Monday, December 14, 2009

Phildelphia cream cheese wants to spread a little inter-racial love

Last night while channel surfing through cable tv (Oh, how I miss my Sunday Mad Men nights) I saw a commercial from Philadelphia cream cheese in which an African American woman--in her mid-20s, hip, young and fashionable, and attractive is making spaghetti with marinara sauce, stirring in a tub of Philadelphia cream cheese.

[Health note: I really can't believe they are advocating that we do this--stir in a whole tub of cream cheese into red sauce? I've never been a fan of stirring in cream cheese to make things thicker--like in mashed potatoes. I know there are some who swear by it, but I don't like it when I can feel my arteries clogging up with all that fat/cholesterol]

We also see a white man (also mid-20s, young, hip, attractive) enter the frame, who is helping her with the meal--setting the table and adding things to the pot. The music playing is one that you typically hear with these kinds of ads, soft-rock-jazzy-peppy. The couple are affectionate with each other and are framed close together, sharing in the fun of cooking this meal, sitting down to eat it, and then afterwards, dancing in each others' arms and sharing a close-up kiss before the commercial ends. The commercial is not long--I mean, it's the typical length of a commercial (15-20 seconds), but it's probably the first time I've seen an inter-racial black-white couple acting ... like a couple. Sometimes you see groups of "friends" who could also be "couples" and they are a mixed-race group, but it's not quite clear if they are romantically linked or even sometimes who is with whom (after all, even though there are 2 women and 2 men, the men could be with one another and the women could be paired as well--although who am I kidding--this is mainstream advertising--they do not want us to assume queer coupling, but I think it's interesting to consider this possibility!).

Anyway, I was struck by this commercial--because I can't recall seeing another young, attractive, affectionate, hip 20-something black-female, white-male inter-racial couple in a commercial for something as mundane as cream cheese. In fact, it made me think about the dearth of inter-racial couples who really SEEM like couples--who act like couples. All those ads for KY jelly or for Visa or for the hundreds of other mundane products and stores seem to show Asian couples/families and Latino couples/families (rare but we're starting to see them), black couples/families (a bit more visible), and white couples/families (yep, they are all over the place and hence "the norm"). If we're heading into the second decade of the 21st century, shouldn't being a mixed-race couple and especially a mixed-race family be a bit more visible and commonplace than in just this one Philadelphia cream cheese ad?

And shouldn't this couple be eating healthier??!!

12 comments:

saraspeaking said...

As a foodie I'm stuck on the "but what on earth could they be doing mixing cream cheese into a tomato-based sauce" and the only thing I can come up with is maybe like a vodka cream sauce, which is tomato-based and calls for heavy cream, but even that only asks for a small amount of cream. I just have no clue.

But you're right, I don't see a whole lot of mixed-race couples in my commercials - a lot of mixed-race groups, with dubious couplehood status - and when I do it's usually an Asian woman with a white male. Sigh. You'd *think* it's almost 2010 but no ...

Jennifer said...

Hi Sara,
I'm with you on the foodie thing. And I think they were going for the vodka sauce, but cream cheese instead of cream? Ugh. However, maybe it's delicious? I remember being at a party and eating this yummy dip, only to be told that it was made with Philadelphia cream cheese--you can do a lot with old Philly! And it's always good on a bagel.

I think what's interesting is that there are mixed-race black male-white female couples in the Sporting world that you do see time to time (and of course there's one of the most famous mixed-race sporting couples making headlines nowadays with Tiger and Elin) but you don't see many black-women and non-black men/white men pairings in the media, so this commercial really grabbed my attention and you are right, it's 2010, shouldn't this now be the norm?

mary said...

People today are marrying the same sex, having inter-racial relationships and some are radical religious nuts, but do we have to have these things stuffed in our faces by advertisers? What are they trying to prove? That even the more unusual of us all eat they products. Are they going for their money, trying to raise eyebrows or do they sincerely have that inter-racial couples welfare in mind. I tend to think not. It's more a let's throw this out and see if we can outrage anyone. I believe people ought to live anyway they want as long as they are not infringing or hurting others in the process.

