Sunday, December 12, 2010

Consuming the Melting Pot

Thomas C. Holt a historian at University of Chicago and author of The Problem of Race in the 21st Century identifies “a shift in the terrain of racism”-- “Could it be” he asks, “that the issue now is less the utter ignorance of other cultures, as in times past, but too great a surface familiarity; less stereotypes of the other than the voracious consumption of its metonymic parts?
Case in point, Mr. Holt: Last summer's hottest hipster accessory of choice---the Native American headdress. Now granted, hipsters by definition are compulsive Cultural Appropriators with often deceptively deep pockets. They consume bits and pieces of popular, alternative, sub- and foreign cultures to achieve their allegedly socially conscious "bohemian chic." It's just a simple fact and I'm cool with that. But the hipsters got me thinking about consumption and advertising. What's been most worrying to me is the wholly dehistoricized, apolitical nature of consumption these days-- the ways in which this consumption assumes that dangerous "familiarity" that Holt describes and brings us right into the thick of issues of objectification, commodification and ultimately, what I see as racial, economic and social (in)justice issues. I see it everywhere from the hipster headdress right down to gentrification in places like Brooklyn and Harlem... a dangerous familiarity...  and one that apparently, can be purchased.

So in the beginning(ish) there was Eve....
Back in 1993, TIME Magazine came out with a Special Issue featuring the ironically named “Eve”-- a computer generated image of a woman  who was presented as the “New Face of America.” The caption on the front cover read: Take a good look at this woman. She was created by a computer from a mix of several races. What you see is a remarkable preview of" ..... dundunDUN “The New Face of America: How Immigrants are Shaping the World’s First Multicultural Society.”

Ultimately, Eve is what comes out of the melting pot. Eve is produced by technology, she's also explicitly gendered as female. There’s even an article in the issue that talks about how all the male computer programmers who created her, ended up falling in love with her. Eve becomes this object of desire and we are asked very explicitly on this front cover to look at her, exercise our scopophilia- our love, our desire to look and visually consume.

While this isn’t an advertisement per se, Eve represents WHAT and WHO marketers and advertisers are now both selling and marketing to. I see two things at work when we look at multiraciality and the market. The first is this idea that came out of the 1990s, that multiraciality as multiculturalism whether through it's colorful glossy print ads of black, brown and white people singing, dancing or walking around in their pajamas or through the physically mixed bodies of multiracial individuals or even via entirely constructed computer-generated images that we can attain and quite literally buy into a racial paradise. These images are inextricable tied up in ideas of the “future” of what Americans--- as in American “bodies” will look like in the years and decades to come.

The second is the ways in which race functions as a “technology” by hiding the ways in which we all have a relationship to the law and state power, yet this tenuous and violent relationship (often enacted on racialized and gendered bodies within the state) particularly in self-proclaimed progressive or liberal environments is covered up by ideas of fairness, equality, protection and inclusion and advertisers are feeding into this in a big way. There’s no denying that the state and the market are inextricably linked and that the market plays a huge political role in defining the state’s subjects and citizens. 

The cruel irony is that given proposed racist policies like Arizona's SB 1070, what would happen if Eve went to the southern border today? In today's racial climate, would Eve continue to be celebrated as the "face of America" or would she be sent packing "back to her country"?......

I'm really interested in the construction and use of the mixed body in contemporary advertising and it’s racialized and gendered implications particularly in relation to the state and national identity. In different manifestations advertisements have framed multiraciality and multriacials as commodity, product and at times even fetish-- something to be consumed, acquired and possessed. In the past decade there has also been a transition in the mixed-body from being mere product to now also being a visible and viable consumer and subject (see Kimberly McClain Dacosta's Making Multiracials  in which she discusses the politics of recognition that happen in the market and the ways in which that recognition can quite literally create a racial identity.)
I'll leave you with a few images from the European clothing company United Colors of Bennetton (whose ads were pretty controversial in the 90s), the Telefonica phone company, American Apparel, Levi's jeans, photos from the "Biracial photoshoot" on America's Next Top Model that was critiqued for putting models in "brown face" and a photo from a 2008 Allure spread entitled "Faces of the Future" in which multiracial models were used to mark an imagined "future."  

These Telefonica images are pretty creepy. To give you some context, these are computer generated images that state from left to right "The lowest rate calls from Japan to Scotland, from Turkey to Sweden and from Senegal to Germany." It's also interetsing to compare these creepy male-bodied computer generated images with TIME's  sexy female-bodied "Eve." Curious, curiouser...

This Levi's ad marks a particular moment in U.S. advertising in the 90s in which marketers were selling to a much younger, hipper demographic. This demographic was being told through images like this one that in the famous words of MJ, it doesn't matter if you're black or white, as long as you had these jeans, you were free and you could buy into a racial utopia.


  1. It's really difficult to find articles on this topic. Very good post, thanks :)

  2. تعتبر التنظيف من اهم الاشياء التى لابد من الحفاظ عليها على اعلى مستوى وعلى افضل ما يرام فاذا كنت فى اى مكان فى الرياض او خارج الرياض وتبحث عن افضل الخدمات المميزة وتساعد فى تحقيق افضل النتائج المميزة فانت الان بحاجة الى القيام بالبحث عن افضل شركة تنظيف بيوت متواجده فى الرياض فانت بحاجه الى شركة بسمة الرياض افضل شركة تنظيف بيوت بالرياض الان فالشركة تعتمد على افضل الخدمات المميزة المتواجده التى تساعد فى الحصول على افضل النتائج المميزة التى تجعل بيتك نظيف جميل خالى من الاتربة والاشياء الغير مرغوب فيها من اهم الاشياء التى لابد من لافت الانتباه اليها الاتى
    1- الاعتماد على افضل العماله المدربة المميزة المتواجده فى الاسواق والتى تساعد فى الحصول على افضل النتائج فى التنظيف ونحن فى حاله تدريب مستمر لجميع عملاءنا الكرام
    2- الاهتمام باعمال التنظيف من خلال افضل التكنولوجيا الحديثة المميزة المتواجده فى الاسواق والتى تساعد فى القيام باعمال التنظف الان
    3- اسعارنا لا تقبل المنافسه فى مقابل الخدمات المقدمه من الشركة والحصزل على افضل النتائج المميزة
    4- المنظفات والمساحيق والملمعات المتواجده فىشركة نظافة بيوت بالرياض تساعد فى تحقيق افضل ما يرام فاذا اراد ان تقوم باعمال التنظيف فعليك ان تتصل وتتعاون معنا الان فى القيام بكل ذلك
    اذا كنت فى اى مكان فى الرياض او خارج الرياض وتعانى من اعمال التنظيف الغير مرغوب فيها وعلى الرغم من بذل الجهد والوقت والاموال الا ان النتائج لا تاتى بما هو مرغوب فيها فعليك ان تتصل وتتعاون معنا على الفور فى القيام بكل ذلك الان .

  3. Want To Boost Your ClickBank Commissions And Traffic?

    Bannerizer makes it easy for you to promote ClickBank products using banners, simply visit Bannerizer, and get the banner codes for your chosen ClickBank products or use the Universal ClickBank Banner Rotator to promote all of the ClickBank products.