Monday, February 28, 2011

The Sinister "Arch"

Not walking under the arch is a campus tradition at Wabash College. Every morning as students walk to class, an invisible force keeps all from walking underneath. The ground on either side of arch is matted down to the soil due to this traffic. “Why is this?” a prospective student may ask. The story goes that a senior Wabash student failed comps and hanged himself from the brick supports of the arch. Ever since, the arch has been cursed, and if a careless student walks underneath, he is doomed not to graduate Wabash. But, as a post-structuralist would argue, the symbol of the arch changes with the times and no longer holds the same meaning. It is safe to say that today, the arch tradition remains a tradition only for the sake of tradition. Wabash College is built on tradition, and the arch only adds to its tradition count. I have seen students walk under the arch before, even students that are incredibly smart. I have even seen students who have passed comps walk under the arch. After almost a decade, the curse is dead, but the tradition lives on as a statement of Wabash history and pride. The arch is also used as a commercial tool, reeling in prospective students who come to Wabash looking for a home for the next four years. What better way to persuade a high schooler of the family atmosphere that Wabash fosters with a tradition as visually blatant as students circling around the dreaded arch. I remember watching current students walk around the arch when I was a prospective student, and it gave me a warm, fuzzy feeling inside. Today, the arch is much more than a living curse.

The Arch in Post-Structuralism

There exists at Wabash College an archway that no dares pass under. The myth comes to Wabash students in the form of a story of a past Wabash student hanging himself from the archway after failing his comprehensive exams. It is said that if a student walks through the arch, that said student will fail his comprehensive exams at the end of his four years of study. Students that give no credence to superstition have been seen walking through the archway, these students are given warning, heckled, and looked at as odd. Many students refuse to walk through the arch not because of superstition, but out respect for college traditions.

The archway can be seen as a symbol of a fear that, to some degree, exists in every Wabash student. It stands as a constant reminder that hard work is not enough; that one must truly learn and understand his education here in order to earn that Latin scripted sheet of vellum that is Wabash’s diploma. But one can look at it another way: one can see it as a symbol of the College itself. It’s supposed desire to “devour” students, a manifestation of the college wanting students to fail. The archway can be seen as something dark, like the sad depressing story of the student who committed suicide upon it.

Our 'Ringing In' Ceremony

One of the more important traditions here at Wabash College is the ‘ringing in’ ceremony that every freshman partakes in. This represents the start of a challenging four year, yet fun journey through Wabash. During freshman weekend our president holds a mandatory chapel for the freshmen and their parents. He introduces and explains what it takes and how to become a Wabash man. It represents all the other young men before us who sat in the same seats we did and how their journey led them to become a Wabash man. This signifies a challenge that we need to uphold so we can pass the torch to the freshmen who come after us. The ‘ringing in’ ceremony represents a new beginning and a pledge to our parents that their sons are in good hands. This Wabash tradition is most important, because it represents a ‘passing of the torch,’ to young men who are just beginning their journey through our all male institute we call Wabash College.


A tradition at Wabash College is Homecoming, in which the campus gets together to watch the football team play while fraternities participate in events to celebrate the school. From a structuralism standpoint of what occurs, there would be respect for tradition and an emphasis on these values would be apparent in the analysis. The freshmen of the fraternities make large Wabash banners that are viewed at the game, and students dress up as women to support the all-male concept. All of these aspects would contribute to a tradition of meaning with regard to a structuralism interpretation.

In contrast, a poststructuralist may be inclined to describe the meaning behind the competition between houses as ridiculous, as it appears visually that it’s nothing more than a football game with fraternal hazing blended in. They would view the creation of the banners and other aspects of the Homecoming program as a requirement for freshmen for pledgeship. They wouldn’t find value in fraternities exposing freshmen to these events as a way of appreciating Wabash College. There wouldn’t be much deeper interpretation of the fight song played after a Wabash touchdown, as students and alumni stand and sing the nation’s longest fight song. To students of the school it appears disrespectful of tradition to think that Homecoming is just a game. While it gives the chance for graduates to support their school on a day dedicated to them, it also represents an appreciation of Wabash’s traditions and values. A poststructuralist interpretation, however, would deny that a football game could represent the traditions of a college. They may argue that an event like this occurs every Saturday in the fall at other schools, and merely for the enjoyment of sport.

