Mad World: Compromising Positions

Kelsey Wallace
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Kelsey Wallace is an editor in Portland, Oregon. Follow her on Twitter if you like TV and pictures of dogs.

Mad World fans, take note! In cooperation with PSU’s Women, Gender, & Sexuality Studies Department, we’re hosting a Mad World intergenerational community forum!

Compromising Positions: Race and Sex in Advertising, A Mad World Intergenerational Community Forum

June 1, 2010 / 6:30pm
Portland State University Smith Memorial Ballroom
1825 SW Broadway, Portland

Now you may be saying to yourself, “But Kelsey, this is a weekly discussion blog, not a place for you to talk about events! And besides, lots of us don’t live close enough to attend!” Well, right you are to say those things to yourself. But take heart, because what this particular post is for is to get us talking about the forum topic: race and sex in advertising. (Though we really do want you to come to the forum, too!)

So what can we say about race and sex in advertising? Well to start with, I think we know we’ve got a problem with racism and sexism in ads, but it’s such a huge problem that it practically becomes invisible to many of us (dominant paradigm in full effect, y’all). For example, in trying to think of a particularly racist and sexist advertisement, the first thing that came to mind was this Schick Quattro ad from almost a year ago! I know there have been millions since then, but I had a hard time thinking of them beyond just a vague recollection of feeling pissed off at TV/magazines/the Internet (which happens a lot anyway). Still, this one is a pretty good example (OMG the black woman has a huge bush but the Asian woman has a tiny one but pussy jokes abound for all):

Of course, another trend in racist and sexist advertising is the skin lightening and “whitewashing” of the people of color who appear in ads (especially for cosmetics). Perhaps you remember this Beyoncé ad for L’Oreal?

So yeah, a few examples of what we’re talking about when we say that we’ve got problems with the intersection of sexism and racism in advertising. (BTW, is there a word that combines those two? There should be. Rexism? Sacism? Because they are very often hand in hand like high school crushes.) But the point of this discussion blog (beyond trying to get you psyched for the forum if you are able to attend–there, I said it) is to hear from you. Can you think of any examples of the problematic treatment of sex and race in ads you’ve seen recently? How are different products marketed to different cultures/ethnicities? Why do we so rarely see interracial families or even friendships in advertisements?

And one more time, remember:


Bitch Media, in cooperation with PSU’s Women, Gender, & Sexuality Studies Department, presents

Compromising Positions: Race and Sex in Advertising
A Mad World Intergenerational Community Forum

June 1, 2010 / 6:30pm
Portland State University Smith Memorial Ballroom
1825 SW Broadway, Portland

Media partners: Portland Mercury and KBOO

Free and open to the public! Join us or at least tell us what you’d like us to talk about in the comments section and we’ll report back to you!

OH_Logo.jpg This project was made possible in part by a grant from Oregon Humanities (OH), a statewide nonprofit organization and an independent affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities, which funds OH’s grant program. Any views, findings, and conclusions, or recommendations expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the views of Oregon Humanities or the National Endowment for the Humanities.

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8 Comments Have Been Posted

Advertisers Disregard Bigotry in Favor of Demographics

It's sad but true that there is a lot of bigotry with respect to race and gender across the country. While this bigotry may not be expressed publicly as often, the prejudice against interracial dating and marriage as well as the perpetuation of mindlessly reinforced ideas of what is beautiful still persist. Part of it is that same kind of prejudice that made "Sedition" a crime. A second part of it is that the boardrooms are made up primarily of whie males who are from an economic background that leaves them less in touch with minorities. Unfortunately the third component is money. If it is profitable to utilize prejudice people tend to think of money over principle, and they watch demographic results with their blinders on.

Philadelphia Cream Cheese

Philadelphia Cream Cheese has a commercial I've seen in the last couple of months that features a really attractive interracial couple. It's a young black woman and a white man in their cool high-end loft-type apartment making dinner. They are making a meal together in aforementioned high-end loft and they drop like a pound of cream cheese into their red sauce to make it a pink sauce. So, it also happens to be one of those commercials where the people use waaay too much of the product (much like in toothpaste commercials), but that may be a discussion for a different time.
I admit that I watched it wondering, "so, what's this gonna be about?" I found the commercial, for lack of a better word, weird. I'm not sure what's up with that. Maybe it defied my trained response - my expectation that commercials will either present race in a racist way or will present racial diversity in some way that is self-serving. I'm curious how others reacted.

Cream cheese

Thanks for the tip, Jordan! I haven't seen that commercial but I'll keep my eye out for it. The only commercial I could easily think of that features an interracial couple is one for some sort of laundry detergent (Tide? Cheer?). It's a husband and wife, and the man is white (and American, I believe) and the woman is Japanese-American. They move to Japan and the husband wants to keep his t-shirt collection looking nice so they use said detergent to do it. Not very gender progressive though because, if memory serves, the wife washes all of his clothes. (Also, why wouldn't they use Japanese detergent?)

I totally hear you on the "using too much product" front. Sometimes it's just plain gross.

Kelsey Wallace, Web Editor

Portland Mercury

Why have I never heard of The Mercury? Is it new? Or is it old, but like Willamette Week lite?


Yeah, the Mercury is pretty similar to the Willamette Week, except a little less news-y and a little snarkier. It's an offshoot of the Stranger (a Seattle weekly), if you're familiar with that publication. You can get copies for free around town and they've also got a pretty action-packed website. There's lots of good stuff in there, and former Bitch blogger Sarah Mirk is on staff! Check it out:

Kelsey Wallace, Web Editor

Personal Irritant

The first thing to pop in my mind for this were the EHarmony ads which always seem to be an endless march of reasonably attractive, white, thirty-somethings. I remember one 29-point compatible couple, a white man paired with a black woman, but they were only on screen together for a second. I wondered if it was because it was an interracial couple or worse if it was because the woman was dark skinned.

Please Tell Me Someone Brings Up Those Remy Martin Ads...

They were plastered all over the subway in NYC so there was no avoiding these at all. What is probably the most insulting part is that they try for "diversity" by showing a white woman, an African-American woman, a Latina and an Asian woman, as if to have a full set to choose from or to have them all if you don't want to choose. Two of the women are in a very suggestive situation. But before you think this is a progressive statement, such as representing a homosexual relationship, it's more than obvious that it's for the male's (present in the advertisement) benefit. They seem to be trying to tap into the "player" market, which is itself offensive (the man in the advertisement is African-American.)

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