In the UK, opinion leaders are currently feigning surprise and perplexity at the fact that there, just as in the USA, TV ads show too many white people. “Why? How can this be?,” wonder the writers and industry spokespeople.
If ever there were a question that was easy to answer, this, despite the media reportage suggesting otherwise, is it. There are two extremely basic and overwhelming reasons why white people are over-represented in television advertisements:
1. In societies with substantial racist histories (to say nothing of those with epic, paint-peeling racist histories like the UK and USA), whites still have way more money than non-whites, so the whites simply count more (and more often) as marketing “targets.”
2. Big business marketing is inherently conservative, inherently afraid of offending the most backwards parts of its targeted audiences. Hence, on topics like race and gender, capitalist advertising is always going to be at least a step behind the overall population, to say nothing of reason, enlightenment, and truth/justice.
Recall the self-report of Ed Vorkapich, long-time Pepsi-Cola advertising director, which I cited in the TCT book:
“You’ve got to be careful that the white guys don’t relate too much to the black girl and that the black guy doesn’t relate too much to the white girls.”
Such is the behind-the-scenes stuff of our dominant institutions.
Zerobama, addressing graduation at an historically black college, says:
By any number of different yardsticks, African-Americans are being outperformed by their white classmates, as are Hispanic-Americans. Students in well-off areas are outperforming students in poorer rural or urban communities, no matter what skin color.
In the real world, the second sentence completely explains the facts described in the first. Thanks to white supremacy’s long-standing centrality in the nation’s affairs, whites are disproportionately represented in the higher strata of the class pyramid. Racial outcomes are class outcomes, in things like education, for the all-too obvious reasons, cardinal among which is our system of unequal school funding.
Zerobama, of course, merely tacks on the second sentence, however, in order to divert attention from the racial mystification conveyed by his first statement.
And the answer to the supposedly racial “achievement gap”? Nationalize and equalize school funding? Radical redistribution of economic wealth? Universal public pre-school? Doubling education spending?
Nope. Turns out black people with college degrees have to be such shining examples that all social structure and history and poverty will become irrelevant:
[A]ll of you have a separate responsibility — to be role models for your brothers and sisters, to be mentors in your communities and, when the time comes, to pass that sense of an education’s value down to your children.
On what passes for the political left, analysis of corporate capitalism’s radical commercialization of off-the-job life has been atrocious. Among the disservices performed by allegedly radical thinkers has been their thoughtless habit of adopting the business elite’s “consumer” vocabulary as a legitimate conceptual framework. From the unjustly famous to the realm of everyday flippancy, examples of this disastrous, careless parrot-job abound.
If you wonder how much violence gets done to reality by not only swallowing the notion that “consumer” is a fair-minded label for product-users, but by the accompanying habit of treating the steeply stratified and deeply divided world of actual off-the-job humans as a pool of undifferentiated “consumers,” take a look at this recent report by Barbara Ehrenreich and Dedrick Muhammad.
It includes some excellent quick glimpses of the truth behind the scenes of this shameful mega-enterprise/IQ test. Thinking they’re talking to CNBC and hence other corporate overclassers, some corporate planners briefly tip their hand about their real motives.
For instance, this admission from Tom Murphy, VP of Media and Sponsorships at the Sprint telecom corporation:
This [NASCAR] is a superior marketing asset and we judge it in the ways any marketer would, no differently than when we buy TV advertising and airtime…newspaper or magazine advertisements. This is a giant, giant ad machine.
But, while watching, I also noticed that NASCAR’s major players go out of their way to call car racing “motorsports.”
Since they lost the ability to appeal to racism, rightists have appealed to culture to explain why blatant unfairness isn’t really unfair.
Now, to be sure, the concept of culture they use is hardly different than the old racial saws: When you press a reactionary for his/her definition of “culture,” it turns out to be “the way people are,” i.e., the allegedly native, pre-social qualities of specific groups.
This, though, doesn’t mean that there isn’t a cultural dimension to human affairs. People do absorb sticky habits from extended collective experiences, and those habits can and do turn around and affect what people do next.
Thursday, the Pew Charitable Trust released a study that provides a paint-peeling proof of the real power of accumulated experience. In “Findings from a National Survey & Focus Groups on Economic Mobility,” Pew reported that, despite the times, ordinary people in the United States continue to mis-frame and mis-understand their chances for “economic mobility”:
Nearly eight in ten (79 percent) believe it is still possible for people to get ahead in the current economy. This remains true even among lower-income, less-educated and unemployed Americans. Such consensus is striking given that a near-unanimous 94 percent of Americans describe the current economic condition of the country negatively.
Americans remain optimistic about the future—a 72 percent majority believes their economic circumstances will be better in the next ten years. This optimism crosses party lines and demographic groups. African Americans are the most optimistic (85 percent) compared to whites and Hispanics (71 percent and 77 percent, respectively).
Seventy-four percent of Americans believe they have at least some control over their own economic situation, while only 43 percent think that other people are in control. By a 71 to 21 percent margin, Americans believe that personal attributes, like hard work and drive, are more important to economic mobility than external conditions, like the economy and economic circumstances growing up.
Personal attributes such as poor life choices and too much debt were the top explanations given for downward mobility.
Although previous research by the Economic Mobility Project has found considerable differences in economic mobility by race and gender, respondents ascribed relatively little importance to their impact on mobility (15 percent and 16 percent, respectively). Further, the Economic Mobility Project’s research found that there is a strong relationship between parents’ income and children’s adult income. However, coming from a wealthy family was among the least important factors that respondents cited (28 percent).
By a 71 to 21 percent margin, Americans believe it is more important to give people a fair chance to succeed than it is to reduce inequality in this country. Each demographic subgroup, including those at the lowest end of the economic spectrum, concurs with the majority on this issue.
It’s no surprise, of course, that this familiar ideological package still holds sway. After all, this is the core topic — the dynamics of class inside the domestic “homeland” — on which the commoners simply must remain addled, in this, the flagship nation of market totalitarianism, the most heavily indoctrinated, commercialism-and-TV-penetrated society in human history.
How many times, even in recent months, have you heard the basic facts about class?
Contrast this sense of where boondoggles come from with the excellent recent reportage of New Yorker critic Tad Friend on the workings of the corporate capitalist movie studios — where $50 million, by the way, is less than half of what gets spent there on a single movie, a.k.a. “property,” according to Friend.
As Friend reports:
“Studios now are pimples on the ass of giant conglomerates,” one studio’s president of production says. “So at green-light meetings it’s a bunch of marketing and sales guys giving you educated guesses about what a property might gross.
This, of course, means that:
Marketing considerations shape not only the kind of films studios make but who’s in them—gone are lavish adult dramas with no stars, like the 1982 “Gandhi.”
Even within this situation, which is well-known to industry insiders, if not the general public, there is no doubt what corporate capitalist movies are:
Marketers and filmmakers are often quietly at war. “The most common comment you hear from filmmakers after we’ve done our work is ‘This is not my movie,’ ” Terry Press, a consultant who used to run marketing at Dreamworks SKG, says. “I’d always say, ‘You’re right—this is the movie America wants to see.’ ”
Friend finds the resulting imperatives “unexpected,” but nonetheless does a great job listing them.