Sunday, March 16, 2008
Hey look; it's the Chairman of the Board! No, not Frank Sinatra, another American icon, Uncle Ben is now the Chairman of the Board. Uncle Ben has been converted just like his rice. He's gone from the kitchen cook of the 19th and 20th century American imagination to the owner of the company. His bow tie works with his new three piece suit as easily as it adorned his white cook's uniform.
If ever you have difficulty measuring change in race relations or the power of advertising images, just think of Uncle Ben. His friend Aunt Jemima has under gone a similar makeover in recent years s well. What is now merely a head band worn by a healthy looking young adult was once the bandana of the world's most recognizable mammy. Just think, in a few short years there will be an entire generation who will have no idea about the past lives of our famous Aunt and Uncle. Maybe that's a good thing? Maybe it isn't.
In light of some of the recent comments of ageing politicos these days, it's getting harder and harder to recognize the vestiges of racism in our popular culture. Unfortunately if the visual images are changing, many of the mental ones are not. It's always been a complicated discussion to have.
A few years ago, some of the most outrageous images got watered down. Darkie toothpaste, very popular in some Asian countries emerged as Darlie, almost overnight. You can find the upgraded versions of cartoon characters as well if you collect comic books of the 50s 60s and 70s. These upgrades are both necessary and striking. Never underestimate the power of the advertising icon. Who's next, Moses, Jesus, or the Chairman of the Board, himself?