Friday, July 09, 2010

Funny People.

So, I figured that I should answer the questions that I posed to you all in my last post. If you haven't read it yet, take a few minutes to do so now--otherwise the rest of this post isn't going to make any sense.

Let me start by saying that when I initially saw the first video posted by some friends on Facebook, I didn't even watch it. In fact, I probably groaned. I had a suspicion (that turned out to be correct,) that it was going to be yet another "dorky white people 'acting black' for a laugh" premise that we have all seen many, many times before.

This made me ask another question: Why do you think they didn't get a group of black actors to play the family in the swagger wagon video? How would a black man and woman, with black children singing the song, doing the various mannerisms have changed the impact of the commercial?

But then that brings us to the second video. What is the second video of? When I look at it I see the same thing: "Dorky white people 'acting black' for a laugh."

Granted, in the second video they have painted their faces black. And all of us (well, most of us) have been taught that white people painting their faces black is very, very bad.

But if we look at the content of what the guys in the second video are saying, I honestly don't see much of a difference. They tell some stupid (not overtly racist,) jokes, and then dance around like yahoos. Like the couple in the first video, they change the way that they talk when they are acting black vs. acting white.

I have been pondering this for awhile, and I think I am able to articulate what it is about the fact that the videos that are seen as being so different that irks me. We watch the second video and see that it is from 1950, see the guys with paint on their faces and can very easily have the response--BAD VIDEO.

But why? At least part of the reason is that we know in the 1950's racism was alive and well, codified into law and white people could still go to shows like this and laugh out loud and there would be no issue. This makes us mad/sad.

But fast forward to 2010. It's not like inequality due to race has gone away. Look at disparities in criminal sentencing, in educational/economic attainment in infant mortality --I could go on and on. What makes the climate so different now that the swagger waggon family is just funny and entertaining? Hell, just yesterday we were treated to the resolution of yet another "white cop shoots and kills unarmed black man" story. How much longer am I going to have to hear about stories like this?

So to answer my own questions like I said I would: I think these videos are the same. They're either both racish or they're both racist. One is not one and one the other. I am inclined to label them both racish, because they both make me want to take the people who conceived them and say, "Why do you think this is funny? What statement are you trying to make? What impact do you think disseminating this message has on our culture as a whole? Is what you are doing bringing the races together, or keeping them apart?"

Commenters on the last post: You posed some great questions. I shouldn't be surprised, because I think I have some of the most intelligent commenters in the entire blogosphere (: I have even more to say on this topic, maybe I will make a part three. But feel free to tell me about what I just wrote makes you want to say.

And if you read this blog regularly, but don't comment--take this as a potential sign from the universe that today is the day you are supposed to comment. If you have some thoughts, I want to hear them.


  1. The answer to your question re why Swagger Wagon didn't feature a black family is simple -- the commercial is geared toward white people. White people are the intended audience. They are the ones most likely to buy this minivan.

    Save the viewers of a few black-oriented shows on lesser networks, white people are always the target of TV advertisers. Advertisers even believe that hamsters sell more cars than black people would. See, e.g. KIA Soul commercial featuring Black Sheep's "The Choice is Yours."

    I'm not sure I can even think of any national commercial with a black family in it (or Asian or Hispanic, for that matter). Have I just not seen any? Or are there really no national campaigns with full minority families?

    Right now, the only commercial I can think of that prominently features minorities is that damn Metro PCS commercial with ridiculously offensive Indian caricatures.


    Well, that's my rant. It was long and didn't even address most of your post. I got hung up on Question#1. Ha!

  2. John C9:15 PM

    I find myself coming back to the same place, perspective, and point-of-view - which I have learned to be a red flag. I find myself responding to myblackfriend's question "Is what you are doing bringing the races together, or keeping them apart?" with the question: "Is reacting negatively to the advertisement bringing the races together, or keeping them apart?" Instead of writing one of my long-winded reponses, I'll pose another question? What type of advertisement should we be seeing? What would sell crap we don't really need anyway AND bring about racial equality? And to weezermonkey's point, equality to all peoples, let's not just settle for black/white relations.

