Monday, February 7, 2011

Black Men Love Beckies: Pepsi Max, Black Harpies, and the Joys of White Women


If Mad Men has taught me anything, it is that in their chosen vocation, the dream merchants do few things unintentionally as they cultivate the desires of citizen-consumers.

It is almost assured that there will be much overreaction and hand-wringing over the racially clumsy and stereotyped laden Pepsi Max Superbowl ad. But, said response does not mean that the spot itself is not worthy of some critical engagement.

There really isn't too much to offer in terms of meta-analysis for this spot. Perhaps, this is why the advertisement just seems so lazy. The commercial deploys the "Sassy Mammy"/Sapphire stereotype: the over-bearing, neck-snapping black woman (and lest we not forget that stereotypes persist because they are rooted in some reality that folks choose to reproduce or not...see Tyler Perry and others) which persists even into the 21st century. As the obligatory target for said "sista's" overbearing harpiness, Pepsi Max features an emasculated black man and his obligatory object of lust--the always beguiling and sexy white woman. In turn, Black man's kryptonite is left unconscious by Sapphire..and his big, black, wide, can. She and her man then beat a hasty retreat.

If we don't retreat in the face of what seems to be such a grossly flat text, the semiotics of the Pepsi Max commercial can become (at least potentially) quite interesting. Could there in fact be more going on in the implications of the advertisement (and what it is signaling to in the collective political subconscious) than in the spot itself? Is a focus on reception more illuminating than an exclusive examination of the text's visuals and narrative?

For example, check out some of the running comments on the advertisement here. White privilege and the normality of whiteness--as always--are on fully display. Because you know, "why can't it just be about a man and his overbearing wife?" and "why do you always have to bring race into this stuff?"

But then again, I may have unnecessarily donned my racism chasing shoes because sometimes a cigar is just a cigar...

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

Agreed with the "clumsiness" (read: reliance on reductive racial tropes in media) of the Pepsi Max advertisement, but there is another element to the ad that hasn't received much attention (that I've seen).

Namely, it was a little surprising, and quite frankly a little bit refreshing (no pun), to see a black person hurting a white person (i.e. the black woman hitting the white woman in the head with a can of soda, if accidentally) played for laughs.

Jon said...

Just as a man, I totally relate to that guy, whatever color the women are. Its just an exaggeration of the male condition.

Spook said...

why didn't you add to the list that Black men also like watching the Stupid Bowl to see the best of a bunch of modern day sambos and negrotudinal stereo types who parade up and down the golden auction block of chance, whist white America worships their Mandigoness from the safe confides of the outside the big TV screen idiot box, while Black men all over America wish they too could be so luck to sprint in O.J land. ;-)

Gunnar Kaufman said...

Actually, the ad was so stupid I couldn't be bothered to be outraged. Chauncey's description of the ad as "lazy" was spot on. (In the interest of full disclosure, before moving on to publishing, I spent the first ten years of my career in advertising. Since I still socialize with some people in the industry, I'm always interested in the Super Bowl ads).

My question however, is why people aren't more up in arms about the State Farm ad featuring the young black woman haranguing her boyfriend until he uses the State Farm jingle to change her appearance (but interestingly, not her personality - i.e., all black woman are bitches no matter what they look like).

That ad is (in my opinion) clearly the more offensive one.

Citizen Ojo said...

It seems like all ads involving blacks are questionable these days. They either all have music playing (as if everything we do is done to the soundtrack of Hip Hop or R&B), or a sassy black woman is talking way too much or complaining, or a black man is smiling because of beer, woman or food. I think everyones first response is to blame the company but someone came up with this ad. They always seem to skate off into the sunset while we sit around fussing over what just happened.

40 said...

As someone who watches the game for the actual competitive sports the commercials always seem to take a back seat for me. However the Super Bowl is as communal as an event with me as any "real" holiday so I'm always amongst family & friends for "The Big Game".

