Thursday, September 28, 2006

Sydney Poitier, Eat Your Heart Out!

There’s a trend in TV/TV commercials that I’ve been noticing for the past few years. This formula typically involves an good-looking, intelligent black man acting as the voice of authority/reason as he explains something to a dorky/stupid white guy. (I realize how taboo this topic might be, but please be smart and realize that I'm not racist. [This disclaimer is only meant for unique visitors to this blog])
Here are some examples of the trend that I’ve thought of in the past few minutes:
1. The Washington Mutual commercials where the young black banker explains the concept of free checking to the old, stupid, greedy white bankers. (In this commercial, there is one black guy and literally 20 old white bankers, all penned-up behind velvet rope like slaves. Hmmmm).
2. McDonalds commercials where a dopey looking white guy tries to give a black guy ‘five’, but the black guy doesn’t even acknowledge him (neither do his compadres), as they all realize, without even speaking to each other, that this dorky white guy just isn’t with-it.
3. The All-State commercials where this smart black man talks to the audience about car insurance, sounding like god himself.
4. A commercial where Tiki Barber (a black NFL running-back) charmingly persuades his unassuming white cable installer to get very excited about the NFL football package his company provides.
5. So many other commercials that take place in offices where the smart black employee explains something to the inept white guy (I swear they’re out there… Why don’t you believe me!?!?).

Hopefully, it doesn’t seem like I’m on some crazy tirade, because I am not. I bring up this idea because I wonder what has suddenly changed to cause this shift in media portrayal. Is it because the public’s perception of blacks has changed, or is it because some marketing gurus realized that hip-hop sells and have blindly lumped all black people into that category. Is it due to a backlash against the way black people have been portrayed in the media over the past many years, or is it because test audiences seem to somehow respond more positively to a smart black guy paired with a stupid white guy than any other combo? Do both blacks and white see blacks as cool and whites as uncool, or is this a label that one group places on the other/both groups?
I really do wonder…


Blogger Robot said...

There must be a little bit of truth to all of the possible reasons you give, Hippy Killer. The rather interesting cultural phenomenon of "white man laughing at himself in front of way hipper black man" has probably played into the stereotypes of blacks in jazz-hip-hop-sports, etc. and is now becoming a larger phenomenon than it already was.

I think it's a rather established fact in politics and business that the "successful black person (especially male)" is one of the most marketable symbols available. In Maryland, a traditional blue state, the Republican senantorial candidate Michael Steele is doing extremely well amongst white rural voters (think "racism") and black urban voters (think Democrat). All of this despite the fact that the Democratic candidate, Ben Cardin, is no slouch, himself just receiving the nomination of his primary opponent, former NAACP chair Kweise Mfume (who I would have voted for if I was in Maryland during the primary, or had my shit together enough to get an absentee balot).

I mention politics only because I think it's a safe bet to say that if its marketable in our rather slow-moving two-party system, it sure as hell will work in the marketing world.

11:16 AM  
Blogger Austin 5-000 said...

I think target audiences--wealthy, rich white people--tend to like the idea that society rewards the intelligent regardless of race. So they (we) like to see someone who has embodies this idea hawking products that will help them do the same. Think "soccer moms".

9:41 PM  
Blogger kushakov said...

As an aside, can anyone tell me how the saying "eat your heart out" was coined? Three huzzahs to the first man with the answer.

11:01 PM  
Blogger Scantron said...

Dennis Haysbert in the All State commercials really is super godlike. He seems to float through the wreckage and carnage all around him, bringing us calm, soothing (but firm) words in the face of danger. To hear him is to obey. Maybe when the face of Big Brother comes, it will be an authoritative black man.

By the way, has anyone seen the seriously strange Rozorem commercials with Abe Lincoln and the groundhog? Can someone explain *that*?

Kushakov, I've gone to the sources and examined my ancient language lexica. Latin didn't yield anything. In Greek, under the verb "dakno," to chomp or bite, we have "kardian dedegmai," lit. "bitten in the heart," figuratively "deeply pained," what have you. Aristophanes uses it. Older than that is "kardiodektos," from the same "dakno" root, "gnawing the heart," used by the tragedian Aeschylus. One can see the small steps one has to take from here (a condition inflicted on a person) to the idea "do it to yourself!" when you've one-upped a person. This is far from a conclusive answer, though.

12:15 AM  
Blogger Josh the Hippie Killer said...

I found this online:

"Heart is also defined as the central, core, or inner most part of an object (or person). To eat the heart out is to remove the core or most important part, a part that will surely be missed.
The phrase is probably a shortened way of saying 'This will eat your heart out'.
Adapted from the 16th century 'eat one's own heart,' meaning to suffer from silent grief or vexation. It also has roots in the Biblical phrase, 'to eat one’s own flesh,' used to describe an indolent person."

But I could have told you that much...

4:33 PM  
Blogger kushakov said...

Hippie Killer, don't Karsh my mellow.

11:11 PM  

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