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We're supposed to be living in a post-racial, multicultural, pluralistic world where the color of your skin and the original zip code of your ancestors no longer matters.
You can stop laughing now.
Barack Obama is President of the United States, but many Americans still deny that he is an American. Mario Balotelli scored the two goals that sent Italy into the Euro 2012 final, but at home he faces crowds chanting, "There is no such thing as a black Italian."
Here at home, there's a furor every couple of weeks over public statements and advertisements that are perceived to be racist. The latest flap involves two ads, one for an optical supplies store and one for a skin whitening product.
1. The optical supplies ad shows a woman holding a bouquet of flowers, smiling in the arms of a dark-skinned man while a second, light-skinned man holding a large cauliflower looks surprised. The text says, "Don't be a loser. Have your eyes checked."
1.1. What does it mean?
1.1.1. To the casual observer, it appears that the ad is calling the woman a loser because she chose the dark-skinned man over the light-skinned one. The ad is advising her to get her eyes checked.
1.1.2. According to the people who made the ad, the two suitors are Filipino and the ad is not about color but poor eyesight. They said they had no intention of being racist.
184.108.40.206. Ah, so the ad is about two suitors, one with eyeglasses and one with poor eyesight. The one with eyeglasses brings the woman flowers, while the other one can't see what he's buying and ends up bringing a vegetable. Ergo the loser is the guy with the cauliflower.
220.127.116.11. If the subject is good eyesight, why'd they have to show two guys with different skin tones?
18.104.22.168. Intention is one thing, execution is another. That may be the message they intended to convey, but from the finished product we get a different message. If so the makers of the ad may not be racist, but they are certainly inept.
22.214.171.124. Is anyone actually dumb enough to say, "Yes, our intentions are racist"?
126.96.36.199. Attention: Cauliflower growers association. Your product is being defamed.
2. The second ad is more problematic because the product itself is problematic. It's too late to question the existence of skin whitening products: clearly the consumers want the stuff because they buy it in mass quantities. Even venerable old beauty product brands now offer whitening variants. So we will limit discussion to the ads.
2.1. One ad shows three older, presumably mestizo (of white European descent) men and a young man in golf gear. People in golf gear is code for "upper-class/rich." The older man with his arm on the young man's shoulder announces that this is his future son-in-law. The tag line says, "10% lighter. 100% approved."
What does it mean?
2.1.1. It appears that the young man used the product to get 10% lighter skin, thus gaining the acceptance of his girlfriend's father.
2.1.2. The ad implies that upper class/rich people are light-skinned and prefer to marry other light-skinned people.
188.8.131.52. In fact the Filipino upper class/rich spend so much time playing golf, joining triathlons, going scuba-diving, sailing their yachts, game fishing and riding cross-country on their Ducati bikes that they become quite dark-skinned. This is also true of the upper classes in other countries.
2.1.3. The ad tells us that whiteness is a requirement for admission into the upper class.
184.108.40.206. Although exceptions are always made for the stunningly beautiful, famous, or gifted in sports, the admission requirement is the same as it's always been: Money. Pots of money. Blinding sums of money. Initially they may laugh at your parvenu ways or sneer at how you got your wealth, but if you have enough money they will shut up. At least while you're within hearing distance.
220.127.116.11. Eventually you may join them in laughing and sneering at the next crop of nouveau riche.
2.2. Another ad shows a guy tossing the keys to his non-luxury car to a valet while saying, "Dude, make alaga my car ha!" The tagline says "10% lighter. 100% more sosyal."
What does it mean?
2.2.1. It seems that the guy whose skin is 10% lighter now feels confident enough to toss his keys at service personnel and address them in a manner both chummy and condescending.
2.2.2. Yes, the guy has established social superiority over the valet.
18.104.22.168. Perhaps this ad is aimed at consumers who at some point have been looked down upon by security guards, valets, waiters, etc.
22.214.171.124. This may sound petty and trivial but it is a real issue. Ask anyone who has encountered an officious, power-tripping guard, valet, waiter, etc.
2.2.3. By calling the valet "Dude" the guy signifies that he speaks English - another class signifier in this country.
2.2.4. By speaking Taglish the young man identifies himself with the private/exclusive school set, conveying the impression that he is affluent.
2.3. The ad repeats false notions about social mobility and upper class attitudes, but these are notions that the general Filipino public clings to. This is what they imagine being upper class/rich is like.
2.3.1. In effect the ad is highlighting - haha - a truth that no one dares point out. The truth is: Everyone's a social climber.
2.3.2. People social-climb in their own way. Some people clamor to get into society magazines. Some people get into debt to buy a Birkin. And some people use skin-whitening products.
2.3.3. Maybe this isn't about race. Maybe this is about class. If there's a subject more incendiary than race, it's class.
2.3.4. On the other hand, the ad is pandering to people's prejudices and misconceptions.
2.3.5. Is it the responsibility of the advertising industry to enlighten - haha, pun - and educate the general public? Discuss.