There’s a new TV ad for Cheerios that I find particularly appalling:
We see a dark house, and inside a very American-looking family. Early in the morning, Mom is mixing something in the kitchen, her young son is at the breakfast table. Dad comes in, wearing the typical hooded sweatshirt “working man” garb. Poignant music plays. Dad’s exhausted. He’s working the graveyard shift, and it’s tragic that he has to work so hard, to be away from his young family so much. But it’s just for a “a few more weeks”, he says. Boy looks on as Mom and Dad have serious adult conversation.
Cut to that night; 11pm reads the clock by the boy’s bed. He gets up out of bed in the dark and heads down to the kitchen where he grabs a box of Cheerios and a jug of skim milk from the fridge. Dad comes out, sees the boy, and whispers “Max! What are you doing up; it’s late!”. The boy looks up forlornly: “I just wanted to have breakfast with you”.
Ah yes, the heartache of a boy who doesn’t get to spend any time with his father: this is what we’re using to sell you cereal. It’s the new American Way: hardship. Life is mean, grueling, a constant uphill struggle. Nothing is more American than a man working the graveyard shift of a manual labor job, and barely being able to support his family. After all, more and more Americans are teetering on the brink of poverty. Let’s paint a new American dream: a dark house, no time for family, tough jobs that destroy your body, and just barely making it.
Perhaps the poor saps who are actually living this, in watching this ad, will identify their own suffering and see it as something noble. They’ll see perfectly constructed, half-way beautiful characters such as these and aspire to nothing more. They’ll accept their plight as “the way it is”, as something glamorous. Blue jeans and a hooded sweatshirt and a box of cereal—these are true Americans, and therefore, my own mean hard life that lacks in freedom and joy, that is built on compromise and self-sacrifice, is righteous and patriotic. How could one ask for more? How could one desire or believe themselves deserving of abundance and freedom and joy? This is how life is, and expecting more is the delusion of the entitled, of those unwilling to do the hard work that built this country.
Is this what we’ve come to as a society? As a nation? Glorified poverty? Is this really what our corporations are busy doing? Encouraging the acceptance of less? Of a mean, meager, miserable existence? Whatever happened to dreaming big? Since when is it OK for fathers to work all day under awful conditions and for their sons to never see them? Haven’t we advanced beyond the feudal system? Do we not aspire to be more than serfs?
I’m frightened by this slick advertisement, product of a multi-billion dollar operation, carefully constructed and analyzed, with just the right music and just the right amount of scruff on Dad’s face, with the house that’s neither too nice nor too run-down. The aim is truly insidious: to pacify a populace that is being systematically degraded by feeding them images of their own despair cast in a light of nobility and patriotism.
If corporations can complete such an illusion and firmly plant it in the psyche of the poor, the enslaved will actually cling to their poverty and their misery as a sign of their virtue, their selflessness, and their patriotism. What’s worse, they will defend their plight and the very system by which they are enslaved.
But it’s just an advertisement, right? After all, Cheerios needs to stay ahead in the fight for food-stamp moneys.