Dawn said...

I just saw this commercial tonight and was taken aback, pleasantly and then, of course, there is the unpleasant. The couple looks like the couple I am part of, though we are a little less than twice their age. I was pleasantly surprised because, as you point out, it is for such a mundane product and so they are normalized. I posted to FB about the less pleasant and predictable (someone commented back with a link to you): the Black woman is, predictably, of the mixed race sort and I'm just wondering why Harry Reid is in such big trouble.

Kendria said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Jennifer said...

mary and Dawn,

Thanks for stopping by and leaving comments--I'm sorry I've been so lax in responding, but I do like to have dialogue with my commenters.

mary, I do agree that inter-racial couples should be seen as the norm -- I am a bit confused about your comment--do you think that the commercial was meant to be in-your-face or potentially offensive? I don't know if you have seen it, but the context of the message (aside from the eating/cooking/creamcheese) seemed to be sex and hipsterism (ahhh...isn't that often the subtext in many commercials aimed at the 20-something crowd).

Which brings me to Dawn's comment--I had a very similar reaction--on the one hand I thought, it's finally time that commercials depict more inter-racial couples. On the other hand, the kind of inter-racial couple the commercial was promoting did speak to a kind of ... sexy, urban, skinny, hipster kind of crowd in which race becomes a secondary factor OR where race becomes a hipsterish element as in "wow, we're such a cool and hip company that we are featuring a young and attractive inter-racial couple to show you that we don't even think about race."

Am I reading too much into a commercial for cream cheese? Of course, but that's what I get paid to do as a cultural critic--read and over-interpret meaning! Although I would argue that there are not so subtle messages in things as seemingly innoccuous as cream cheese commercials that we need to pay attention to.

Anyway, thank you both for leaving comments!

Sylvia said...

I thought that the commercial was great. But as of the last few weeks I've noticed that I only see it after midnight. During the day the commercial with the white family is the only one that plays in my area (Indiana). I hope that that is just a coincidence.

Jennifer said...

Hi Sylvia,

It would be disturbing if they are only airing this commercial after midnight so as not to influence the young'uns with radical images of inter-racial couples (gasp!)

In my neck of the woods I don't even see the commercial anymore. Oh well, we'll see if this is a singular experiment or if perhaps the media is going to catch up with the times.

Thanks for stopping by!

Velour, Woman of Valor said...

Here's a link to the YouTube video of the Philadelphia Cream Cheese interracial commercial you're talking about.

@Mary, It's just two grownups cooking, kissing and having fun. I don't think anyone should find it "in your face" and offensive just because the two have different skin colors. Anyone who does is the one with the problem. As one-half of a BW/WM couple, I for one, am happy to see more couples that look like us in advertising entertainment media. By the way, all advertising has an agenda...to get people to buy the product so they can make money. I don't know why it would be a bigger problem this time than other times. Just my thoughts.

Delia said...

So I'm working from home this afternoon, the tv is on in the other room, and when I happen to turn around I see linked hands. This is what goes on in my head:

Wait, are those hands the same color? What? An I/R couple making dinner and then *kissing*? What the hell, Kraft Foods, what the hell?!

Why I reacted this way:

1. I have *never* seen any interracial couple portrayed as a romantic couple in US advertising. (Ikea doesn't count.)
2.During daytime tv??
3. OMG, that couple could be a younger, thinner, hipper version of me and my partner!

I hope other ads like this (whatever the combo) become more visible.

Jennifer said...

Delia,
I had a very similar reaction when I saw this ad--and I hope that other ads featuring mixed race couples and mixed race people/groups of friends also becomes more visible in the years (dare I say months and weeks?) to come.

A .C .W. (American's Culture War) said...

A close look at the Word of God proves he is against mingling