Monday, January 19, 2009

Listen Children

Yesterday, while skimming through Parade magazine I noticed something fascinating. Parade, I would remind you is the insert in most Sunday papers not particularly noted for it's literary prowess. I have developed a new respect for Paradee magazine after reading Three Cups of Tea by Greg Mortensen. After Parade ran an article about his institute in Bozeman, Montana, they got more contributions in one week than in the previous five years. It's still Parade with the tabloid look and content, but I give them credit for running some articles that reach millions of people.
That's why I wanted to read Barack Obama's letter to his kids in the magazine. With a stunning family picture on the cover, the magazine asked Obama to write to his daughters and let that letter go public. A very thoughtful letter it was, but in my view nowhere near the real letter he has probably written them. But no matter, people, many people will read his thoughts. Given that half the country didn't read a book last year, this may be as good as it gets.
Then I flipped through the rest of the magazine. Sliding over the Wal-Mart ad and the Nutirsystem billboard with two images of before and after Marie Osmond, past the ads for large button phones and Paul Harvey's endorsement of a space heater (yes, that Paul Harvey!) Just about to turn the page when a face beckoned. Not from the center of the page or anywhere near it. Not even a complete face. But a familiar face, nonetheless, cut off at the neck and adorning the lower right hand corner of the page...barely.
It was American advertising icon Uncle Ben, of Uncle Ben's "converted" rice. But now it was Uncle Ben that had been converted. He's gone from the servant to the chairman of the board. Like Aunt Jemima, his image has been brought up to snuff, but guess what, he's still in there. I thought it fascinating that he's sinking down there in the corner. Next to him are the words "BEN knows best." I'll leave that to your imagination, but mine is certainly having a good time with it.
Like a Zen Koan, Uncle Ben will not go away. He has survived as the Africanist presence Toni Morrison speaks of and, in part, as the advertising legend he is. And just what has he brought with him into this new century and new zeitgeist currently busy being born? I'm thinking about that one, but I can tell you this for sure: it isn't about perfect rice every time.

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