[30 October 2005]
I turned on the TV the other day to find Snoop Dogg peddling Chryslers with Lee Iacocca, or “Ike Izzizzle”, as he’s apparently known in the ‘hood. I flipped the channel and heard Sir Mix-A-Lot rapping a kid-friendly rendition of “Baby Got Back” for Target (“I like backpacks and I cannot lie…”). Who knew that he was a value shopper, much less a connoisseur of academic supplies? While I understand that Sir Mix-A-Lot’s vocational options are limited (“I see on your resume that you like big butts. Can you expound on that?”), I couldn’t help but wonder what the hell was going on. Could Pfizer be scurrying somewhere to dig up Young MC for an anti-depressant ad? Bust a Mood!
I changed the channel again, only to see a Lays ad with the tagline, “Get your smile on.” Then a Purell commercial with kids touching dirty objects to MC Hammer’s “U Can’t Touch This”. A Sprint ad where a white suburban mom exclaims, “It’s all good!” A Progressive ad for “player hater insurance”. Eric B. and Rakim’s “Don’t Sweat the Technique” in a Reebok ad. Boost Mobile’s inescapable “Where you at?”
I dropped the remote. Was the revolution in fact being televised? I called a friend and asked if we’d overcome. “I dunno,” he said. “I still feel oppressed.” Indeed, a quick perusal of TV Guide revealed that the only black network shows were still relegated to UPN (WB having expunged the last remnants of its blackness with Michigan J. Frog). Still, I hadn’t imagined what I’d seen. If there are no black shows on TV, why are there so many black commercials? Maybe it’s some sort of concession, like giving us the shortest month of the year for Black History Month: “We won’t give you any primetime shows, but you can have all the 30-second spots you want.”
If this is the case, we may as well make the most of it. It’s not like Bill Cosby will get another show anytime soon: Black Kids Say the Dumbest Things! The first step is to clean up what’s out there now.
They can use all the rap music they want, but it’s clear that these commercials aren’t aimed at black people. When’s the last time you saw an all-black network TV ad that didn’t air at 2AM during Soul Train or Showtime at the Apollo? No, these are “blackwashed” ads with the thinnest veneer of black cultural references to convey hipness. The “wassup guys” are no more. They were as fleeting a cultural phenomenon as low-carb diets and Michael Dukakis. There are no more black commercial icons. The Pine-Sol lady be damned!
I have a dream not a wet dream, mind you, but a moist dream that Madison Avenue someday might actually put some effort into attracting black consumers. And I’m here to help. Corporate America, don’t be shy. I’m here for you. Take these ad pitches as a token of my dedication to the cause*:
(*Cause dedication fee involved. Call me.)
Slant: Black people love cars, but they love God even more.
Open with scenes of Fords, Chevys, Cadillacs, BMWs, Lexuses, etc. being used in all manner of “ghetto” crimes: drug deals, drive-bys, aggressive jaywalking, and so forth. [Cue music by a rapper who’s been to jail and/or shot.] Cut to a good, church-going black family driving to church as sweet gospel music by someone named Shadrach plays in the background. A beam of light from Heaven guides them along their path to righteousness.
Tagline: Chryst-ler: The car God would drive.
Product: Real Estate
Slant: Black people love a deal. And they hate slavery.
Voiceover: Come to the convention center this weekend for the biggest government auction of the year! Cars for $50! High-definition TVs for $25! Playstations for a nickel! And for a limited time, get 40 acres and a mule for only $19.95! That’s right, $19.95! Finally get what you deserve! It may not be free, but 140 years worth of inflation adds up.
Tagline: Hey, better late than never.
Slant: Black people are apprehensive about computers; they don’t want to seem too smart.
An uptight white person sits down at his desk in a stuffy office setting. He turns on his computer. As it starts, instead of the Windows start-up chime, we hear, “‘Sup, fool?” The lights go out, a disco ball drops down, and people start freak-dancing to an Usher song.
Tagline: Microsoft Word Up: Makin’ ‘puters cool.
Slant: Black people want to see other black people.
Voiceover: Tonight on “Dateline”: the story of a missing woman. She’s black, chubby, and not all that cute, but we’re telling her story anyway. Screw you.
Tagline: “Dateline”: Keeping it real.
Slant: Black people don’t always want to see other black people. We’re complicated like that.
Voiceover: This summer, Samuel L. Jackson stars in…nothing. When humanity is on the brink of destruction, he doesn’t arrive to help. When a self-righteous, morally indignant speech is called for, he’s nowhere to be found. When a ridiculous wig is to be worn, he won’t be there.
Tagline: Sam Jackson: showing restraint in the roles he chooses, because no one wants to see Formula 51 Part 2.
Product: Personal Hygiene
Slant: Black people value their personal space.
A black husband and wife are washing up in their bathroom. The husband scratches his head.
Wife: “Honey, what’s wrong?”
Husband: “I don’t know. Something’s itching like crazy!”
Wife: “Let me see.” [She parts his dreadlocks.] “Oh, I see the problem: you have white people in your hair!”
Several white people emerge from his hair, muttering things like, “Do you wash it?” and “It’s so crunchy!”, then dazed by the light, they scatter into the corner.
Voiceover: Black people, are you tired of having curious white hands wandering through your hair? Now there’s help. White-Off’s patented formula is designed to react with Caucasian skin on contact, driving away unwanted attention. Guaranteed.
Tagline: White-Off: the shampoo that burns!
Slant: Black people don’t trust doctors, and they take pride in their sexual virility.
A man sits on the edge of the bed, dejected. His wife comforts him: “It’s OK, honey. Here, take some Niagra.” She hands him a bottle of pills. Fast-forward two hours: the man is sobbing as his wife walks out the door, bags packed, screaming, “What, are you gay or something?”
Voiceover: Niagra is the only erectile dysfunction medication available over the counter. That’s because it’s a sugar pill. If you can’t get it up with a sugar pill, you must be gay.
Tagline: Niagra: What, are you gay or something?
Product: Family Entertainment
Slant: Black people love conspiracies and hate Shakespeare.
Voiceover: At Truth.com, we’ve done all we can do with smoking. It’s time to move on to a more insidious vice: board games. Reportedly played by Strom Thurman on the eve of his first election to the Senate, Othello was known back then by its original name: Race War. It’s black versus white in a battle for racial supremacy. Convert your opponents’ pieces to your side, and you win! [No-goodnik actors enact a race war in front of Mattel headquarters.] While the name change was made to downplay the negative racial overtones, the fact that the game is now named after a black Shakespearean character involved in an interracial murder-suicide does not go unnoticed. Now you know the truth. Next up, Jenga: innocent party game or terrorist training device?
Tagline: Truth.com: Speaking the truth that’s too true to be true. True dat.
Product: Government-mandated public service announcement
Slant: Black people want white people to treat them right.
Black actor Dennis Haysbert sits on a soundstage. He speaks:
Hi, I’m black actor Dennis Haysbert. You know, the President from 24. I also sell Allstate Insurance, so you can trust me. I’m here to deliver a message from black people to white America: We don’t ask for much from you. Just learn a few cultural references, know the difference between Shawn and Marlon Wayans, and don’t use the “N” word. To prevent any confusion, you might also want to avoid the phrases:
Tagline: Because the more you know, the less you get jumped.
We now return you to your regularly scheduled deprogramming.
Published at: http://www.popmatters.com/pm/column/harris051031/