How Important are Portrayals of Us in Ads? [Reader Forum]

A round-up of some of this week's best reader-lead conversations.

By Channing Kennedy Feb 13, 2011

The non-football portion of the Super Bowl raised some eyebrows with its representations of blackness and femininity — and no, we’re not talking about the Black Eyed Peas and Fergie. In addition to Groupon’s now-pulled "Tibet" ad, Pepsi got heat for their "Love Hurts" commercial, portraying an angry black woman abusing her lighter-skinned husband and culminating in a white woman getting beaned with a can of Pepsi Max. Product placement!

The spot seems like a classic instance of good intentions with unexamined outcomes — and in another situation, we could be applauding Pepsi for casting non-white actors in racially neutral roles. In this ad, however, we’re faced with some unpleasant old tropes: the angry black woman, the hapless black man, the beautiful desirable blonde. Akiba Solomon rounded up the black internetterati’s thoughts on the intentions and impacts of the ad; you all had plenty to say about it as well, across a spectrum of interpretations and perceived contexts.

Is thirty seconds long enough to tell a story with real characters, or does it deal in stereotypes by necessity? Is a TV ad a disposable thing, not worth the energy it takes to examine it? Or are our culture’s least attended products also its most honest? And, by seeking to control our image in the media, do we invite censorship or take control of how we’re perceived? Are negative portrayals necessary for full cultural inclusion, or is the scale still too tilted? What responsibility does a corporation have to society? I don’t have the answers… but that’s what you’re here for.

Let’s start things off with carmello5:

I understand the context of how this can be offensive, but then again how the fuck do we move on? If the woman was black, it’d be black on black, if she was any other race, it’d be black people are aggressive. It looks like by our commentators that we cant have angry black people at all, even in every day angry moments… Now this isn’t to say that the light skinned dark skinned portrayal in the media isn’t relevant, which it is, but come on. People need to draw the line somewhere. Play this commercial. Have people laugh. Don’t have people afraid to laugh. And then get pissy when black actors/actresses aren’t getting roles in other commercials. Jeeze… I’m sure there are even movies/shows these commentators love which have non-blockbuster movie grade black actors stuck in such narrow roles… lol That’s where I get truly pissed off.

Bill Morris, who kicked off quite a thread:

I find this entire discussion stupid really. I enjoyed this commercial when I saw it during the game, and the last thing I thought about when it was on… RACE! I think the vast majority of people who witnessed the commercial didn’t either.

But now, thanks to people like those on this site, millions of people will think of the "angry black female" stereotype every time they see that ad. The most you all are accomplishing by complaining about the ad is perpetuating the stereotype.

George R. McCasland:

The issue is not race. This commercial was highly offensive to the male victims of domestic violence who find themselves unable to find help as people think it is funny. Seventeen years ago, the Super Bowl also played another controversial commercial, based on report that never existed, yet was reported as fact by the national news, that more domestic violence against women took place on Super Bowl Night than any other night of the year. Men are the victims of domestic violence in at least 39% of the cases, yet shelters are designed to only help women. Consider the uproar this would have generated had had the gender roles been reversed.

Isaiah Toney:

I don’t think that you are wrong that anyone catching their spouse eyeing a flirty attraction might be prone to throw a soda, but the context matters. Ms. Penrice [Writer Ronda Richa Penrice, quoted in Akiba’s post] ]is commenting on the way that the commercial will cultivate people’s views on race. And she is absolutely right. This commercial will build and reinforce stereotypes that people with darker skin are more violent.

Michael Fabrikant:

Had the couple been white, and the ad ended with a flirty black woman getting assaulted by a projectile, you would have railed against Bosley for adding a black woman as promiscuous, incapable of being married, a home wrecker, etc. And the white couple would have gotten away with violence! The quote from Ms. Penrice couldn’t have been more off-target. The truth is, all women, whether they are ivory, yellow, brown, green, pink, or mahagony, can display anger such as the lead woman did in this ad. The reason that racial divides exist are because of the over analyzing done by "feminists" and "writers" such as Ms. Solomon. Enjoy the ad with a quick laugh, because that’s all its good for. Then go about your life.

Responding to Michael is Dwight:

It’s unfortunate how we dismiss the power of media and subject it to a laughing moment and move on. This crap is exported over the world. Some cultures, commercials are the first and only introduction to American life. We must be critical of the images and messages being sent.

as does Johnny Golightly:

Comments that reduce racial analyses to "over-analyzing" are typically done by those with social privilege who are afforded some purported "luxury" of living in a world where color does not matter. Colorblindness is a form of racism. It denies people of color their right to consider their racial and ethnic identity as important. "Had the couple been white" shows precisely how people of color are continuously compared to white notions of…well, everything–reinforcing white supremacy and the myth of white superiority. While I can say I don’t agree with all of the analyses presented, I appreciate people being willing to engage with this country’s long-standing race problem–a problem that has yet to be sufficiently addressed.

Johnny, in turn, is responded to by Taran Rampersad:

Incomplete overanalysis?

You didn’t respond to the meat of Michael’s comment: "The truth is, all women, whether they are ivory, yellow, brown, green, pink, or mahagony, can display anger such as the lead woman did in this ad."


and Nah takes Taran’s challenge:

Yes they can, but context matters. This commercial does not portray a layered character with many facets, it plays to the lowest common denominator of stereotype involving an angry black woman.

On our Facebook page, we heard from Jazzy:

ugh stop whining. I thought it was funny. no one cares if the woman was black or not. you wouldn’t be upset if it was a woman of any other race or ethnicity. shut up.


You’re not going to see a black person hit a white person on any sitcom – I don’t remember seeing it. You aren’t going to see a man hit a woman . . . You aren’t too likely to see a white woman doing anything like what that commercial showed, either. That commercial was insulting on many levels. There are still people who are okay to hit in comedy and people who are not okay to hit in comedy and as long as that is the case, there’s a problem. If you think people are being too serious, fine – but even it out. If abuse or assault is funny then it’s funny against anyone – regardless of age, race or gender. If it’s not okay for some, it’s not okay for anyone. Human rights for me, but not for thee doesn’t work.

and Wanda:

The best way to show your anger is to STOP BUYING THE PRODUCTS! Quit buying products that harm you both physically, spiritually, ethically or racially/culturally.

And, finally, some addenda: this ad wasn’t Pepsi’s only feminist fail of the week. And after all that, nobody remembered the commercials anyway.

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