Non-white people are increasingly being featured in advertisements and a principled interest in “diversity” is not the only, or likely even the main motivation.
In this series, I share some ideas about why and how people of color are included in advertising aimed primarily at whites. This post is about the inclusion of people of color in ads to invoke the idea of “color,” “flavor,” or “personality.”
Consider, this ad for Absolute Vodka Peach (“Find Your Flavor”) includes two white and two brown people, plus a set of silhouettes.
Holly F. and Lafin T.J. sent in three Life cereal box covers. Notice that “regular” Life has white people on the cover, while cinnamon and maple and brown sugar flavors have people of color on their covers:
In this pro-diversity ad, spice is literally used to represent diversity (via MultiCultClassics). (Just a bit misguided too: Just a teaspoon or less of color, please.)
This ad for Samba Colore by Swatch also uses a model of color:
“Welcome to the Color Factory.” These two ads for a color photo printer and a color printer cartridge both use models of color alongside white models in order to express how “colorful” their product is.
Bri sent in these four images (three from Gap and one from United Colors of Benneton). Each Gap ad is advertising a different product, with an emphasis on how many colors they come in (bottom right corner). They all, also, feature models of color. Here’s just one of them:
And, of course, the United Colors of Benneton is famous for its use of models of color in its ads, blending quite purposefully the idea of clothing colors and skin colors:
Finally Joshua B. sent in this photo of two french fry holders, one with a black and one with a white woman, reading “never a dull moment, only tasty,” and “Is it wrong to think Arby’s all the time.” The black woman, then, is presented alongside the ideas of excitement and flavor:
There is also this Crystal Light ad campaign that compares water to a “pale” white woman and crystal light to a “pumped” black woman and these ads for an Australian bread company that use Blackness to argue that their bread is not bland.
This kind of advertising can easily be explained away as coincidence, but I think it’s a pattern. Feel free to send in examples and counter examples if you see them.
Next up: Including people of color so as to make the product seem “hip,” “cool,” or “modern.” Don’t miss the first in the series: Including people of color so as to associate the product with the racial stereotype.Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.
These are not fancy glasses:
They’re celery vases and they’re exactly what they sound like: vases for celery. In the late 1800s, people used these vases to ostentatiously present celery to their guests. Celery, you see, was a status food: a rare delicacy that only wealthy families could afford and, therefore, a way to demonstrate your importance to guests.
As celery began to decline in importance — cheaper varieties became available and its role for the elite declined — celery vases were replaced by celery dishes. “Less conspicuous on the dining table,” writes decorative arts consultant Walter Richie, “the celery dish reflected the diminishing importance of celery.”Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.
On any given workday, over 31 million lunches are served to children in school cafeterias. Part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) nutritional assistance efforts, the National School Lunch Program (NSLP) aims to deliver affordable and nutritious meals to the nation’s schoolchildren. After all, food plays a key part in helping them learn, grow, and thrive.
To reach those who need it most, the federal and local governments work together to offer free lunch to children whose parents cannot afford to pay for it. But money is just one way a meal can be compensated for: the ‘free’ school lunch comes at other costs.
First, there are the health costs. At its inception, the NSLP was not designed as a social program. Instead, it was a response to agricultural overproduction and a surplus of farm produce, writes historian Susan Levine. The policymakers’ goal was to get rid of excess foods while supporting domestic production.
As a result, nutrition was of secondary concern to them: one year, eggs would be on the menu daily; another, they would hardly make an appearance. It wasn’t until the war, when politicians grew concerned about the ability of the nation’s men to fight, and until it became apparent hungry children don’t do well in classrooms they were newly required to sit in, that anyone took a serious look at what kids at school were actually eating.
By that time, it was too late. The program was already run like a business, and not even the introduction of nutritional standards helped. Today, these normatives are outdated – children snack rather than eat three square meals, and are less physically active, requiring fewer calories – and almost impossible to follow with the budget restrictions school lunch planners face.
The private industry was quick to offer solutions, but is more interested in profits than schoolchildren’s waistlines. Enriched and fortified chips and candies of otherwise dubious nutritional value appear in school cafeterias and vending machines, often a more popular choice with kids than apples. Frozen and convenience foods are replacing fresh meals cooked on premises. And the labyrinthine regulations of meal calorie contents coupled with cafeteria financial realities often mean adding more sugar to students’ plates is the only thing that can bring down its fat content, for example.
