I suppose it should have been a clue that race relations haven't progressed quite as far as we'd like to think they have when the major pre-Super Bowl ad controversy involved a commercial from General Mills in which the venerable cerealist dared to hawk its top-selling product, Cheerios, using a perfectly normal-looking family of mixed race.
The freakout over this development has ranged from mild criticism to jaw-dropping hyperbole. One commenter on the Cheerios Facebook page, for example, posted an infographic showing how social policies such as permitting mixed-race marriage, cross-race adoption, homosexuality, and abortion rights, along with declining white birth rates, amount to "genocide against the white race." Yes, really.
It's a cute ad. I'm not sure I would have noticed that the family--and yes, they're a family first--happened to be of mixed race, except that it was pointed out. But judging from the reaction, this is clearly something we need more of, in order to hammer home the point that mixed-race families eat Cheerios, too.
Some MSNBC commentator whom I'd never heard of and whose name I can't be bothered at the moment to look up noted in a tweet, correctly, that this apparently brave* stand by General Mills would be met with criticism from the wingnut racists--you know, the same crowd that calls President Obama a monkey and his wife a cow. This tweet was met with great umbrage by the professional conservative noiserage machine, who demanded everything short of summary execution of the commentator for daring to suggest that some conservatives have some rather backward views on race.**
* - I would not have thought, in 2014, that it would require any sort of courage to depict a mixed-race family in an ad, but apparently it does.
** - For some reason, MSNBC qualifies as the "liberal" cable news network, even though they hand three hours of their time each morning over to Joe Scarborough, who is a former Republican congressman from Florida, and have routinely fired or otherwise driven of a number of liberal commentators for comments that are quite mild in comparison to things that get said on Fox News Channel every day. I don't watch cable news, so I couldn't tell you much about any of them, to be honest.
I can't imagine what the commentator was thinking. It's not like conservatives have spent more than 40 years pursuing a political strategy that plays into the racist attitudes of Southern whites, or are earnestly seeking, even today, to erect new roadblocks to minority voting. Except that, wait, it is exactly like that.
But this whole topic might have escaped my attention were it not for an even more bigoted freakout. Not content to leave the controversy to General Mills, Coca-Cola stepped in and upped the ante with an ad in which various people sing "America the Beautiful" in a variety of languages, including English, Spanish, and--gasp!--Arabic, against a backdrop that included a racially, ethnically, and sexually diverse cast of characters.
If the Cheerios ad was catnip to the racists, the Coke ad was, well, pure cocaine. It is hard to think of a "diversity" button Coke failed to push in the space of two minutes--up to and including white, straight English speakers. The horrified reaction of the right wing has tickled me in ways I haven't felt since Obama was elected the first time.
"American the Beautiful" isn't really my favorite patriotic song to say the least. This version of it didn't make a lot of sense musically, and on top of that, the ad itself came across as sanguine, jingoistic, and nationalistic in a way that's fairly out of step with a lot of what's going on in this country today.
But as an ad, it was dynamite. This was a rare instance of a company taking what amounts to a political stand that is not quite against the more conservative part of its market but is likely to be seen that way by conservatives. Against the backdrop of pending immigration reform, it's a not-subtle staking out of a position that stands clearly on one side of the argument. That does require some measure of courage, not unlike the moves Starbucks took to advance marriage equality or, to pick a less recent example, when the Brooklyn Dodgers signed Jackie Robinson. (Well, qualitatively, anyway; it's just an ad, after all.) But no matter what happens now, Coke wins, because they have engendered enough controversy to create buzz.
And the wingnuts have risen to the bait. I see where semi-professional dullard Glenn Beck, to pick an example, is complaining that Coke has effectively changed its slogan to "Have a Coke and we'll divide you." By bringing a bunch of diverse people together to sing a song about how great things are here. Seriously. I sometimes wonder if they can hear themselves. But what I don't wonder is whether we should hear a lot less of them and more of what Coke, and General Mills for that matter, have to say. I'm sure of that.