Saturday, February 2, 2013

Racist Commercials. It's All The Fault Of The Berenstain Bears.

For several years now, the weeks leading up to the Super Bowl have featured organizations of the aggrieved calling press conferences to discuss racist commercials. This year there are two that I’m aware of, but I’m sure there are more. The offending companies are Coke and Volkswagen as follows.

The Coke commercial features a swarthy young man of middle eastern extraction on a camel in the middle of a desert. It is hot and he peers out on the horizon and sees a giant cold bottle of Coke, oasis-like in the distance. Suddenly a group of Mad-Max types come roaring by on motor cycles, racing towards the Coke. The race is soon joined by a busload of chorus girls equally thirsty and intent on getting there first. Meanwhile, our Arab man is seen tugging desperately on the reins of his camel who refuses to budge. When the contestants reach the bottle they discover that it was just a sign advertising Coke and that in fact the Coke bottle is another 50 miles down the road. End of ad.

I will now quote someone from something called the “American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee”….

Why is it that Arabs are always shown as either oil-rich sheiks, terrorists, or belly dancers? The Coke commercial for the Super Bowl is racist, portraying Arabs as backward and foolish Camel Jockeys, and they have no chance to win in the world.”

Ok. First of all, the Arab shown in this commercial was neither an oil-rich sheik, a terrorist, nor a belly dancer. He appeared to be an ordinary run of the mill Arab man, a Joe Camel, as it were. In addition, not only did he have no chance to “win” the bottle of Coke, nobody else did either, which was the whole point, as far as I could tell, of this moronic ad in the first place. The last thing I thought when watching this commercial was that it was possibly offensive to Arab-Americans. However it was offensive to viewers like me, expecting hilarious and inventive ads during the Super Bowl. Now, it WOULD have been racist, offensive, and much more awesome, if after the Mad-Max guys and the showgirls reached the Coke bottle, our sweaty Arab man reached into his vest and pressed a red button detonating a bomb hidden inside the bottle blowing them all to smithereens!


The second offending commercial features a dreary office building filled with drearily dressed middle-management Minnesotans. They crowd into a dreary elevator and someone bemoans how much they hate Mondays. Then a very white man in the back of the elevator speaks in a rich Jamaican accent, “Don’t worry mon, everyting is gonna be alllright!” Later we see four equally white men riding to lunch in a hot red VW Beatle, all deliriously happy and speaking fluent Jamaican. The tag line of the ad is…Get In. Get Happy.

A New York Times columnist instantly declared the commercial, ”blackface with voices”. A CNN critic was appalled at the suggestion that “all black people are happy”. All of the perpetually aggrieved media groups failed to ask the Jamaican government and it’s tourism officials what they thought of the condescending, racist suggestion that Jamaicans are happy. When some intrepid reporter finally did he discovered that they were thrilled with the commercial, and terribly “happy” about the publicity.

Now that the subject of racist ads has been broached by our media, I would like to get in on the action. Just the other day, I was greatly offended and perhaps permanently scared by another vicious ad by the people at Volkswagen. The scene is a suburb somewhere, peaceful streets, finely trimmed front yard, with a white man still wearing a shirt and tie throwing a baseball with his son. All is well until we see the father trying to teach his son “how” to throw the ball. He winds up and makes the most pathetically unathletic attempt at throwing a ball seen in this country since FDR threw out the first pitch in the 1938 World Series. Picture a girl in the midst of an epileptic seizure trying to throw a ball and you’ll have a pretty good idea of how bad it was. The tag line of the ad encourages the viewer to buy a Volkswagen so…“you can have something worthy of passing down to your son”.

Seldom in my life have I seen such a brutally racist ad. It plays on the vicious stereotype of the white suburban man’s lack of athletic ability as well as his total lack of self-awareness. This is just the latest in a long line of advertisements depicting white men as inept morons, clueless fathers, and shiftless bums who not only lack athleticism but are totally devoid of ambition, any sense of fashion, and the slightest inkling of romance. If an anthropologist from 200 years in the future were to appear on our shores and his only information about our culture was derived from watching television commercials, he would no doubt conclude that white men were the scourge of the planet.

This all started with the most subversively vile books ever written…The Berenstain Bears. I remember being at first slightly annoyed when I started reading them to my unsuspecting children. Every story was the same. Brother and Sister Bear encounter some problem. They first consult Papa Bear, the dumb as a box of rocks father, who invariably gives moronic advice that when followed results in a world of trouble. Enter Mama Bear, the mother/savior of Socratean brilliance who with characteristic patience, foreBEARance, and common sense saves the day by giving the “correct” advice. Of course, Sister Bear is twice the athlete of Brother Bear who shows early signs of being equally as helpless as the old man. The fact that this family of brown bears live in a tree is never explained, neither is the fact of what Mother Bear could possibly have seen in Father Bear back in the day that could have led her to want to marry such a clod. The first of these wretched titles appeared in 1962. America began to see commercials featuring inept manhood shortly thereafter. Coincidence? I think not!