Campus Guard

One of my favorite traditions from my time here at Wabash is campus guard. Campus guard entails two living units splitting up and guarding various posts across the campus for most of the night in order to stop any possible pranks from the dastardly DePauw Tigers during Monon Bell week. It is usually freshmen who are expected to stand guard during this week and it is one of many rites of passage that freshmen do. When Wabash has the bell this guard also involves making sure that no DePauw students steal the bell from us. A structuralist would say that campus guard symbolizes the unity between everyone at Wabash during Monon Bell week. It symbolizes our great yearning to beat DePauw as we set aside any differences we have in order to make sure that the dannies do not try to get the best of us. A structuralist would realize that campus guard symbolizes Wabash unity, school spirit, the rivalry between Wabash and DePauw, and the masculinity exemplified in some of the Wabash traditions. A post-structuralist would look at campus guard from a different aspect. He would question whether these symbolic meanings are good interpretations and would probably find that they are not. A post-structuralist would question whether there is a real basis for guarding the campus or if it actually shows any kind of unity between Wabash men. In this examination he would also look at the Monon Bell game and its history to see if campus guard is necessary and for what reason it is or is not.

A Post-Structuralist Analysis of the Arch

The Arch is a perfect example for a post-structuralist to use as an example on the Wabash campus. If you walk under the Arch, supposedly you will fail the senior comprehensive exams. Traditionally, the seniors walk together under the arch as part of their graduation ceremony. If I were to analyze this superstition through structuralism, I would say that the Arch is a signifier. The signified is the concept of graduation, or moving onward. Therefore, the sign itself is success. You cannot walk under the Arch before graduation because you are, in a sense, assuming success prematurely. You are not ready to walk under the Arch, and therefore, bad things will happen if you do. The evolution of this myth will raise many post-structuralist eyebrows, though. It may interest my fellow students to know that this legend is not actually very old at all. At one point in the very recent past, the Arch had a different meaning for the students. Nothing. I had a discussion with an alumnus, who graduated in 1987, who proclaimed that this was one of the silliest superstitions he had ever heard (on a side note, not stepping on the seal in the library was not silly to him at all). Walking under the Arch means different things for different students. Some say that you will fail comps. Some say that you will die. All of these people justify this superstition by referencing a (yet to be proven) story about a guy who failed his comps and subsequently hung himself from the Arch, cursing it forever. This sign has changed its meaning over time. It has been a silly, test-taking ritual. And it has been a fear of some odd ghost story.

Gentleman's Rule

"The student is expected to conduct himself at all times, both on and off campus, as a gentleman and responsible citizen."

The Gentleman's Rule is one of the hallmarks of Wabash College as the campus's sole rule--and its easy to see how the rule opens itself up for deconstruction. The rule shows an implicit categorization between the student and through the presence of an indefinite "authority" that will certainly punish the student for any transgressions. This authority's power can be subverted though, because the students' ability to define the "conduct" appropriate of a gentleman can combat the stricter interpretation professors or deans might adopt. The language itself is also a subtle display of power--the rule shows that the campus faculty wield a power over the students by insinuating that responsibility and gentlemanly behavior is preferable--thus inculcating a value system that the students will replicate in their own behavior and transfer on to new students.

And besides all that already mentioned, the deconstructionist would point out what empty words "responsibility" and "gentleman" are--the words don't even get the chance to gain meaning through differentiation with other less desireable behaviors. A "gentleman" could be a scholarly, bright individual, but the world could also mean a licentious, snooty, stuck-up individual who condescends to his peers. The rule implies the first meaning, but the ability of the word to portray poloar opposites exposes all the varying interpretations the word could take in the varying middle grounds.

