There’s a new Cheerios commercial going around. Usually, General Mills hosts good commercials for their products and, from a technical side, there is nothing wrong with this new one aimed at Cheerios customers. It is a cute commercial of a girl asking her mother what the benefits of eating Cheerios are, and the mother (perhaps tongue-in-cheek) answering to the camera what all of the glorious benefits to the cereal are, particularly for the heart. Then the father, in another room, wakes up to find Cheerios on top of his heart, with the implication that the daughter poured the Cheerios over him while he was sleeping. The end. In most cases, a commercial like this would not receive comments beyond “What a cute kid” or “I wish I lived in that clean of a house” (it is a clean house, even with the spilled Cheerios). There is one particular reason why this particular commercial has alerted the attention of the general public: the Mom is white, the Dad is black, and the daughter is biracial.
We could say that some responded unfavorably to this. So unfavorably, in fact, that the comments section on YouTube had to be shut down. As you can imagine, the majority of comments that are hateful target the interracial marriage. It is amazing, in a bad way, that so much hate has come through such a short commercial.
If anything, I was expecting the anger to be directed at the stereotypes. For one, the Mother takes a far more dominant role in the commercial than the Father does. The Mother is alone working in the kitchen with a cup of (presumably) coffee at her side. She is the one who is asked to confirm something that the Father told the girl. When asked about the nutritional information of a cereal, she is so on top of it that she delivers a perfect answer to her child’s question. Afterwards, she gives a knowing smile, as if she knows what the child is going to do. Meanwhile, the Father (who never once makes physical or verbal contact with the Mother, by the way) sleeps on the couch. He is in such a deep sleep that he does not even notice it as the child pours cereal over his chest. If there was one thing that I thought would attract criticism, it would be that the Mother plays the homemaker while the Father plays the Lazy Father role (at least from what we can see. Whether or not his nap is fully justified remains to be seen. And while it should be stated that most naps are justified by themselves, imagine if the roles had been reversed. When was the last time you saw the Mother in a commercial napping while the Father takes care of the household?) I also would have thought that it would have been criticized that the Father receives only seven seconds of screen time, while the mother receives nearly three times as much (about eighteen seconds). If one is looking hard enough, they could interpret the commercial as the Father being neglectful and the Mother being a house slave.
So why is it that there is such a debate about these characters? Remember that is all they are. We are fighting about fictional people, about lives that do not exist on this earth. At the end of the day, the lights go off, the set comes down, the actors get paid, and then the cast and crew go home. Obviously, though, it is not so much about these characters as what these characters represent that causes the storm. So then that’s the next question: what do these characters represent? And why is it that the image of these characters is so much powerful than the final image of the commercial, which is—ironically—the word “Love”? Interracial couples exist in this world. It is beyond our control and, from this writer’s opinion, is not something horrible we should try to control. Let it be. Can we not love these families, too?
*Photo courtesy of weheartit.com.