The food itself is not the only factor contributing to children’s undesirable health outcomes. Economist Rachana Bhatt finds the amount of time students have to enjoy lunch also matters. Students tight on time – they must squeeze all getting to the cafeteria, standing in line, eating their food, and cleaning up into their lunch break – might choose to skip the meal, leading them to overeat later, or eat quicker, leading them to consume more due to the delay in feeling full. Even if all school lunches offered healthy options, time would complicate their relationship with health outcomes: Bhatt found students who had less time for lunch were more likely to be overweight.
The lunch may be free when children choose their meal and sit down to eat it, then. But it may come at a substantial cost several years down the line, when a young adult is paying for diabetes medication and visits to the doctor to monitor their blood pressure.
Read Part II of “No Such Thing as a Free School Lunch.”
Teja Pristavec is a graduate student in the sociology department, and an IHHCPAR Excellence Fellow, at Rutgers University. She blogs at A Serving of Sociology, where this post originally appeared. Cross-posted at Pacific Standard.
We are a species that reproduces sexually and has a penchant for power hierarchies. One thing that we’ve eroticized, then, is inequality. In other words, we have sexualized power asymmetry. I’m not necessarily talking about BDSM, though that may very well be part of it; I’m talking about the everyday gentle or not-so-gentle eroticization of power difference. If you’ve ever been turned on by the idea of overpowering or being overpowered, that’s what I’m talking about.
This image, used to illustrate a New York Times article about the sexual partners of vegans, is a striking example of eroticized inequality:
So the image, apparently, was chosen because it was a story about sexual relationships between vegans, or “fruity” types. But in order to make fruit look sexual, they positioned them asymmetrically with the pear not just standing next to the apple, or even taller than the apple, but towering over it. It’s the implication of power difference (and the satin sheets) that make this seem like a sexual image instead of, say, a sleepy one.
This post originally appeared in 2007.Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.
This February, president Obama sat down for dinner with his visiting French colleague, François Hollande. In the company of the first lady, other government officials, and some celebrities, the men enjoyed an appetizer of Illinois caviar, Pennsylvania quail eggs, and 12 US varieties of potatoes. The main dish was a Colorado beef steak with mushrooms, Vermont cheese, and salad, followed by a dessert of Hawaiian chocolate cake, Florida tangerines, and Pennsylvania vanilla ice-cream. Three types of wine accompanied the meal. Not just any types of wine: they were American wines made by French-born winemakers.
Like the food, nothing in this meal was left to chance. But why was the encounter so carefully planned? Would it make a difference if, to celebrate the French-American friendship, the presidents raised a glass of Italian wine instead?
Food provides us with much more than physical sustenance: it is a symbol of relationships among individuals and groups. What was at stake at the February state dinner was not just pleasing the presidents’ palates, but nurturing ties within and between entire nations.
Imagine, first, that the diners were served tortillas or spaghetti as a main course instead of the dry-aged, family-owned-farm-raised rib eye beef steak they had. The former quickly evoke images of Mexico and Italy, while the latter tells a distinctly American story.
Serving dishes associated with particular countries is one way of fostering an imagined community – a nation state – which Benedict Anderson describes as being too great to be maintained by personal relationships, and one that must be continuously symbolized in order to persist. Especially on celebratory occasions, food takes part in producing and communicating national identities.
State dinners aren’t the only such example: another is the festive food used in New Year’s meals. The Vietnamese will eat a tet cake, the Belgians will have smoutebollen, and Slovenians will always have potica. In a melting pot nation, sending a message of a coherent community is even more important. France used banquets in it post-revolutionary times to bring together citizens in defiance of regionally specific gastronomies, writes Julia Csergo. Similarly, during the state dinner, a steak symbolizing quintessential America amidst its diversity was the star of the presidents’ meal.
And imagine, second, what would happen if president Hollande refused any part of the meal. If he skipped the cheese, we might think he is suspicious of the way the U.S. regulates its dairy industry. If he only finished half his potatoes, does that mean American produce does not taste good enough for the French? And if he rejected the dinner invitation to begin with, does this indicate the French dislike the US altogether?
