs, Black women as video hos. The Pepsi Max ad, on its own, could be read as an overprotective wife using extraordinary measures to make sure her husband eats healthy, and one who also violently reacts to her husband’s wandering eye. In the Pepsi Max ad, you could switch the races of the characters and the ad would still make sense. You could use all black people or all white people in the ad and it would still make sense. (in fact, if the ‘jogger’ at the end of the actual Pepsi Ad was black, I doubt there would be any commentary about the ad being offensive at all) The joke of the ad does not rely on stereotypes. Why then did I still feel uncomfortable watching it? The reality is, none of us watched that ad “on its own”. None of us consume media in a vacuum. We watched it and processed it within the context of a western/American media landscape. This ad was one of many we see on a weekly basis, all adding to what our perception of what people (in particular people of color) are like. Just looking at the context of Superbowl ads, it was the only one with a black woman as the “main character.” Looking at the context of television in general, the ad repeats many of the racial messages and stereotypes we see in the media again and again. Let’s list them: Black women have attitudes/are intimidating // Black people are violent // Black men are cowed by black women // Black men are especially attracted to white women // Black women aren’t as attractive as white women I don’t know if the creator of the ad – (a 28 year old white guy from Kansas) was aware of the racial tropes he was using, or purposely inserted them to amp up the laughs. “You know what would be even funnier? If they were black! Cause sassy black women are funny! And them getting mad cause their man is looking at hot blonde is even funnier! Amirite?” In any case it’s important to keep in mind that the creators of the media we consume, and also we ourselves, are not blank slates when watching movies, TV, and the news but come to pop culture with our own preconceptions. The races of the individuals are not the sole reason of the objection to the ad – it’s the stereotypes of black men and women that are used. Whether it’s intentional or unintentional does not matter. It’s the fact that while there may be hundreds of depictions of white women on TV on a particular night, there will likely be only a few depictions of black women. Since there are fewer images of black women in the media, each of these images hold a lot of power. Having those few images be of angry women, women with “attitude”, or of women depicted as not as beautiful as other women gets tiring. For some, the Pepsi Max ad was hilarious, and perhaps silently reinforcing ideas about black men and women. For others, this was a reminder and sustainer of the stereotypes that they have to deal in real life every day. If you rarely see or interact with black people and other rarely represented groups in real life, your perception of them often comes from what you see in the media. Even the Bible talks about being careful about what you see and consume because it has an effect on how you think. Little wonder that those of us in these groups are a lot more sensitive about depictions of our race that are produced and distributed out in the world.
The solution isn’t to eliminate images of people of color out of the media. On the contrary, it’s to increase and diversify the images that are produced of people of color. Maybe then, ads like “Love Hurts” won’t be as offensive.