First entertainment strike to American Express
In this television commercial we are shown a young Black African American sitting in a classroom, circa the 1970's with a grainy film techinque from that time, while an announcer introduces her to us. The announcer states that the Black African American girl was 'always born to be a shopper' and we hear her ask her teacher "Where did the Pilgrims go to shop." She does so while looking quite pensive and ernest. We see another scene in which the girl (same age) is standing in line with other children as a White nurse (in the traditional nurse uniform which includes white shoes) passes by. The young black girl follows the woman as she passes by, leaning over to watch her go past. She then turns quickly to the young white boy next to her and says "Can you believe she is wearing white after labor day!" Next we see the child sitting in a room, with what we must assume is a psychiatrist (based on the era)behind her desk flipping ink blot cards. The young black girl states that each item on the ink blots looks like an item found in a store (one was called a lip gloss or purse and the blot looked very much like a butterfly style dot to me, as I recall). The female psychiatrist turns her head with a dumbfound look on her face to the parents, both roughly late 20 to 30ish Black African Americans, sitting together on a couch and shaking their heads in disdain (or so it looked, it could be embarrassment I'm not sure). We then see the girl fully grown in a shoe store, handing an unseen attendant the Amex carrd. Behind her and facing the screen are to black babies in a side by side stroller (I'd assume they were twins and the stroller was made for that as they appeared to be the same age). The now-woman black character seems in my opinion to be completely un aware of what is happening to her children behind her, there is no one else in the store (from that angle anyway) though. After a cut scene to show the new American Express card, we come back to a white woman who is looking at the black children and comments "Oh they are lovely." The Black woman exclaims, as she looks down at her shoes, "Don't you think! I have another pair in green."
Now really think through this commercial. What does it really say. We see that the child is either being taught improperly (thus meaning that school is unimportant) or that she is stupid (meaning she was given the proper information and she chose to diregard it). An implication that Black women are (or are taught) materialistic and that this is the most important fact of life is also made. From the next scene we can see that the child cannot focus on the situation at had (distracted by someone walking by), that recognition of a female nurse is unimportant (a woman with a title is unimportant), that the only concern for a woman is her apperance (regardless of situation or position), and that gossip is very important. Lastly for her as a child we see that her perception is materialistic, skewed, and unrealistic. The white psychiatrist is unsympathetic to a child in need (institutions don't care about Black African Americans), and finds blame with the parents (they raised the child to be like this). The parents for their part are bewildered (a common theme these days repeated on most youth oriented television shows and some movies, especially with African Americans, Hispanics or other 'minority' families. Ie. Moesha, That's So Raven, Home Alone, et al.)
As an adult we can derive that American Express, at least, believes the value system of this woman is perfect as they have given her a card. I didn't get a clear look at her hand to see if she was obviously married (which plays into the political family values issue). Her values are obviously off-center as she keeps her back to her children in a store (bad motherly attributes in these days) implying she doesn't care. Materialism is the theme of the commercial thus the shoe store, of course it is also restating the old stereotype of women and shoes. The Black womans disregard for her children and bad values is enforced when she takes a comment on her children to be about her shoes. Black women priorities are on their possesions and not family.
While this distasteful ad has much the same affect no matter the race of the woman/girl, it take additional meanings when a minority (especially one that is black) is presented. At least in this country as I have come to understand in my 35+ years of life. Even without the race issue, this is a repugnant television commercial and American Express normally has far greater taste. This also brings the question on why in an ad targeted to Black African Americans, and specifically to Black women, does not match the higher standards usually held by this company.
I would love if anyone from any of the companies mentioned, or their advertising companies, were to contact me or comment on my observations. I cannot think that no one in any of the companies or departments involved with the approval of these ads could not see the further meanings of the commercials. It is one thing to make programs and television commercials that are geared to the lowest common denominator [which is an insult to the intelligence of the average American viewer] but to further monetary gains by promoting stereotypes and ill-formed conceptualizations of groups is quite another.
I firmly believe that these and worse commercials will become more rampant and touch upon more minorities and other groups as no one calls them on their actions. I bet that part of why each of these thoughtless commercials contains Black African Americans, and others Hispanics and various other 'minorities' is that the statements would be felt more harshly to white America. Fear of lost sales is not a motivation to unfairly present any group.
I do not, nor will I ever, say that any advertisment, on television, a movie, radio or any other medium and form of entertainment cannot be fun and/or sarcastic. I believe firmly in the right to free expression. I also believe that you cannot treat people fairly part of the time and expect that there will not be a deep psychological and real impact from the rest of the time.
I wish that companies, and the govenment for that matter, would just try to treat me like a man, not a category. I am a man, an American, and a Puerto Rican Black in that order. Don't you wish for something along the same lines, or do you assume that that is how they already view you. I'm sure my 'minority' readers agree with me.
This is what I think, what do you think?