Friday, September 22, 2006

Three Racist Moments

1. Watching the telly the other night, I found myself compulsively eye-rolling at the Oscar Mayer Wiener commercial where three children -- The Little White child, the Little Asian child, and the Little African-American child -- are standing around when a Wienermobile drives up. Wow! The Wienermobile is SO COOL! It looks like what would happen if you mated Greased Lightning with a giant kielbasa. is so cool that it makes healthy little American children want to snarf down products made of pork snouts and chemicals like they're CANDY!

The window of the wicked cool Wienermobile rolls down as the kiddies are oohing and aahing and who do you think the driver is?
Why, it's White Mommy, of course!
Of COURSE it is! And she's going to feed her white child and his little token racially diverse pals some Oscar Mayer Wieners, because this is America!! Why did I somehow just know that it wasn't going to be Asian or Black mommy behind the wheel of that Wienermobile?

2. On that same night of telly viewing, another delightful commercial featuring Diverse Children.
This time, a schoolbus. Three or four little boys are comparing their homepacked lunches. They are showing off various mommy-made things like sandwiches and home-baked cupcakes wrapped lovingly in wax paper. The little boys are all white, white, and white. A fourth boy, the only little black boy in the bunch, opens HIS paper bag. What did his mommy send him off the school with? Why, a Kraft Snackable Lunch Item* consisting of plastic packaging and chemicals designed to look like "food!" YUM! In this case, as the announcer cheerfully informs us, this delicious lunch is just plain cooler than anything the other kids will have! It is! Because what could be more delicious and satisfying than sitting all by yourself in the cafeteria like the little boy on TV and eating a cracker with a slice of pepperoni (it might be fairer to say "pepperoni") and grated cheeze on the top! And I think there might even be some "tomato" sauce to dip it in! Them's eats!
What could be more hip and cool? Who WANTS a real sandwich or a home-baked cupcake anyway?

Am I reading too much into this? Am I being overly sensitive to the message here? What were the great Madison Avenue minds thinking when they intentionally chose the ONE black child to eat the crap, and alone in the cafeteria, too? Looking kind of sad and brave, like he knows how poisonous this product is?

PeaceBang threw a pillow at the television set over this one and yelled some cuss words. She believes that Snackables might as well be called "Satanables."

3. Listening to some golden oldies while cooking tonight, I hear Elton John's "Island Girl" which feature the lyrics,

She's as black as coal
but she burns like fire
And she'll wrap herself around you
like a well-worn tire.

PeaceBang stands there draining linguini into the collander and wishes some rocking island girl would pen equally offensive lyrics about chubby white gay men, just for equal time. A WELL WORN TIRE?? Isn't that charming. As if any hot island woman would ever wrap herself around Elton John with a ten-foot pole.

* Guess who owns the Oscar Mayer brand, too? Kraft, boys and girls!


Blogger n.v. said...

Peace, so nice to catch you around again.

Now I don't know about you, but I *do* get excited whenever a dickmobile shows up in my neighbourhood. And I'm not even White, Asian or Black.

Blogger Chalicechick said...

I think driving the weinermobile is a very working-class job, so I don't think having a non-white driving it would have been a big improvement.

The "Island Girl" song sucks.

The ads that get me are the "Divorced Dad" Ford ad and that creepy Gap ad with Audrey Hepburn.


Blogger Jess said...


Means I never watch commercials in real time, evah.

Blogger LaReinaCobre said...

Television is weird!

I never heard of that Elton John song before. What the ?! Well, I guess we all grow up at some point. Hopefully he's embarrassed about that.

Blogger LaReinaCobre said...

note: I am writing this from the airport. Teehee. I love free airport wifi!

Blogger fausto said...

Dave Barry, who if salvation by character is true has earned his eternal reward for popularizing Talk Like a Pirate Day, also once wrote a column about the day he picked his son up from junior high in the Wienermobile. Before doing the deed, he reported, he sized up the relative merits as (con) it would humiliate him in front of his friends and scar him for life, but (pro) it would be worth it.

The thing has a built-in P. A. system. Dave didn't just pick his son up in the geekiest car ever; he drove up to the front of the building, cranked up the mike and blared, so the whole block could hear it, something like, "ROB BARRY! ROB BARRY! PLEASE MEET YOUR FATHER IN FRONT OF THE BUILDING IMMEDIATELY! HE IS WAITING TO PICK YOU UP FROM SCHOOL IN THE OSCAR MEYER WIENERMOBILE!

Am I reading too much into this? Am I being overly sensitive to the message here?

