I crawled away from our apartment in the Hunter's Point Projects of San Francisco when I was around two. My frantic parents were about to search for me when the neighbors a couple of doors down asked if they were missing a little boy. Mom found me clad in nothing but my diaper firmly planted in front of my first television. Dad quickly scraped up the dough for our own set. I heard "Hi-yo, Silver! before I could understand it. That stuck, but the commercials didn't. I became a Frosted Flakes fiend because Kellogg's sponsored some of my favorite shows: The Adventures Of Superman, Dennis The Menace, and Huckleberry Hound. The cereal companies brought us Truth, Justice, The American Way, Belly Laughs, Go Power!, and killer sugar habits; they were also major players in the infant medium of television.
I don't know if General Mills had any idea what they were unleashing on the public in 1959, but millions of Americans of a certain age have them to thank for a set of shibboleths that helped shape a generation to this day:
Watch me pull a rabbit out of my hat.. And now for something we hope you'll really like... Guess I don't know my own strength... There's something you don't see every day, Chauncey... Eeny-Meeny-Chili-Beeny... The WABAC Machine... Fearless Leader... Gidney And Cloyd... Fractured Fairytales... Moose And Squirrel...Rocky And His Friends/The Adventures Of Rocky And Bullwinkle indoctrinated a generation with fifty-four half-hours of the hokiest, hippest, funniest cartoons on television. Our parents would laugh in all the wrong places, but we loved the flying rodent, the silly noises, the ridiculous voices, the hopelessly corny puns and sorta-jokes. The irreverence and the willingness to lampoon the big issues and institutions of the day, we got as we grew older.
We came for the cereal and stayed for the earliest, strongest memes a lot of us have.
Now, here we are fifty years on. The sweet little Cheerios commercial that is causing so much controversy today is a work of genius for its simplicity and its execution just like that crazy cartoon show of fifty years ago. That the commercial is universal to people who know the Cheerios brand and that it was written by a black woman in an industry more noted for oppressing than employing them are just icing on the cake. And the timing of it couldn't be better.
I've seen families of differing racial/ethnic backgrounds in commercials in Hawaii and the San Francisco Bay Area because most of the general populations and the local advertisers don't consider them remarkable. However, in other parts of the country, you can't get more in-your-face than the black man-white woman-mixed child family. Yes, all mixed couples get some attention, but the situation in that ad is the thorn most deeply lodged in white supremacist paws. The distaste for it is the most visceral, vehement reaction imaginable--it's definitely on-par with the animus against gun control. Any other composition in the commercial would have blunted the impact (make the husband white and--even though they'll call him a degenerate--he's the head-of-household and still has the world by the ass, no matter the spouse's race).
First, this controversy proves to me that there are still corporations in this country that remember their duty to the nation that nurtures them. The fact that Just Checking has aired and will continue to air shatters a taboo that General Mills had a hand in perpetuating until now: black-male/white-female casting in American media. AdWeek says that the ad "sticks out like a sore thumb"... Take my word for it: its racial composition is the sole reason; the script "plays" in any language with any ethnic combination in any other country but this one. Bravo to General Mills for its courage, good business sense, and its promotion of racial harmony and understanding. Thank you, General Mills, for helping American Society acknowledge the reality that a lot of The Silenced Majority already knows--America is the right idea, despite the worst efforts of the wrong people. DO MORE!
Second, We Shall Overcome is not an idle ditty. The principles and passions that drove us in the Fifties and Sixties--peace, freedom, equality, and social and economic justice--have proceeded apace despite all the efforts of the far-right to suppress them. George Wallace's clarion call to white America during his his inaugural speech for the Alabama governorship fifty years ago [YouTube]:
In the name of the greatest people that have ever trod this earth, I draw the line in the dust and toss the gauntlet before the feet of tyranny, and I say segregation now, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever. -- George C. Wallace (Asa Carter, writer), January 14th, 1963)That speech galvanized elements in the Republican Party to devise the Southern Strategy--the program of racial divisiveness that roils our country to this writing. We see the result in our politics and in the mean-spirited discourse underlying the comments about Just Checking.
The Republican Party is in political free-fall, but is ideologically opposed to and politically incapable of pulling the ripcord. They have now fallen so far from the "reality-based" view that they vowed to tame that they're in danger of extinction. The right-wing is pushing their regressive agenda for this country, and the demographics on every human rights/justice/equality issue from pot to prophylactics to polling places is failing them big-time because the greed-heads have put WAY too many of us in the same boat again... "Segregation now! Segregation tomorrow! Segregation forever!" is no more; "Technology now! Technology tomorrow! Technology forever!" [YouTube -- NSFW] killed it.
"Some of my best friends are..." is becoming so much less a lame, racist's dodge than it is plain-old reality for a growing majority of us--that silenced majority. We support each other through this tribulation in the traditions and in the spirit and in the interests of those who actually built it. We have taken each other in, helped each other out, cared for each other and commiserated over the internet with people in this country and with like-minded others around the world. We know that race is a lie just like the hundred other lies they tell to keep us squabbling. But we have endured and grown despite that and trickle-down economics, climate denial, DADT, DOMA, the war on women, the erosion of our civil liberties, Citizens United..., the pillaging of our treasuries, and the rolling, world-wide cataclysm that is the Bush Presidency to live out a basic truth as best we can: we are all equal...
...I may just crack a box of Cheerios for that.