Monday, November 3, 2008

Obama and Popular Media

I was going to do this whole post about how Hollywood has helped pave the way for an Obama Presidency...that they got you used to seeing a black face in the Oval Office and thereby made the idea seem, well, less unimaginable. James Earl Jones has been the President. Dennis Haysbert did a stint. Morgan Freeman had a term. Hell, even Chris Rock had a Presidency.

There was a lot of gnashing teeth over Geena Davis being put into the White House as a blatant attempt to make a Hillary Presidency a lock. And it's a good thing Harrison Ford beat the shit out of all those terrorists all by himself, because frankly, Glenn Close didn't look like she was going to handle things all that well if the job dropped in her lap.

Anyway, I decided that was a silly post. While I think movies and TV shows can make ideas more palatable, I think people know they're watching a movie. Yeah, maybe it makes them think...until they're trying to remember where they parked. These are ideas that don't penetrate and get into you and re-shape how you look at the world.

So, you know what part of popular media I think really has had an influence? Advertising. Print and Television advertising. Not so very long ago, the only black face you were likely to see in advertising was if the ad was for Aunt Jemimah syrup. Or maybe a delivery man (as long as he wasn't delivering the advertiser's product). You'd see commercials with black people aimed at black people when you watched Soul Train or during some stations Urban Movie Festival during Black History Month.

Over the last 10-20 years, though, black people have started showing up in commercials playing...people. There are black housewives shopping in the store with their kids. There are black men shopping for cars because, duh, black people buy cars. There no longer has to be a reason for the couple babbling about how great Verizon FIOS is, to be black. There's no ad exec saying, "Do you think we'll scare off white customers if they know that black people use the internet and like cable TV?"

If you watch television, then you see black people doing the very same things white people do...every day. And I'm not making a case that Madison Avenue made a conscious decision to bring black people into the mainstream. They were, plain and simple, marketing to a large demographic. Black people buy all of the same stuff as everyone else. Advertisers would be morons if they didn't want a chunk of that market segment.

And advertising works because they repeat the message over and over and over again. Then they move the words around and start repeating them over and over and over again. And in spite of the products they've been selling, they have (possibly unwittingly) sold another idea over and over and over again; specifically that black people like the same stuff, buy the same stuff, do the same stuff as...everyone else. I have absolutely no doubt that that idea has been internalized to a hell of a lot of people just as much as the idea that they should buy a Whopper with Fharvegnugen, some Quicker Picker Upper and Can You Hear Me Now?

Don't get me wrong. If, as I hope, Barack Obama is elected tomorrow, I don't think it will be because America has gone colorblind. We haven't come that far. I believe that it will be in spite of the fact that he is a black man. I personally know older people who agonized over their vote, when I know for a fact that they'd have pulled the lever in a heartbeat for a white Obama. But they overcame their reluctance and voted Obama anyway. I think that's a good thing. And I think advertising should take its little chunk of credit for making it possible.

I think I'm going to be very proud to be an American tomorrow.


Anonymous said...

I know you will be proud, and I can appreciate that. What I would love is a GOOD reason to have Obama for president, other than "Change", "Hope", "Rhetoric".

I don't get it. NOT being "George W. Bush" is NOT really a good reason.

Guess I'm a capitalist, and to this day, nothing Obama has said makes me believe he is the man for the job.

He has become the Messiah to the left, and I really believe most don't know why they are voting for him. They just have some odd belief that he will save us all.


I will leave it at that.

Nathan said...

I considered refuting you point by point, but why bother. The only thing worth noting is that you've completely missed the point of my post.

The POINT, which I think most readers will have gotten, is that we're on the verge of one of those electrifying moments where the U.S. lives up to our ideals. If we're capable of electing a black man to the Presidency, that's a quantum shift toward actually living up to the concept that all men are created equal. It gives us the moral authority that we lay claim to.

I know that I'm the king of the hijack, but kindly respond to what I've actually said, not to some discussion taking place elsewhere.

Unless you're really funny about it.

Anonymous said...


Anne C. said...

Well said, Nathan. I completely agree and have noticed the same trend. (Even before Obama.)
Although you discarded it, I think that some of the black presidents we have had in the movies were in that vein (like Dennis Haysbert in 24) because thier blackness wasn't a relevant part of the story. They just happened to have brown skin.

And seeing that makes me feel hope that is completely unrelated to politics.