The things women have to put up with. Most husbands, nowadays, have stopped beating their wives, but what can be more agonizing to a sensitive soul than a man’s boredom at meals. Yet, lady, there must be a reason. If your cooking and not your conversation is monotonous, that’s easily fixed. [Ed. – Though apparently boring conversation is a life sentence.] Start using soups more often, with lighter, more varied dishes to follow. Heinz makes 18 varieties. You can serve a different one every day for three weeks. Use them in your cooking too, and strike some new flavours that will lift ordinary dishes out of the commonplace.
In this election, no one wants to be “elitist.” You know, the kind of person who went to an Ivy League, speaks perfect English, and avoids processed foods like high-fructose corn syrup.
Ben O. sent us these two ads, made by the Corn Refiners association, in which two historically marginalized groups–women and blacks–get it over on historically privileged groups–men and whites respectively–by exposing their obsessive-health-food-mania. Ben writes:
…the implication is that critics of [high-fructose corn syrup] HFCS are privileged (white and/or male) people who are condescending to inform black and/or female people that HFCS is bad, although they’re not only paternalistic but ignorant. And in both ads, standing up for the supposed virtues of high-fructose corn syrup appears to be an empowering action.
Stephen W. sent us this picture of the “Hispanic” foods aisle at a Walmart in Sioux Falls, South Dakota:
Why is this odd?
The word “Hispanic” was actually invented by the U.S. government to mean Spanish-speaking. The government invented it for the census because they wanted to be able to label and identify all Spanish speakers. “Hispanic,” then, unlike the terms “Latino” or “Chicano,” is not an identity that originated among those to whom it applies. Further, though it is sometimes used as a euphemism for “Mexican” or “Latino,” Spanish is only spoken in Latin America because of the conquest of parts of Latin America by Spain.
Given the history and use of this term, what would “Hispanic” food be?! (According to Walmart, it’s salsa and tacos.)
NEW: Another use of the term “Hispanic.” This time on a bag of peanuts passed out on a Southwest Airlines flight.
From a press release by Southwest Airlines about their celebration of Southwest Airlines:
Southwest Airlines shares its passion for Hispanic Heritage Month with our internal and external Customers by hosting celebrations in our Hispanic focus markets. Local Employees kick off the festivities by partnering with local organizations, and at airports, with gate games, Mariachi music, authentic foods, and distributing commemorative T-shirts and lapel pins emblazoned with our Hispanic Heritage Month message “Celebremos Tu Herencia,” “We Celebrate Your Heritage.” Hispanic Heritage month posters also are on display during this month-long celebration. Finally, be on the lookout for Southwest’s Hispanic Heritage Month specialty packaged peanuts! (emphasis mine)
This afternoon on Marketplace (on NPR) I heard this story about a new McDonald’s commercial, called “Intellectuals,” that pokes fun of Starbucks. Here is the commercial (available here if the video doesn’t show up right in the post):
Here’s an older one for the guys:
Now, I’m all for making fun of pretentious hipsters (or anybody else pretentious, for that matter), and I’m not a fan of Starbucks for a host of reasons. But I think the anti-intellectualism in these commercials is fascinating. Now that McDonald’s offers a lower-cost cappuccino, women are free to wear heels again! They don’t have to pretend to like jazz, speak a foreign language, or care where Paraguay is! The men are liberated, not just from Starbucks’ prices, but also from pretending to be sensitive intellectuals. Both groups can stop acting as though they like reading and go back to watching TV. Men don’t have to watch films anymore. Being intellectual, i.e. reading books, watching “films” (as opposed to “movies”), and not wearing heels, is posing; going to McDonald’s, watching sports, and wearing short skirts (the one woman says “I just want to show my knees, you know?”) are authentic. And in the case of women, presumably being an intellectual forces you to wear stuffy clothes (turtlenecks and long skirts) that probably preclude you from ever having sex (although maybe you can attract the guys posing as intellectuals).
Maybe I’ve been out of the loop, but do intellectual women never wear heels? Are we not allowed to wear skirts above the knee? I love fashion and have lots of heels in my closet and I spent a good part of the summer watching “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” a TV show. Crap–do I have to give my Ph.D. diploma back now?
In the Marketplace story I linked to above, one commentator connects this to Sarah Palin, saying,
It really seems to be in the Sarah Palin moment. Because all that is about anti-intellectualism and shootin’ and huntin’ . . . . And this is, you know, “Oh, we really always hated Starbucks, and thank God for McDonald’s and a real American option”.
I get where she’s going–the idea of authenticity and all–but I assume the ad was being planned well before Palin was named the VP candidate, so that seemed a bit of a sketchy assertion, but the discussion of the anti-intellectualism is pretty accurate, I think.
McDonald’s has also created a website as part of this campaign, Unsnobby Coffee (I can’t tell if it’s a general McDonald’s site; at the bottom it says McDonald’s of Western Washington). It has a mad-libs style “intervention” page where you can insert phrases into the spaces in a pre-written letter to a friend, asking them to give up their “snobby iced espresso.” The words available for you to drag into the spaces include:
After filling it out, you can send it to a friend.