  3. Interesting question you pose. Your response was very thoughtful and level-headed. However, I am inclined to disagree, as I don't think the two videos are the same.

    First, I think we need to explore the hip hop culture's relationship to black people at large. While the urban black experience and hip hop are undeniably and inextricably linked, I cannot say that black people have exclusive ownership of the movement. There are, and have been many white, Hispanic, asian, etc hip hop artists (whether you think they are good artists is irrelevant).and hip-hop fans. Do you know who does seem to lay exclusive claims to hip hop culture? The cool (and to some extent, youth). For that reason, I believe this commercial is a mock appropriation/commentary on coolness, or the lack thereof.

    Conversely, blackface is intended solely as a mockery of black people at large, and is only at the expense of black people. The commercial makes a mockery of the couple's lack of hipness.

    Additionally, I think some context is necessary regarding this commercial. They don't have a black couple in this particular one because it's a part of a series. In the previous commercials, the couple established that even though they are parents and have to own a station wagon, they're still cool. They are distancing themselves from the stigma of owning that kind of car by rebranding it "the swagger wagon." Ironically, their ploys to make themselves look cool ends up making them look kind of dorky. It's an elaborate marketing ploy for the company to target that early thirties, just-entering-real-adulthood-but-weary-of-the-corny-stigma demographic.

  4. Been thinking about this. This morning the new Old Spice series popped onto my head. Those are some darn funny commercials. But the good looking guy proclaiming to be the gold standard among men is a man of color...but not too much color. Just enough to not be white. And he has a lovely deep voice without much "accent". And his activities are the stuff of harlequin romances. Mr Old Spice is safe bait for white women.

    There. I said it.

    I also wonder if the face of Old Spice would have been made pre-Obama.

    Just sayin

  5. so i tried to envision the same commercial with black people and how i would react seeing it on the screen. i had a thought of "what do they think even suburban black families are walking around rapping - are all black people hip hop stars?"

    that said - i wonder why not have the rap overlay be done by white people. if the idea is to highlight the antithesis of cool. or joke about how these people are trying to be cool etc then how would a white voice change that? (i acknowledge having taken a large assumption here and accept challenges that this is a prejudice/bias on my part though i believe there is some science involved.)

    to answer the 'why are they different'. if we take the assumption that they are both "acting black" - i'm not entirely sure that's true but i haven't found a way to articulate that - but if we use that assumption . . .

    in the video from the 50s being black is translated as being a halfwit; speaking poor english and clowning around - it is clear that the audience is to laugh at these people. in the swagga wagon video the rap itself employs a sophistication of language (using turns of phrase, innuendos etc) and the intent is for the audience to want to be these people. sure, they might laugh first but only because deep down they too know they are seeking to be cool even while living their dorky lives. ultimately though the company is trying to sell something and is trying to get the consumer to see him or herself. i watch it and laugh at myself because i have two kids and live a fairly suburban life and yet if you catch me listening to say digable planets you will see that at that moment the conviction that i have indeed embraced "the return of slick like my gangsta roll . . ."

    for me the depictions are very different. 2010 - that's who i wanna be ; 1950 - thank goodness we aren't like them.

    but that doesn’t dismiss the possibility of insidious racishism (?!) of the swagga wagon. is it as simple as the fact that these white people are absconding black culture? or maybe it is that white people think this IS black culture? i mean, did hiphop / rap grow out of black culture - yes. but the idea that it defines black culture; is the sum total of an entire race . . .

    or maybe, it's the fact that this commercial peddles the idea that white people think black people are so much cooler - they are just dying to be *just* like *them* which belittles the everyday reality. i mean, if white people en masse were just sitting around thinking how cool black people are - well, there wouldn't be any racism would there? so in a very subtle way the swagga wagon says 'welcome to postracial america'. the greatest trick racism ever pulled was to convince the world it didn't exist ;)