Email Shmemail

Wabash students recently noted the first official email war of the semester. This discourse through a chain of all-campus emails is the text I wish to explore. Students often consider email wars to signify the maturity of the campus because few other Colleges give their students the authority to send an all-campus email at any time. Mere participation can signify how unique Wabash is in its desire for its students to participate in productive civic discourse.
But a post-structuralist must remember that Wabash College is not a single-minded entity that wishes anything, and the email wars it appears to sponsor do not exist suspended in objectivity. Any meaning behind email wars is created through each subjective viewpoint of its participants and observers. Some students face matters of dire importance to them while others subvert them with the idea that email wars are a playground for comedic wit and criticism. Yet these all are subverted by an outsider’s possible opinion that Wabash’s email wars (and its close-knit atmosphere in general) signify students’ desires for attention. Attempting to be “big fish in a little pond,” perhaps students who subvert the importance of the original email’s topic are turned into signifiers of ostentation. In this way there is no single sign because the signified is always subjectively interpreted differently from different perspectives.

I'm trying something different.

I would like to take this opportunity to make a bit of a stretch for this semiotic analysis. Most of the guys here will choose some flag or big W as the sign they will analyze. I, however, am going to choose a man. That man is Jake Gilbert; a better symbol of Wabash than any logo or picture you will find on this campus. Jake Gilbert, the tangible man, works as a signifier for all that is Wabash. As a man of fierce passion and integrity, Jake Gilbert is the man that represents all Wabash Men, men that are advertised as passionate, intelligent, and the ultimate type of gentlemen. We, the signified Wabash Men, are dully represented by a man that demonstrates what we strive for as we attempt to develop our own sense of masculinity and self-reliance. By combining the Wabash Man that Jake Gilbert is with the Wabash Men that we are becoming we are left with a sign of all that is Wabash in him. True, this is a stretch, likely unorthodox. However, it is in the spirit of Wabash to push the boundaries anyway.

Wabash Traditions: The Baccalaureate Sermon

Concerning Wabash Traditions, one of the less well-known traditions which I find particularly interesting is the Baccalaureate Sermon the morning of commencement. Similar to most centers of higher education in America, Wabash College was founded by a religious interest group, the Wabash Presbyterian Church (the same church which still stands on the corner of Wabash and 231, fyi). The vast majority of the Ivy League schools were also founded by religious interest groups (Harvard, Yale, etc) and over the course of time, like Wabash, gradually became more and more secularly oriented until practically all religious ties had been severed. Indeed, in recent times centers of higher education, such as the Ivy Leagues, have often been accused of being extremely "Leftist" in their political tendencies. Therefore, of all the Wabash traditions which make our school unique, it is the Baccalaureate Sermon which captures my interest. On the morning of commencement all the graduating seniors are expected and I believe required to attend a religiously influenced ceremony in which prayers are spoken and a speaker gives a sermon to the graduating class. Last year, the Reverend Terry Harter, class of 1969 and the pastor at First United Methodist Church in Illinois, gave a sermon to the graduating class in which he made explicit references to the manner and morality by which the graduates should conduct their post-Wabash lives. As a member of the Glee Club, I have been present at every Baccalaureate since 2008 and have sang songs such as "Be Thou my Vision" and "Hark I Hear", both songs making direct references to Judeo-Christian Faiths. So, my question is: Is this right? Is this sermon a part of Wabash's identity? Or is it simply a vestigial religious connection which should be replaced with something more secular?

Base Interpretations: Scarlet and Scarlet

One of the traditions that we have at Wabash is so simple that it’s often overlooked, our school colors. Scarlet and scarlet are our official colors, but we often pair our scarlet with white, probably for the sake of avoiding redundancy. The school colors were not chosen at random, but rather, to signify something. Red is traditionally associated with things like aggression and passion, as well as blood, anger, and courage, but also as a warning sign in nature, both on animals and in old sayings such as “red sky at morning, sailors take warning.” Regardless of what was intended when the colors were chosen, however, a poststructuralist would deem their relevance insignificant. Really, what is a color other than a color, anyway? In reality, the color and its association with Wabash is only significant because of what significance we place on it, there is no intimidation if we don’t say there is, there is no aggression or passion, unless we deem it so. True, the colors aren’t exactly text, but the point is the same as if scarlet were so. One excellent illustration of our own signification that holds no relevance anywhere else is if we were to wear school colors off campus. True, many Crawfordsville residents would probably associate our colors with the college and their connotations of a Wabash man, but I think that you would be hard pressed to find anyone in Maine who would see a guy in a red shirt and would think, “Wow, he goes to Wabash, an all male college of the liberal arts that has a reputation for scholarly and athletic excellence.” It is literally impossible to find someone who carries our connotations of the color scarlet with that of Wabash unless someone has been exposed to our circle. Our ideas of our colors are fragile and relevant only to ourselves, in no way shape or form a universal signifier.