This could be used for discussions of gender (“real” vs. inauthentic masculinity and femininity) as well as attitudes toward “intellectual” pursuits and the way that things like reading books and knowing where Paraguay is are often linked to an idea of upper-class snobbery so that being a “real,” authentic, non-pretentious person requires you to reject reading in favor of TV and films in favor of sports. While this message makes fun of hipsters, it’s also painting a pretty negative portrait of “normal” people–as non-reading, non-thinking, and superficial. You could also use it as an example of the commodification of authenticity.
I took these pictures at a Vons in Los Angeles, CA (Eagle Rock neighborhood):
Someone or someones somewhere made a conscious decision to hang candy bars on the outside of the freezer doors leading to the TV dinners marketed as healthy. I think it nicely illustrates how, in American culture, we are subject to incredible temptation and pressure to consume more calories than we need at the same time that we’re encouraged to look as if we do not submit to that temptation. This is good for the economy in that both the food industry and the diet industry are far larger industries than they would be were we to restrict our caloric intake according to need.
NEW (from Gwen): I took the following two photos in my office building at Nevada State College. We don’t have any food service program and there aren’t any places to eat within walking distance, so the only options faculty and students have are the vending machines. The other day my attention was drawn to this sign posted inside one of them:
Now, on the face of it, this seems all good–individuals should take responsibility for their food choices by choosing healthier options, and the vendor is even providing guidelines. How nice!
But then I stood back and looked at the products for sale in that same vending machine (there were a couple of rows of chips at the top that got cut off in the photo):
None of these products had nutritional information in view, so I couldn’t actually see how many of them fell within the guidelines helpfully posted along the side. I know, from looking at similarly-sized packages at a convenience store later, that all the chips had over 350 calories.
My guess would be that most people would choose the “yogurt apple nut mix” on the next-to-last row as the healthiest item, but I’ve found that mixes like that often have surprisingly high fat and calorie contents, particularly because they often come in multiple-serving packages. But without access to more information, the consumer is left to try to guess what would be healthiest and what might have lots of hidden calories (like those yogurt-covered nuts might).
I thought it was a great example of how concerns about unhealthy eating habits and obesity are often framed as failures of individual responsibility–people just eat too much and make bad decisions about food. The food industry likes this explanation because it takes the focus off of the types of products it makes available or the responsibility food companies might have for producing healthier options…or at least telling us more openly about what we’re eating. But this framing of the issue ignores the fact that it’s often very difficult to make better eating decisions; nutritional information is often lacking (I have on several occasions asked for nutritional information at restaurants, just out of interest, and usually found that employees have difficulty locating it; in one case they eventually found it posted on a chart hidden by a fake plant), and in other cases there simply aren’t better options (or they’re more expensive than the unhealthy ones). Providing platitudes about “making balanced choices” isn’t that helpful in the absence of specific information about and access to foods that are, you know…balanced.
Ben O. forwarded this ad for Fairy Soap (found here). It plays into the idea that African Americans are dirty and either lazy or stupid (since they don’t bother to wash their children), but that enlightened, kindly, clean whites can help them. It would make a good accompaniment to the chapter “Soft-Soaping Empire: Commodity Racism and Imperial Advertising” in Imperial Leather: Race, Gender, and Sexuality in the Colonial Contest, by Anne McClintock.
UPDATE: In a comment, Brendon proposed a reading I didn’t think of:
The second ad is troubling, but my interpretation of it wasn’t that the ad was implying that African Americans are dirty – it’s implying that the young white girl believes the black girl is covered in dirt, which is the only reason why the black girl doesn’t have the white skin she does. It’s about the ‘folly’ of youth – this girl isn’t versed in the discourse of racial difference yet!
Of course, Eric points out that the “cutesy” element is undermined by the fact that the ad was made by adults who, unless we’re both totally wrong, didn’t hold such an “innocent” view of the differences between African Americans and Whites.
Also, as a commenter pointed out, given changes in hairstyles and dress for children over time, it may be those are boys, not girls.
NEW (July ’10)! Monica Y. sent along another example, this one an ad for Vinolia Soap:
I took this photo last week at a deli here in Las Vegas. It’s an example of a cake you can order there:
It’s supposed to be a Louis Vuitton handbag, such as this one (image found here):
The cake is called “Happy Birthday Mommy Diva Cake.”
Might be useful for a discussion of the glorification of conspicuous consumption and the way we often portray women as high-maintenance divas. Or the way advertising and marketing has shifted from focusing on function (i.e., all a purse really needs to do is effectively hold some stuff) to symbolic “lifestyle” messages (you buy a Louis Vuitton bag for what it says about you that you’d have one–that you’re rich and have “good taste”–not because Louis Vuitton bags are superior vessels for carrying your car keys).
I am always fascinated by the way companies are able to so connect their products to qualities we want to have (coolness, class status, etc.) that we’ll wear or use products with their logos or brand names all over them, providing them free advertising, as a way to announce to others that we have those qualities.
Of course, I just stood there and stared at it for a while with no more insightful sociological thought than “WTF?!?”