With that said, I didn't think much of this ad while it was on until the reaction that it garnered from the women in the room. There was whoopin and Def Comedy Jam-esque guffawing, and high handed applause that I never saw before for such an ad. The men in the room shrugged of more concerned for beer & eats, and there was a request for a rewind of that commercial.

I guess this is where I should interject that as a brother with a white girlfriend (who wasn't present) I endure the wrath at each angle I can get when something "Becky" related comes up, and I was buck-50'ed by the eyes that we cut at me over it. So the commercial did its job in a lot of ways. It defintely struck a chord with a certain demographic, and my cousin who would "rather see her son gay then with a white woman" and thinks Obama is "meek due to his white side" had the most fun over it.

So I guess I'm just saying the commercial worked and if Pepsi Max consumption amongst sisters than give a gold star to the Don or Donna Draper that made this one happen.

chaunceydevega said...

@anon--Yeah, for post-racial America, now black folks can hit white folks with soda cans. Just being snarky. Good call though.

@Jon--Only for "men" who choose to live in such a way.

@Spook--Negrotudinul. New word learned today.

@Gunnar--Missed that one. Will have to check for it. That is the male dream/gaze is it not?

@Citizen--We are happy negroes. One and all in the Age of Obama.

@40--That is why I always signal to the power and persistence of stereotypes. Often folks bemoan something that they secretly perform/actualize/or covet. Sad that being a hard ass "strawnggggg" "sista" is a role idealized by too many of our women.

Anonymous said...

@ Citizen Ojo:

As to the seemingly ever-present musical score accompanying the lives of black Americans in adland, even as a white kid thirty-five years ago, it always struck me as weird that there were MacDonald's ads and 'black' MacDonald's ads, with what was then the appropriate urban beat. It would drive me nuts if 'black' commercials were the norm and every time an ad were aimed at me, it had country caterwauling along with it.

Gunnar Kaufman said...

@ anonymous and Citizen Ojo

You may or may not be aware that the advertising industry is virtually all white, hence the ridiculously culturally clueless ads we are subjected to ad infinitum.

The racial makeup of the industry has been a source of serious controversy for at least two decades now. in fact, there have been, at least twice that I can remember, two class action lawsuits aimed at addressing the problem (neither had any effect).

As I said in my previous post, I spent ten years in advertising. And believe me, it was ten loooong years. My wife has been urging me (for some time now) to write a book about my experiences in the industry. In the beginning of my career, I experienced the kind of naked racism that you would think only existed in the early part of the last century.

That treatment got slightly better over time because for one, there was no denying my talent, skill or qualifications. Only a fool would try (although some did).

Secondly, on more than one occasion I had to explain to people (in no uncertain terms) that I could not be treated disrespectfully. That their words and actions had consequences (Yes, that means what you think it does).

Horrifyingly enough, from what I'm told by former colleagues, not much has changed.

These are the people who are producing the advertising that we see (and mostly abhor) everyday

Gunnar Kaufman said...

I just realized that this was redundant. Sorry...

"there have been, at least twice that I can remember, two class action lawsuits"

Oh Crap said...

Manufactured controversies like this Pepsi commercial are one of the millions of things that make me grateful to be queer. The so-called issues it brings up are issues heterosexuals bring on themselves. They make me snicker.

The line between the stereotype of the straawwwwng hard ass sista and the bo'dagger is extremely thin. Straight straawwwwng hard ass sistas, I have noticed, do everything in their power to keep the appearance while convincing everyone in earshot that they like males, exclusively.

The guys..who knows what they want. Too many of them still wallow in wanting the virgin who is also the whore, so until they get over that, they'll always be perpetually confused.

Whining about one's spouse/bf/gf/so is something heterosexuals bond over, so I don't see the controversy.

Anonymous said...

chauncey, i'll forgive you for taking my good name in vain, if you make it up to me by a post addressing the controversy about the halle berry custody dispure and her comments about the "one drop rule" etc. i'd really like to hear what you (and the other regular commenters) have to say on this and how the media is playing it out.

one love, dr. becky