Chapel Sing Semiotics

One of the most memorable Wabash traditions in which I've participated thus far has been that of Chapel Sing. Here, all freshmen who are pledging fraternities (a portion which fluctuates around 2/3 of all freshmen from year to year), and some independent freshmen, line up on the mall in white t-shirts and gym shorts to show their dedication by singing-- or shouting to some rough semblance of a tune-- Wabash's notoriously long fight song. The song can last almost 5 minutes on its own, but is repeated over and over again for 45 minutes in this ritual, with members of the Sphinx Club-- the prestigious campus unity and tradition-preservation club -- trying all kinds of bizarre (and sometimes supposedly humiliating or offensive) tricks to distract the freshmen so that they stumble in their articulation of the words. Unless they prove their mastery of the song inside the chapel, those who slip up get a red "W" spray-painted on their shirts by the Sphinx Club judges. This "W" is a mark of ignominy, representing failure and the disappointing of one's comrades.
Chapel Sing is widely viewed by the Wabash community at large as a rite of passage from high school teenage-dom into full-fledged student-hood at Wabash. After a successful Chapel Sing, freshmen are seen by many as finally becoming true Wabash men. A structuralist would likely acknowledge this association, regardless of whether or not the community did so. The event itself is clearly a signifier of the signified ideas of testing, endurance, determination, and solidarity, all values seen as essential to the traditional Western concept of manhood. A post-structuralist, however, would question the solidity of these connections, pointing out that other, downplayed aspects of Chapel Sing indicate distinctly un-manly characteristics-- submission to others, subjecting one's self to humiliation, not fighting back when heckled or insulted. Especially interesting to a post-structuralist or deconstructionist would be the sub-tradition of the red "W". The firmly-agreed-upon social interpretation of this sign is that it signifies shame and failure, completely opposite to what is normally signified by red "W's" at Wabash-- pride, victory, triumph, manhood, excellence, all qualities Wallies aspire to embody and ascribe to the "ideal" Wabash man.

Chapel Sing

Wabash College has a lot of traditions. One of the most popular traditions on Wabash’s campus is Chapel Sing. This event is only done by freshman students in their fall semester. It consists of students lining up based on residence, wearing white t-shirts, and singing the college’s fight song for a set amount of time. While they are singing a group of students walk around an monitor the participants to make sure that they know the song. To me the event is somewhat of a welcoming into Wabash and an introduction to the college’s traditions. Not only do I view it this way, but I feel that it is also a representation of the pride that we have in our school. Students at other colleges do not normally take the initiative to learn their school’s fight song, and the fact that we learn ours freshman year signifies our love for our school, and makes us interested in other Wabash traditions.

When looking at this event a Post-Structuralist critic would disregard what everybody says that it represents and just look at the event without any outside opinions. The critic would start off by saying that there is no definite answer to what the event symbolizes. They would then point out that maybe not all of the participants want to be there (and that not all of the freshman actually participate), and those that do participate do so because they feel obligated because of the big deal that is made about it by their peers (and not so much that they are proud of their school). Another point that they would argue on is the role of power during the event. Would it be the monitors who are in control, or the participants? They would say things like, “If there were no monitors would the participants actually learn the song?” but would also say things like, “Without the participants there would be no Chapel Sing.”

A Poststructuralist Reading of the "W"

From the moment they step onto the Wabash campus, prospective students are told NOT to step foot on the “W” in the College’s athletic center or on the College’s bronze seal in the floor of the library lobby. For current students as well, stepping on the “W” remains anathema. The predominant, structuralist construct entails avoiding the W as a sign of respect for the College and its traditions. Per this reading, stepping on the W equates to disrespecting the College and all that it stands for. Indeed, stepping on the W may in fact bring bad luck. But a poststructuralist would dismiss all of this interpretation as nonsense. Can a College and its essence really be distilled into a measly symbol in a floor? The W cannot possibly convey all of the College’s traditions. The W is merely another linguistic/visual construct devised to attempt to express an otherwise inexpressible ideal. Thus, the W proves to be an interesting “text” for analysis that, like any other text, is subject to Derrida’s concept of différance. The W in the floor as a signifier is stable. But the signified is always evolving; it is inherently unstable. The College may have a fixed mission statement, but how that mission statement manifests itself in practice varies from administration to administration and from student to student. Thus, some students do not buy into the “myth.” They may walk on the W because they refuse to believe that stepping on a letter in the floor makes them unworthy of The Gentleman’s Rule—the sole rule that governs our College. And they may refuse to believe that all of the College’s students are worthy of the respect that avoiding the W entails.

