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Too White for TV

Submitted by on April 21, 2012 – 4:48 pm4 Comments

Going along the general ridiculousness of the overzealous political correctness movement is an odd trend in commercial advertising, documented here, here, and here, among many other places – you can’t be too anything, if you want to land a job as a commercial actor. It’s a problem, to me, for the same reason that the ever-changing target of what you can and can’t call people is a problem – it dodges the real issue. Of course commercials should include diversity. If you hadn’t noticed, the world does, too. And of course there are things you shouldn’t call people. Lots of things. But changing them once a week isn’t helping anybody.

I’m not trying to get a job acting in commercials, so I’ve got no vested interest other than as an observer and consumer. It still irks me, though. This trend must be a great boon for “ethnically ambiguous” people, but I’m sure any aspiring actor/actress who’s starkly black, white, brown, or anything else probably isn’t too happy about it. Acting like there is no such thing as race/ethnicity is not doing anyone any favors.

We should not hide from race. It’s great that we all look a little different. It’d get pretty boring if everyone had the same skin color and hair and everything else. Underneath it, we’re still human. I feel like we should be able to celebrate our differences, without making them taboo, because in the end we are far more similar to literally everyone else in the world than we are different. Shit, we are 98% genetically similar to apes. Imagine how close that makes us to other humans, no matter what they look like or where they came from.

We have this movement now that makes it feel like you can’t classify anything at all. Personally, I assume that when someone is identifying me as twenty-something/white/American/New Jersey-an, they are not necessarily defining me by it. I understand (to the point that I can without experiencing it) that other races have it tougher in the “defined-by-color-by-the-ignorant” arena, but I feel like most people would agree with me on the above point. Maybe I’m wrong, or naïve, or whatever.

Marketing, as it so often does, sows the seeds of my discontent. The problem with marketing is that there are almost always statistics to back things up. Trends are rarely an accident. This is no different, I’m sure. Somewhere out there, there’s a person with a freshly-printed MBA figuring out the exact best way to sell you a cheeseburger: “Should it be a white person eating it? Noooo. Nobody likes white people. What about a black lady, or someone from the Middle East, perhaps? Nooooo. That will scare all the white people nobody likes. What should I do?”

The answer, apparently, is to find people who nobody’s scared of, which means, to the advertisers, at least, that the only people fit to eat that cheeseburger on that commercial are people who are, well… we just can’t tell. No offense to those people. I’m happy they are getting work. Being “ethnically ambiguous” shouldn’t be a bad thing, either. It just shouldn’t be the only thing.

I think it was Chris Rock who said something like (paraphrasing from memory) “we’ll see real progress on race relations when a black guy is the robber in a commercial.” Of course, he said it more artfully than that. I couldn’t find the clip. Point is, we shouldn’t hide from the fact that all different people do all sorts of stuff. Some of it’s bad, some is good. White people rob other people, as do people from all races and ethnicities. There’s ugly truth to life. There are also people out there from every single race and in every single place who are doing great things to help others and make the world a little better.

Advertising, to me, should represent truth. Funny, I know. The truth is that the world is full of all different types of people. It’s a positive thing, not a negative one. We get interesting art and culture and ideas because people from different backgrounds come together (and occasionally steal, ahem… Picasso) and share what they bring. We all have something to offer.

The internet seems to help, in that way. People seem to understand more and more how alike we all are. Of course, the internet also works as a megaphone for idiots, but so do vocal cords. The most ignorant people will always yell the loudest. Still, being connected as we all are has to be a positive in the long run, unless humans are even crazier than I thought.

I grew up in a small town, with the primary races being white and whiter. There were plenty of things I didn’t know about other people then. Still are, but growing up and going to college, meeting different people and seeing different places have all broadened me, I’d like to think. I was never racist – wasn’t raised to be – but I’d be lying if I didn’t say I was misinformed. Not because of any specific person, just a lack of experience. The internet, I feel, should help kids like I was, in that respect. I’ve met and had conversations with people from all over the world on Twitter. Anybody can.

So let’s not act like this is some weird, futuristic dystopia where everyone looks the same… yet. Maybe someday everyone will look the same. We do all like to have sex with each other, after all. Until then, though, there’s no reason to hide from the fact that we all have our differences.

If we have to do something ambiguous, I say we at least make it more fun. Let’s say people are too scared of race to buy your product if you have anyone who is, uh, from a race, in your commercial. That’s marketing 101, people. Let’s use animals, then. No more people. Are the lolcats available? What about the poker-playing dogs? We have the technology, and who wouldn’t want to buy the car or salad tongs that some cuuuuuute puppy bought on the teevee? Now give me my corporate jet and expense account.

In the end, Chris Rock sums it up better in a minute and a half than I could in this whole post:

The only American Indian I’ve ever seen in a commercial was wearing traditional garb and crying about litter. Yeah, let’s not go back to the days of shameless stereotyping, either. I’m just putting out there that we could cast some American Indians to buy Kias or open investment accounts or whatever on commercials, too.

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