Such presidential gestures would transcend his individual palate. Two political representatives sharing a meal are not only communicating their own food preferences, they are shaping a relationship between two communities. Using commensality as a political instrument is as old as the feasts of ancient Greeks and Romans, writes Richard Ascough: the banquets that took place on special occasions served to maintain connections with gods as much as to foster connections between citizens and forming a political identity. Those who partook in the meal were considered part of a tight group, while those who were not invited, or worse yet, refused the invitation, cast themselves as outsiders. The American and the French presidents enjoying a meal together, then, symbolizes the nations’ peaceful coexistence and firm diplomatic ties.
Offering a bottle of Italian wine instead of a French-American one during the state dinner would not be a disaster, but it would certainly convey a different message, one perhaps of a somewhat colder relationship. But if we are to believe Mary Douglas’ classical 1972 text, Deciphering a Meal, just the fact the presidents were sharing more than drinks is promising: we are almost never reluctant to share a drink with strangers, while sharing meals tends to be reserved for those to whom we wish to signal intimacy. The state dinner, conveniently held right before Valentine’s day, was a political sign of affection.
Teja Pristavec is a graduate student in the sociology department, and an IHHCPAR Excellence Fellow, at Rutgers University. She blogs at A Serving of Sociology.
This is a Pink Lady: 15 oz. gin, 4 dashes of grenadine, and an egg white.
According to Shanna Farrell, the Pink Lady was popularized in the ’50s. Women were believed to have “dainty palates,” and so cocktails for women were designed to disguise any taste of alcohol. In the ’70s, the Pink Lady was surpassed by the Lemon Drop and, in the ’80s, the Cosmopolitan.
Farrell asks “What does it mean to drink like a woman” today? Anecdotally, she finds that bartenders consistently expect her to order something “juicy or sweet” — “It’s pink; you’ll like it” — and respond with a favorable nod when she orders something “spirit forward.”
This is typical for America today: women are expected to perform femininity, but when they perform masculinity, they are admired and rewarded. This is because we still put greater value on men and the things we associate with them.
This phenomenon of valuing masculinity over femininity — what we call “androcentrism” — may be changing how women drink, since everyone likes that nod of approval. Farrell reports that “women account for the fastest-growing segment of worldwide whiskey consumers.” Well hello, Hilary.
I wonder how men will respond to women’s incursion into the whiskey market. Traditionally we’ve seen male flight. As an activity, occupation, or product is increasingly associated with women, men leave. In a society where women keep infiltrating more and more of men’s domains, this is a bad long-term strategy for maintaining dominance (see, for example, the feminization of education). As I ask in my forthcoming sociology of gender textbook: “What will happen when women are sipping from all the bottles?”
Thanks to the super-cool bartender Naomi Schimek for the tip!Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.
The word commodification refers to the process by which something that is not bought and sold becomes something that is. As capitalism has progressed, more and more parts of our lives have become commodified. Restaurants are the commodification of preparing and cleaning up meals; day care and nannying is the commodification of child raising; nursing homes is the commodification of caring for elders.
We sometimes post instances of commodification that tickle us. Previously I posted about a company that will now put together and deliver a care package to your child at camp. A parent just goes to the site, chooses the items they want included, and charge their credit card. As I wrote in that post: “The ‘care’ in ‘care package’ has been, well, outsourced.”
I was equally tickled by a photograph, taken by sociologist Tristan Bridges, of pre-dyed Easter eggs:
This is a delicious example of commodification. If you don’t have the time or inclination to dye eggs as part of your Easter celebration, the market will do it for you. No matter that this is one of those things (e.g., a supposedly enjoyable holiday activity that promotes family togetherness) that is supposed to be immune to capitalist imperatives.
While we might raise our eyebrows at this example, newly commodified goods and services often elicit this reaction. We usually get used to the idea and, later, have a hard time imagining life any other way.
For more on commodification, peruse our tag by that name. This post originally appeared in 2012.Lisa Wade is a professor of sociology at Occidental College and the co-author of Gender: Ideas, Interactions, Institutions. You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.