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Friday, January 06, 2006

First entertainment strike to American Express

Only 5 days into the new year and it's happened again. Yet another commercial I believe to be offensive, brought to us this time by American Express. I realize that this is the 3rd television commercial that I find fault with, you can see my thoughts on Burger King and Malibu Rum. Still I think it is important to point out problems and suggest the solution of removing television commercials of this nature, so that at least that aspect of tv and American life can improve.

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?

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Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Commercials without entertainment, but with liquor

Has anyone noticed the latest rum television commercials out lately? In particular I mean the Malibu and Parrot Bay television commercials. They are horrible on many levels. Let me describe the commercials and then you may see what I mean.

In the Malibu rum, there is an old beat-up gray bus that looks like the yellow school buses seen in many cities and movies. It drives down a dirt road, with a dingy looking shackish looking town in the background. There is no confusing the town with a prosperous city of any sort. A middle-aged heavier set black woman (west indian decent - jamacian at a guess, if you know anyone from there or are familiar with the island) is waiting for the bus. When the bus stops to pick her up, she begins to berrate the driver for being 30 seconds late. The driver, a middle-aged large-ish build black man in rumpled clothes, looks at a cheap watch and states by his time he is not late. We then get to see the interior of the bus, not in anything near pristine condition, filled with black people in clothes that are simple, loose-fitting and worn (all also middle aged). Another plump woman joins in berrating the driver for being 1 minute late, to which he states again, not by his watch. We then get a close up of a man holding a fish (could be a mackeral for all I know - suffice to say it is a large fish, in both of his hands, dry with no tank or bag of water to be seen) stating that they need to go because his fish is sick. We snap back to a scene of the driver as a man, who was riding on top of the bus with the various boxes and bags, pops his head down to admonish the driver for stalling as he is late for a meeting. the view changes to outside the bus, where we can see the various people arguing and the man hanging down into the window of the bus as a voice tells us, 'if we were like the rest of the world we would never have been able to make the wonderful, blah blah, Malibu rum.' We then get a cut scene of a black man in shorts on an old scooter, behind the bus. He states in fustration 'oh great, gridlock!', looking around the side of the bus and back at his cheap watch.

Before I say anything else, the Parrot Bay television commercial basically has a party similar to Mardi Gras taking place. It seems to be in the islands as virtually all the people except as I recall 2, are black (not sure if african americans, west indians or what). Most are dressed up for carnivale (if you've been to a festival you know the outfits - if not plan a trip one day, its worth the time) and there is a popular song to be heard in the background. We cut to a woman berrating her husband (both are older and neither has been in a gym getting ready for a body building competition in some time) who is playing dominoes with an unseen player. The wife is demanding he that he get up from the game and hurry or they will miss the bus that everyone in the Mardi Gras/Carnivale is entering (another old shool bus style bus, though this one is painted on the sides with bright colors). He mentions he's getting there, and the bus pulls away and the music fades. The wife, annoyed, turns to her husband and says 'I never get to go on the bus' and storms off. A voice states something along the lines of 'Parrot Bay, where the party is. Drink responsibly, blah blah.'

As a comparison, here is the Smirnoff Ice version of an ethnic television commercial. A white man, with a sort of bad slavic accent (it doesn't sound russian to me, and I lived in Moscow for a time), young and possibly fit is dressed in a shapka and dublinka (russian style fur hat and coat) thick pants and boots in his house. He welcomes you to his well-lit bright home, it contains various modern appliances, but is not lavish by any means. He walks you quickly through 2 rooms to his kitchen where a set of 6'-ish tall stainless steel doors stand out sharply. This is his pride and joy he mentions as he opens the doors. He steps into the 'frige' and is actually outside. Snow is mid-calf deep, and a friend of his (also young and white and dressed in similar attire) is sitting in a lounge chair to whom he walks to as he states that this is his friend. He sits in a chair next to his friend, telling us how he loves to have his Smirnoff Ice outside and that the great thing about his home is the quiet. The view has panned to behind the seated men looking out on to an untouched expanse of snow, that ends into trees and mountains in the distance. Very serene. The man then leans over and turns on a 'boom box' radio and it blasts (I forget what type) music, he touches bottles with his friend and begins to relax.

Do we see differences? In both rum commercials we are told that blacks live poorly in all countries (aren't you glad you are a poor Black African American and live better than this?) with bad clothes and cheap adornements [no offense meant to anyone]. The Malibu commercial makes a point of telling us that Black people (especially those from the west indies it seems) are too foolish or ignorant, to know that a pet fish should be in water. Either that or that crazy people run around the island with dead fish. Not one person is young, we would assume since everyone on the bus is older and obviously stating they are going to work that the younger black adults are without jobs. By the way, the west indies are roughly in the same time zone and latitude as roughly florida, so the sun is WAY to high to be just going to work as I feel the tv commercial was implying with its gridlock statements, then again it could also mean that they are too lazy to get up and work when we do.

The 'we' or 'rest of the world' they mention is not targeted at me or other black/african americans. The implication is for the opposite of what is being shown, thus 'we' or 'rest of the world' means White Americans, with better than menial jobs, that don't need dilapidated public transportation, with well-fitting tailored (name brand) clothing. I don't think there is one thing that isn't racist in the Malibu or Parrot Bay commercials. The futher implications are that these lazy (remember this commercial is a dramatization of what they would be like if they were like 'us') alcoholics had nothing better to do than make some moonshine which was perfected as Malibu rum.

Imagine if every person in that television commercial was Irish. Would it still be cute? How about french wine country? Utah? Would whites in worn clothing and run down houses give you the same feeling? And for those that don't know there are many white and chinese Jamacians. Slavery ring a bell why? English empire-building come back to memory from elementary school history class? And I don't think I am reaching to make these conclusions. This is what the television commercial portrays, and on the surface says its only a joke. I'm not laughing. A commercial always makes bigger statements than just what is on the surface. If they didn't you wouldn't remember the product.

The Smirnoff television commercial, also targeted to white America, has a mid sized house (implying a decent income), bright colors, modern appliances and electricity (just like 'your' home). The spacious land implies wealth as does the lack of neighbors. The stinless steel doors don't go cheap either. Fur is expensive even in Russia, and he wasn't wearing dog. The food items in the 'frdge shelves? All U.S. domestic (imports are expensive everywhere). Does that compare to the closed in, poor feel of the rum commercials? Even the color suggests that life is better for the Russian. The Smirnoff televisin commercial is inviting you to enjoy the good life, and while you don't have his wealth you can have the same drink as him.

As I've said before in my discussion of the Burger King ad, "My ultimate test when viewing commercials I think are badly portraying ANY minority is to view them as being white and everything happening exactly the same. Would that commercial ever be run? Would that commercial have the same meaning? If not, what is that commercial actually saying?"

I'm insulted that these television commercials not only exist but seem to be a trend that is growing. Perhaps when they start portraying others besides blacks (African Americans or otherwise) and other 'minorities' as stupid, crazed, alcoholics and poor there will be a change. I just wish they would be stopped long before then.

This is what I see and think of this attempt at entertainment. What do you see?

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Absinthe Fairy