Am I the only one wondering what the hell is up with the new Gatorade A.M. commercial?
OK, last night I was watching TV. (Yes, I admit, Grey's Anatomy, although I can not stand the title character, that simpering speech-making, non-acting, helpless-girl Meredith Grey. Cristina, Bailey, and Torres, however, kick ass.)
So I look up to catch a commercial featuring a smiling Black milkman à la 1930, resplendent in his spotless white uniform, happily delivering bottles of new Gatorade A.M. to customers in a manicured subdivision. All to a friendly background tune reminiscent of ice-cream-truck-sounding jingles.
(watch it here. scroll over and click on "Special Delivery)
I quickly unmute the TV, causing the First-Born Daughter to look up, annoyed at the sound of a dreaded commercial.
Me: (scrambling to unmute the TV) Are they kidding? What is this?
FBD: Wow ... what the hell?
Me: Is it just me?
FBD: um ... seriously, what the hell?
The final line of the commercial goes like this:
Gatorade A.M. -- Same science, different time.
And how, Spanky!
The milkman is the very talented (not to mention good-looking...) NBA star Kevin Garnett. I don't much follow basketball, being a football kinda gal, but evidently Kevin is the shit on the court.
Gatorade A.M is a new line created for the perky morning athlete. It comes in morning-friendly flavors, like Strawberry-Orange or Mango, that supposedly won't make you upchuck its sugary sweetness when you're still bleary eyed and half-asleep.
Coffee is a normal morning drink. Orange sugar-water is not.
Anyway, The Milkman's customers are, evidently, other sports stars: 3 female soccer players(one of whom looks to be Mia Hamm), and Colts quarterback Peyton Manning -- all White, all rushing out to their morning workouts.
There is one Black neighbor (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar), out watering his lawn, who nods to The Milkman. Note: Kevin Garnett and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, the only African-Americans in this little production, are the only 2 athletes not portrayed as athletes, but rather as the iconic 1930s milkman and the only guy in the neighborhood doing yardwork. The white athletes are portrayed as the superstars they are.
So: The Milkman comes up the walk with his syrupy wares as Peyton Manning rushes out the door for his morning workout. The Milkman calmly throws him a Gatorade A.M. while saying, "Playbook".
Oops! Peyton's forgotten his playbook! As he rushes back for it, The Milkman gives a satisfied nod, knowing he's helped keep the star quarterback on track.
Now, I'm thinking, Kevin Garnett is an NBA superstar, at least the same level as these happy suburban athletes, right? He is their peer, their equal. Given that, I'm wondering...
- Why is he playing the milkman?
- Why is he serving the other sports stars?
- Why are he and the "Black neighbor" the only athletes not being portrayed as athletes?
- And Why, while we're at it, is the lone Black neighbor the only one doing yardwork, instead of heading for a workout with Gatorade A.M.?
Am I the only one thinking this ad is just a little too close to the ads of yore? Something a little like this, maybe?
Why did this commercial immediately put me in mind of those days when success for Kevin would've likely meant a dapper chauffeur's uniform? (Substitute: snappy bellhop or porter's uniform. Pristine milkman's uniform.)
Success for Kevin in those times would not have come packaged in an NBA uniform.
I did not live in those times. My daughter sure didn't. My mom barely has memories of the milkman leaving glass jugs in the secret little door at the side of my Grandma's house.
So. Why then, did that scene immediately bring a "WTF?" reaction? Why did that scene cause my 19-yr old daughter's jaw to drop?
Because ... those images are part of American culture, and we have absorbed them in a million little ways over the course of our lives. Even now.
The earliest posters and advertising purposely depicted Black folks in ways that made White folks feel superior and safe. From the wide-eyed pickaninny, broadly smiling mammy and harmless old uncle, up to the first "positive" images of the "successful" Black man: smartly attired to happily pump gas, tote luggage, or wait tables for White people.
"Different Time" indeed.
I know lots of people are going to roll their eyes and say this commercial isn't racist. Golly, how some people sure do look for racism around every corner! I'm sure folks will say, hey, good for Kevin, do that commercial, make some bank, baby. And of course, the usual, "If it were a white guy in the truck, you wouldn't be bitching -- that's more racist!" Well, guess what, it wasn't a white guy in the truck. And it wasn't a non-athlete serving a diverse group of athletes. So whatever. I'm just talking about my reaction.I'm sorry, but it's just a little too weird for me.
I don't know Kevin's reasons for doing this commercial, and I guess it's his business. I'd be interested in his thoughts about it. I do plan to write to Gatorade. I am really bothered by seeing this in the media in 2007 like it's nothing.
I have a 14-yr old son who's into sports. It's enough of an issue that our media loves to present athletes as the main role models for African-American kids. (Yes, great role models, but they're not the only ones, ok?) Now Gatorade has gone one step farther: they've presented this fine athlete not as the successful basketball player he is, but as a friggin' milkman, in a position of servitude to his fellow athletes, complete with all the trappings from those Happy Days Gone By.
This is what my son is supposed to see as the role of a successful Black athlete? Are you fucking kidding me?
You suck, Gatorade.
I just wanted to point this out, say something, because it's just not ok. Rant over.