I'll withhold judgment about any implicit racism of the commercials because I haven't seen them, but as the parent of two pre-adolescent children, I'll tell you that nearly all kids will pick hot dogs or pre-packaged Lunchables (that's what they're called) over homemade for 99 lunches out of 100. Fausto Jr. likes Lunchables so much he has their website bookmarked as a favorite, under a folder titled "extreme crap", with no trace of irony intended.

The kid with the Lunchables wasn't being oppressed; in other kids' estimation he was being way cool. Lucky, too.

Blogger Chalicechick said...

"Fausto Jr. likes Lunchables so much he has their website bookmarked as a favorite, under a folder titled "extreme crap", with no trace of irony intended. "

That sentence REALLY reminded me of myself as a child.

Though my mom always said that lunchables were "too expensive."

who didn't really fully understand that her parents had said "that's too expensive" when they meant "that's stupid" until she was 26 and she and two friends spent four hours in a video arcade for a total cost of twenty dollars.

Blogger fausto said...

Your mom was right, nevertheless. They're expensive, too.

Blogger Jamie Goodwin said...

Can I ask a question? Why is it that when someone takes up the Vegan, or vegetarian, organic, foodie, ideaology that a personal choice somehow must then become an edict for the rest of the world?

I don't understand. You have made a concious choice to eat organic foods and homemade meals. Great! Many people have not made that same choice, I am not convinced that makes us bad people or bad parents.

and.. and.. now comericials that conciously make a choice to include diversity are somehow racist? That one just goes way over my head.

Blogger Cranky Cindy said...

I hollered at the weinermobile commercial the first time I saw it. I absolutely agree and had a similar thought - one of each? that's new, usually it's lots of whiteness with a little color tossed in. Then white stay-at-home mom picks all the kids up?

As for the african american kid sitting alone, I'm unconvinced the advertisers were targetting kids wanting them to think saltygreasyartificialness was cool. It looked to me that the assumption was that all the white kids had moms that had time to make bag lunches, and the african american kid didn't and so wasn't it handy that there was something fast and obesity producing for 'them' to use.

That said, this advertising sux just because it's not actually food they're selling. In Dec. of 2005, the National Institute for Medicine stated "Kraft has agreed not to advertise its Oreos and Lunchables snacks -- well-liked among children from ages 6 to 11 -- on TV or in print anymore." (Dec 7. 2005, BusinessWeek)

Hmmm, how is it we are still watching lunchables ads?

There's a great blog that I like to read in great chunks every couple of weeks. The sub category of media representations is at this link below, which, sorry, I don't know how to embed a link in a comment, so I'm breaking it up and you'll have to cut and paste it in two parts to get to the actual page.

Blogger Cranky Cindy said...

Plus, Kraft doesn't need to do television when they can do the internet.

again with the cut-n-paste link.

Blogger PeaceBang said...

Um, Jamie? You're getting a little bit hysterical and making LOTS of incorrect assumptions.
First, I have been horrified by processed foods for a loooong time, and my disgust for Lunchables way predates my own decision to go veggie.

My reading of these commercials as racist is my own opinion. I know token children when I see them being used by Madison Avenue, and I think it's insulting and manipulative.
My questions still stand, although Cranky Cindy validated them for me really well.

As I've made very clear on my posts about meat, I got nothing against ingesting things with faces, I'm just totally grossed out by how they're treated externally and internally before they make it to my plate. Adults eating Lunchables, no problem. They know (or should) what they're getting. Children having GMO-laden chemical garbage pitched to them as hip and cool upsets me. A lot.

Cindy, you GOT IT. Guess who's mom didn't have time to lovingly cook or bake anything and wrap it in waxed paper? I could just cry. This also brings up memories of the differences in the lunches and general nutrition of the kids I taught in Chicago vs. the kids I taught in the St. Paul,MN suburbs.

Finally, I Heart Dave Barry!

Blogger PeaceBang said...

D! You crack me up.

Blogger Chalicechick said...

This is all sort of a weird for me because Lunchables were absolutely an upper middle class thing when I was a kid back in the eighties. I recall them as being little cracker sandwiches that looked adult and ladylike to little CC. It sounds like they've changed.

Also, why would they portray the kid eating the advertised product as an outcast?
One would think that the kids with lots of friends would be eating the thing they're trying to sell...

None of this is intended as argument, I just don't get it.


Blogger PeaceBang said...

I don't think the ad people WANT the kid to look like an outcast. It's just that after he's seen showing off his Lunchables to his friends on the bus, we don't see him eating with friends. At least I don't remember that he's with anyone.

