Thursday, 23 June 2011

Too Close a Shave...

Hello Friends.

Two entries in two days, what? I assure you this will never happen again, but I saw this commercial for the 4000th time today and I noticed that, even after 4000 times, something still hits my ear wrong, makes me uncomfortable, and keeps me from shaving. I'm writing this entry not to be funny, clever, or preachy, but to genuinely ask, is this commercial racist? You've probably all seen it, here it is:

Dream: To determine whether or not this commercial is actually racist, if I'm just oversensitive, or, worst of all, if I myself am racist.

Goal: Achievable, with your help. I know I am a shameless self-promoter of this blog, what with the Facebook mention and now the Twittery-tweets, but this time I really, really want people to read this and respond to it. Agree with me? Great. Disagree? GREAT! The best case scenario would be that I'm reading far too much into this stupid ad and that you all could set me straight... but what if I'm not?

Plan: Really break down this 30 second spot to determine what bothers me, and why.

Watch it again, won't you? First, our host picks our African American test subject by calling, “Yo!” outside of what I assume are corporate offices. The subject turns around as all the surrounding white people look at him like, “Did you hear that 'yo'? He must be talking to you!”

Why pick this guy? From what I've seen of the other “ProGlide Challenge” commercials, the other test subjects have been young, fit white guys (nowhere in these or any other shaving commercials have I seen an Asian person, by the way—do they not shave?), so perhaps someone in Marketing said, “We need a black man for the next spot, but find one who's a businessman or something, nothing scary!” Of course I'm joking here, but while the ProGlide people have busted into locker rooms and tennis games in other ads I've seen, they haven't driven up to a pick-up basketball game, for instance, where the subject and spectators have been African American.

Also, this commercial is purportedly to test the effectiveness of a razor, so why pick a guy who's totally clean-shaven? You don't see much of his face before it's covered in shaving cream, but you can see from his reaction to the “Yo!” that he's not bearded or even stubbly, is bald-ass bald, and barely has any eyebrows!

I also notice that our host is particularly energized here. His loud bravado is annoying, but expected in these “step right up!” kind of commercials. But he's not this aggressive with the subject here, for example ( so the loud interchange between him and the African American test subject is weird. “We have a FACE OFF between Disposable and ProGlide.” “Uh-oh!” “UH-HUH!” What's that about? And I couldn't help but notice in viewing 3057 that this exchange is not a two-shot, but includes the African American boom mic operator in the background, smiling like, “It's all good!' during the “Uh-oh!” “UH-HUH!” exchange. I mentioned this to Jon and he said, “Now you're officially making too much of this!” And okay, yes, the boom mic guy in the two-shot is probably a coincidence, but he's effectively obscured in the other ads I watched, so what if it's not?

Lastly, my hackles rose really high at the “He is a BELIEVER!” of the host. Does that not invoke almost instantly the image of the Southern preacher? The boisterous, sweaty, “TESTIFY TO YOUR SI-INS”! Baptist minister? And don't we usually associate that stereotype to black people? “He is a BELIEVER!”, if nothing else, made me question this ad from the first.

So... what? If this commercial is racist, surely it's a drop in the bucket of racial problems in our western society. There are probably thousands of more overt examples out there in tv, movies, and music of not just subtle but blatant racial stereotyping. For instance, when's the last time you saw an interracial relationship depicted anywhere but real life? Honestly, think about that. For that matter, when's the last time you saw an Asian person in a commercial for a product or service that was not, in some way, distinctly Asian? When's the last time you saw a First Nations or Native American person in ANY media anywhere? Ask yourself.

The part that makes me the most uncomfortable, naturally, is examining my own racism. How hypocritical is it, for instance, that yesterday, less than 24 hours ago, I blogged about how Chinese people all aged to look like sun-baked turtles? What the fuck is that if not blatant racial stereotyping? I have removed the section since, aware of my own hypocrisy, but here is the offending passage, in full:

“I work close to Chinatown, and I have to say, the Chinese own oldness. For years, they doggedly pursue youth. I know I'm stereotyping here, but a young Chinese woman is so petite, stylish, and young-looking for so long, that their transformation to old person is shocking and wonderful. There's no mistaking these sun-baked slow-walkers who look like turtles; when you're old in China, you're old!”

So how can I be a soapbox-loving racism watchdog when I can't even consider my own prejudices? Perhaps because it's easier to blow the whistle on an innocuous commercial than it is to look inside oneself. But big change can come from small victories, so if I'm right here, let's flood the inboxes of the Gillette people. If I'm right, let's think more critically and object more vocally. Let's cut as close as we can to issues of skin colour, with more precision than ever before.

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