Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Now Fighting for Racial Equality: Cheerios. Yes, Cheerios.

A recent commercial shows a cute little moppet, a round face surrounded by a cloud of fluffy curly hair, bringing a box of Cheerios to her mom.  Mom looks up from her notebook.

"Are Cheerios 'heart-healthy?"

It being a Cheerios commercial, you know Mom is going to say "yes."  She does.  Daughter brightens, picks the box up again and scampers away.

Cut to the living room where Dad is napping.  He slowly opens his eyes and begins to stir from the couch.  A mountain of Cheerios, poured carefully onto his chest, spills to the floor.  Dad looks around, befuddled.

End commercial.

I laughed out loud at this.  Art Linkletter, and later Bill Cosby, brought us such shows as "Kids Say the Darnedest Things," which was completely true and of course kids also do the darnedest things, and every once in a while they'll do something both completely off the wall and actually very logical.  The kid wants her daddy to be healthy: attagirl.  She misses the point and applies the Cheerios topically.  Well, she tried.  Better luck next time, sweetie.  Go get the broom, okay?

Here's the kicker: in the commercial, Mom is white.  Dad is black.  Kiddo is...what?  Cafe au lait?  Tan?  She ain't gray.

Let's try this: she's adorable.  That ought to suffice.

Cheerios is a brand produced by General Mills, a corporation that is close to my heart because I've had family that worked for one of their suppliers, and also because they're headquartered in my home state of Minnesota.  When I was more concerned about the global impact of my spending dollars, General Mills tended to score higher on the metrics that mattered to me than, for instance, Nabisco or General Foods.  So Cheerios is one of my favorite brands.  Also impressive: Cheerios is the best-selling cereal in the country by a long, long margin.  Kellogg's sells more cereal overall, but more people buy Cheerios than any other brand of cereal on the market, period.  No sugar, no marshmallows, not much in the way of gimmicks.  Just good food.

The commercial makes no issue of the interraciality of the family.  Nonetheless the commercial on Youtube has garnered an awful lot of hate, enough so that General Mills has disabled comments.  Thank God you don't have to let people comment on your video if you don't want to.

I had hoped that by now, the US would have moved past this stage.  It's the 21st century now, Martin Landau is supposed to have been careening through space on a wayward Moon for the last 14 years and Roy Scheider gone to Jupiter.  We should have robotic legs that make Lee Majors run at sixty miles per hour.  But what do we have?

People are still hung up over what color other people are.

Here's a thought, you racist dolts: worry about your own color.  You can't help what color you are, nobody has any control over what color they are.  People also don't have a lot of control over who they fall in love with - and if it isn't you, what do you care?  What skin do you have in the game?  What difference can it possibly make what color the skin is?

I like to think that somebody came up with the idea for the ad, auditioned some actors and chose the ones they liked best...and then somebody said, "Hey, wait...'Mom' and 'Dad' aren't the same color."

And off in the upper office somewhere, somebody in charge said, "So?"  And that would be the end of it.

That isn't the political climate in which we exist, however.  I reckon our biracial President, Barack Obama, has something to do with it.  If the US can elect a biracial president, maybe we can handle a biracial cereal consumer.  Marketing being what it is, you know this ad isn't a happy accident.  It's the result of careful consideration, and I love it for what it is, first and foremost: an accurate snapshot of breakfast time in any middle-class American household.  Kids do the darnedest things.

Anyway, I'm really proud of what General Mills has done.  I laughed out loud, very hard, at the visual punchline when Dad's mound of cereal fell to the floor.  His look of confused, about-to-dawn comprehension is perfect, hire that guy for some more commercials.  OH - great idea - remember that Taster's Choice serial romance, the attractive couple whose relationship we watched unfold over several commercials?  Let's make these actors stars: Mom, Dad and Moppet.  Let's show American bigots how wrong they can be.  General Mills produces lots of other brands, not just Cheerios.  We can use these same folks to produce commercials for cake mix, or watching a TV documentary featuring the exploration submersible Alvin. Let's show them how normal a family is, and how weird it is to pass arbitrary judgment on the family on the basis of something as trivial as skin color.

Well done, folks.  Keep it up.  I couldn't be more dismayed at some of the negative reactions, but I couldn't be prouder of the effort.  Eventually no one will care what the actors look like, but until then we just have to keep gently tapping the message home: what you eat is important and kids do funny things.  Everything else is minutiae.

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