I am somebody who argues, based on first-hand evidence described here and here, that racist stereotypes continue to play a very important part in the planning and execution of corporate television ads and other forms of sales communications.
And I am not one of those who thinks fascism is remotely likely in the United States. Fascism as an actual social and political movement requires lots of outdoors activity and apoplectic political behavior. As such, it is simply not compatible with market totalitarianism, one core requirement of which is that the vast majority be kept in the softened, amused, apolitical, lightly entranced and addicted audience-state that is most conducive to successful commercial media/advertising/sales/”politics” operations. I also believe that, despite the existence of a quarter or so of the population who do seem to hold proto-fascist views, ordinary Americans are way to the left of not just Nazism but their own “leaders,” and will not stand by and permit fascists to take over, even if the overclass were to permit it.
Nevertheless, this, which I happened to catch last night while cooking dinner and momentarily tuned (to avoid the political ads on my usual channel at dinner hour) to a bad-ass crime show that was running a soft-pedaling “expose” of a Nazi prison gang, just might be the single most racist thing I’ve seen on American television in my lifetime:
Crass and childish and uninformed and just damned dangerous. Truly, a fascist, Hitlerian ad.
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.
While stuck watching the profoundly moronic and outdated Belmont Stakes in my apartment’s exercise room last weekend, I encountered E-Trade’s notorious “black baby” commercials. I almost fell off my treadmill.
Watch this appalling shit here and here.
As the white baby controls all aspects of the situation and voices all the reasoned thoughts, the black baby sings, trips out, echoes white logic, and makes a sexual come-on. Can you imagine these ads getting made and aired if the skin colors were reversed? No chance in hell.
I guarantee you that all of this was carefully planned by E-Trade’s marketing team. As I documented in my book, The Consumer Trap, big business marketers are extremely sensitive to racial stereotypes, and are driven by the logic of their enterprise to exploit and perpetuate, not challenge, them.
The other important aspect of this blatant neo-racism is that it is targeted at elite audiences, who absolutely eat it up, not least because they think it’s a great thing for they themselves to be willing even to look at and possibly, maybe interact with a black person (both acts they have only recently begun to contemplate).
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?
I sometimes teach a college course on the topic of race. One of the assignments I give students is to go home and discuss our readings with family and friends. Very often, the white students report back that, in response, they encounter immediate and heated tirades from white friends or relatives. “I am so sick and tired of hearing about race!,” comes the retort. “Why don’t people stop trying to force this junk on us?”
When this happens, I suggest to my students that they note how very remarkable this extremely common reaction really is. Until the last few decades, very few white people had ever entertained the notion that race was anything but what white supremacists have always claimed it is — a simple observation of deep, biological, intellectual differences between rankable human appearance groups. Now, in the first or second post-Jim Crow generation of whites, many white folks are convinced they are “sick of hearing about race!”