This weekend, my email filled up with people sending me links of the interracial family Cheerios commercial, and articles about the controversy it triggered. I wonder why. (Full disclosure: I do not wonder why. Please see family photo on the right.)
The people who sent me the links wanted to know what I thought.
Here is what I thought:
I get it.
I totally get why a 30-second ad spot featuring a white mom, a black dad, and a biracial little girl would prove offensive to so many people.
I understand those who say it promotes intermarriage. Back in the mid-1990s, when television was briefly, uncharacteristically awash with Jewish men in lead roles (Seinfeld, Mad About You, Anything But Love, Murphy Brown, Love and War, Northern Exposure, Cybil, Chicago Hope, LA Law, The Critic, The Single Guy, Friends, Dream On, et. al.) all of them either in long term relationships or pining away after unattainable shiksa goddesses, I wrote articles for publications like Midstream and Inside (Fun Fact: If you Google those original articles, you’ll find them quoted–without permission–on many Klan, Nazi and Islamic websites. Alright, so maybe it isn’t such a fun fact) lamenting the lack of Jewish couples on TV, and the message that sent about the attractiveness of Jewish women and the value of Jewish families.
As a result, I get that black women–who make up the largest number of unmarried people in the United States, with estimates ranging from 42 to 70 percent due to a variety of factors, including being more educated and affluent than their male counterparts, the incarceration rates of black males, and simple male/female ratio demographics–could look at this commercial, featuring a “good, black man” with his white woman and little girl, and feel slighted.
The real life celebrities from Sidney Poitier and James Earl Jones to Tiger Woods and Taye Diggs are bad enough–but now their breakfast cereal is getting into the act?
General Mills’ response to the brouhaha was the obsequious: At Cheerios, we know there are many kinds of families and we celebrate them all.
Of course, they do. As long as said families buy their cereal. I genuinely believe the only statement General Mills set out to make was one that comes with a bottom line. Same as IKEA with their same-sex couple ads and any other company that “took a brave stand,” then sat back and watched the free publicity come pouring in.
What I don’t believe is General Mills’ follow up wide-eyed, innocent statement: We’re a bit surprised it’s turned into a story.
Sure, they are.
As if Saatchi & Saatchi, the elite advertising agency that created the spot, wasn’t aware that, these days, it’s impossible to produce anything that doesn’t upset someone.
Interestingly enough, S&S is part of the Publicis Groupe. The Publicis Groupe also oversaw two soap operas, As the World Turns and Guiding Light, that I was involved with for about a decade prior to their being cancelled.
Toward the end of their runs, both shows featured a same-sex couple–ATWT a pair of teenage boys, and GL two women in their 40s. Both shows were perennially getting pummeled by critics and organization who claimed they were too much this, not enough that, that these particular depictions didn’t reflect their own experiences, that they went too far, that they didn’t go far enough, and winding up with threatening boycotts for every infraction. Meanwhile, other soaps, ones that had no gay characters whatsoever, were spared the harsh words and the threats.
You really can’t win for losing with these kinds of things.
For every nasty comment about Cheerios showing an interracial family, there are those who point out that McDonald’s, for instance, completely isolates their advertising, only featuring black families in some ads, white in others, Latinos in a third. What sort of pre-Brown vs. the Board of Education times are we living in, the critics want to know? Where is the real America?
Show a family all of one ethnicity, and you’re accused of being racist and segregationist. Show an interracial family, and you’re disrespecting a culture and all but promoting its genocide.
Such an incendiary subject is by no means foreign to the Jewish community. When Jews discourage intermarriage, is it a case of racism or self-preservation? Are they trying to keep others out or merely themselves together?
The answer to that thorny question is hardly to be found in a Cheerios commercial.
But, on the other hand, here is something I did find in this particular Cheerios commercial. Something that, as far as I can tell, no one else has mentioned about the infamous ad in question:
In this Cheerios ad, I saw a white mom hard at work paying the household bills. (Look at how she’s sitting, holding a pen, and at the stack of envelopes by her side). Meanwhile, the black dad–who presumably suffers from high-cholesterol due to the unhealthy food (Fried chicken? Pork rinds? Bacon fat?) he eats; or so we deduce from the little girl’s concern about his heart health, it’s got to be something she’s heard adults talking about–is taking a nice (lazy, shiftless) nap on the couch in the middle of the day.
General Mills is so busy patting itself on the back about its magnanimous embrace of all kinds of families, it sort of forgot to look at the message they’re sending about this one.
And that’s what I think about the Cheerios commercial.