Those who have studied World War II’s French Resistance know the movement had many faces. Although the Nazi occupiers silenced the voices of teachers, artists, writers, journalists, and politicians, they did not succeed in dousing the efforts of resistant French citizens and their allies. Men, women and young people risked their lives in order to reclaim France and restore the principles of liberté, égalité, et fraternité.
Current circumstances here in the U.S. are a wake-up call for a new resistance, an alarm bell calling us to reject the hate mongering tribalism that threatens to shred our democracy and transform it into something most of us never imagined we would see. In resisting the accusations of “fake news,” writers and journalists are compelled to cite the sanctity of the Constitution’s First Amendment. After enduring the horror of school place shootings, teachers and students are walking out of their classrooms and into the streets to demand and end to our elected officials’ stone-walling of anti-gun legislation. In some cities clergy and local leaders are forming alliances to protect law abiding undocumented immigrant families from the deportation process.
We hear the voices and read the protest signs hoisted in the air by people actively engaged in resisting others’ hateful efforts to use our racial, religious, gender, and socio-economic differences to divide us with their semi-literate and illogical rhetoric. Right-wingers energize their words with the force of a sledge hammer striking a log splitter.
Those of who resist have a finely tuned awareness of the complicit silence of some and the angry tone of others who have access to the media. We know the media is a powerful tool, for good or bad, in print or on our TV and devices’ screens. We’re aware of the media’s ability to influence opinions and attitudes, i.e. Cambridge Analytica.
If you’ve read “Subliminal Suggestion,” (Key, 1974,) or any book that discusses the science of advertising, you haven’t looked at ads the same way you used to regard them.
I pay attention to advertisements. I can’t stop myself from looking for the human figures embedded in photos of ice cubes colliding with beverages (usually alcohol.) I notice which types of products are advertised in Ebony magazine and which brands post their wares in Time. TV ads are especially interesting. Are certain products aimed at white people while others target black consumers? Which companies seek to attract Latino and Asian buyers? How does a brand include or exclude certain demographics?
I don’t remember seeing TV ads that showed people of color until the 1960’s. Print ads featuring p.o.c. began earlier, of course, and appeared in newspapers and magazines with a black readership. I recall seeing adverts for skin bleaching creams and hair straightening products from the time I could read the Philadelphia Tribune. And I remember the ads in which p.o.c. were always portrayed in subservient positions. There was the (train) dining car waiter wearing a smile as he carried a piping hot bowl of Cream of Wheat. There was the perpetually pleased Aunt Jemima, joyful to serve you pancakes. Another smiling person, Sambo, offered tasty hamburgers from a roadside eatery. And I can’t forget the white-haired waiter, Uncle Ben, laden with big bowls of rice for customers in a no doubt segregated restaurant. Can you guess what non-subliminal messages these ads conveyed to Americans of all colors and ages?
During the 1970’s we entered a new phase of advertising. We began to see p.o.c. as consumers instead of servers of products. Bill Cosby pedaled Jello Pudding, hopefully not laced with barbiturates. O.J. Simpson leaped over turn styles on his way from an airport’s arrival gate to a car rental agency, perhaps to secure a Ford Bronco? The semper svelte Diahann Carroll extolled the weight loss virtues of Healthy Choice meals.
These three examples share two features in common. The product spoke persons are celebrities and each of these celebrities is shown in isolation. That is, we don’t see the celebrities as part of any community, be it white, black, Asian, or Latino. It’s fair to say that each of these people appealed to white people as well as to blacks. That meant it was good idea for black and white consumers to buy those products. are not relating to any other people.
Now, dear readers, we seem to have arrived at a new stage, one that I welcome. In diversifying the casts of some of the newer ads, it’s clear there are corporations that appear to be resisting our nation’s flight to the right.
Have you noticed how many ads feature MULTI-RACIAL representation? It’s probable these ads aren’t broadcast in every U.S. market, but they’re certainly shown frequently in my area, the Greater Philadelphia market. At a time when racial disharmony is being promoted so flagrantly, we’re able to see interracial, intergenerational families and friends in scenes depicting everyday, routine life. People of all colors are portrayed living, working, caring for each other, and socializing together. This trend may not signal a grand Kumbaya moment, but it does remind us of our country’s potential to walk the talk of equality and inclusion.
It’s not my intention to promote any product or service, but I’ve made a list of the brands whose companies have had the audacity to display symbols of harmonious diversity. Here they are:
American Association for Cancer Research; AARP; American Idol (ABC); AT&T; Cancer Treatment Centers of America; Daisy Sour Cream; DirectTVNow; GMC; Humira; Liberty Mutual Insurance; Lowe’s; Office Depot/Office Max; Pennsylvania Lottery; Rexulti (Rx); Ross Clothing; Safelite Auto Glass; Samsung; T-Mobile; Time Share Exit Team; Toyota; Virginia Beach Tourism; Xeljanz XR (Pfizer)
These corporations and their advertisements represent another voice of our resistance against those forces who seek to derail us/Americans from our determination to be our better selves.
You can find Renée Bess’ writing here, at Women and Words the fourth Thursday of every month. You can read information about her five novels and the recently published anthology she put together along with Lee Lynch if you access her website: http://www.reneebess.com.