Blogger fausto said...

The originals were lunch meats, cheese and crackers that you could stack together to make your own cracker sandwiches. They still make those, but they've also extended the line into things like nachos and pizza and even waffles.

Blogger Obijuan said...

He's alone so that the final shots of the product being enjoyed are not overshadowed by the other kids' homemade goodies. They want you to remember the Lunchables, not the cupcakes. Basic advertising principles.

Blogger Jamie Goodwin said...

I'm not hysterical.. just read more into your post than was there I guess.

I still do not agree that these commercials are racist.. manipulative, absolutly.. of course all advertising is manipulative.

I just think there is real racism out there, and that is why when something like a comercial that includes children of varied races gets singled out, it distresses me.

Lets go after the landlords who won't rent (or make the process harder) to anyone with a darker shade of skin.

Lets go afer individuals and organizations who spread hate and promote violence.

You might not like Kraft foods (I am still going to eat my Oreos) but I do not believe they deserve to called racist for making silly commercials

Blogger Chalicechick said...

I do kind of see where Jamie's coming from in that most of the implicit messages in the commercial that would be racist (e.g. White mothers have the time and care enough to make lunch for their kids. Lunchables are for black mothers, who don't.) would certianly not be impressions that would sell the product. So I doubt they are intentional.

Unintentional things can still be racist, of course.

All that said, I haven't seen the commercials.

FWIW, I just finished a really interesting book on race Lena' Williams' "It's the Little Things."

Blogger TheCSO said...

"The kid with the Lunchables wasn't being oppressed; in other kids' estimation he was being way cool. Lucky, too."

Add me as yet another voice of agreement to this. The only appropriate perspective from which to analyse this commerical for racial bias is that of the target audience - kids ages 6-12.

From a 'normal' American kid's viewpoint: (and yes, of course there are exceptions, but this is how MOST kids see it)

Food your mother lovingly prepared for you - Eww, another sandwich.
Highly processed food encased in plastic - Wow! Lunchables! Great!

That this is how kids see things when it comes to lunch food is a separate issue. The commerical, looked at from the viewpoint of the target audience, has the black kid getting the best food.

(And actually, Lunchables are quite a bit less bad for you than they used to be. They're still highly processed, and if you object highly processed food THAT is a problem, but the actual nutrition info has been improved from the ones that were around when I was a kid.)

Cindy - you are quoting out of context. There was a specific Lunchables commercial which Kraft agreed to pull, and they changed which Lunchables were marketed to which age groups. Specifically, Kraft said that they would not target any food product advertising at kids under 6, and that the only food advertisements they would target to kids under 12 would be those that met certain nutritional criteria. (This was part of the impetus for the "Lunchables are now less bad for you" changes mentioned above.)

Blogger Cranky Cindy said...

hmmm. Thanks CSO, perhaps I got lazy with my googling and didn't read enough links --
Frankly, "less bad for you" isn't good enough for me.

I'm an old fashioned raised on Rachel Carson anti chemicals in our food system type gal. I think that artificial flavorings, pesticides, chemically rearranged molecules to enhance taste or smell, and genetically modified foods only increases the likelihood that we humans will leave our planet for another intelligent species to take a stab at. Not that this would necessarily be a bad thing, but it's something I'd rather humanity be intentional about. ;-)

To my way of thinking, snorting heroin is also "less bad for you" than mainlining it...

That said, in the interest of full disclosure, every time I take a road trip, I have to eat a gianormous bag of Fritoes and stop for McDonald's french fries and a Sprite each leg of the trip.

We all make choices. :~<

As to implicit racism, that's the problem, it's implicit --
Do I think a bunch of ad execs sat around and said, "hmmm, how to create a racist tv commercial?" or "How can we pitch lunchables to poor black moms?" No, actually, I think most people along the process probably were trying to make the most fair(read: successful) ad possible.

That's the greatest challenge w/ racism imo, (or classism, or sexism, or heterosexism) in the ways these assumptions are part of our worldview, it's really hard to see.

And we don't like accusing others of bad actions or thoughts, so we give them the benefit of the doubt, and try to think of not-racist reasons that something might have the appearance of racism, or of racism-lite, tokenism wrapped in a shroud of increasing diversity.

Blogger SC Universalist said...

hmm, reading about racism and feeding junk to kids, and the first thing I think of is "wax paper! wow! I wish the stories in my area still sold wax paper'. My, am i envious! you just cant put top of the stove cookies on saran wrap......

steven rowe


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