Wabash College is an institute that breathes tradition. Tradition is one of the most important qualities this college stands for; it brings unity together among its students, faculty, and staff. Wabash College has many traditions that are important to different students and faculty members, from the cursed arch by Goodrich Hall, to the annual first semester chapel sing put on by fraternity pledges and freshmen independents. For me, the most important tradition among our tightly knitted community is a much newer tradition, the Allen Center "W". When I was an incoming freshman on a football recruiting visit, one of the football players informed me NEVER to step on the "W", as doing so would be a sign of disrespect to the Wabash community and its sports teams. The "W" is not only representative of our great sports facility and its teams, but it also stands for what our school represents. The "W" represents our higher learning all-male institution, it represents our amazing faculty members and staff, it represents our "always fight" mentality and determination to never give up. By stepping on the "W", not only are you disrespecting our college, but you are disrespecting all the traditions and former students and athletes and faculty members who have paved the way to make Wabash College such an amazing institution. This is a tradition that I think some students don't hear about because of their lack of visitation to see the "W" at the Allen Center entrance. But just remember that, just like the arch that students dare not walk under, the "W" represents our community and the traditions we are so proud to uphold as our own. I hope that our students who do not know as much about this newly implemented tradition will learn to avoid tainting the "W" by walking over it, and walking around it in praise as something that is important to our college.

The Arch

As everyone knows, it is pretty much a cardinal sin for Wabash students to walk under the arch in between the Sparks Center and Goodrich Hall. The legend has it that a Wabash student failed comps and hung himself from the arch. The tradition of not walking under the arch stems from the aspirations of Wabash students. After the time spent here, failing comps is not an option. It makes it seem as if it has all been a waste. Walking under the arch allows the fate of the student from the past to befall the student commits the act. To be seen walking under the arch has also attained the status of a social taboo. Even if a student walks under the arch and does not care about the tradition, chances are the students that see him do it will ridicule him. So, even if a student does not believe in the tradition, he may avoid walking under the arch to avoid the social stigma attached to the act.

The Red "W"

One of the traditions here at Wabash College is to not walk across the Red "W" on the Allen Center floor. When I was a freshman, I was told to never walk on the "W" in the Allen Center. On one of the first days I was here at Wabash, I walked right on the "W". Thankfully one of the upperclassmen informed that I should never walk across the "W" again. Ever since then I have never walked across the "W" and it makes me cringe when I see people that do it. I am not sure if this tradition is as well known as some of the others, however it is one that I really enjoy. One of the reasons for this tradition is to respect the "W". The "W" represents something very meaningful to this college. It not only stands for Wabash, but everything that involves Wabash. That "W" is representative of what Wabash is all about. When you see a red "W" somewhere, it makes you think of Wabash. Unless you are from Wisconsin, but even their "W" is quite different than ours. When people walk right across the "W" it almost seems disrespectful because you are not honoring the "W" and what it stands for. What makes this a challenge though is that the "W" is located on the floor where people walk. If the "W" was on a wall or the ceiling then we would not have this problem and I think that it is great that it is positioned on the floor. Humans naturally have a tendency to look at the ground when they are walking and the "W" is one of the first things that stand out when you enter the Allen Center. I am not completely 100%, but I think this is the largest "W" that we have here on campus. I am not sure where there is a "W" like this anywhere else on campus. Anyways, I am hoping that people continue to follow this tradition because it does not take much effort to walk on either side of the "W".

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Traditions: Holding us Back

The Tradition: Avoiding the Arch
Here at Wabash we live in a culture that prides itself on traditions that have been passed down for decades. One of the most common traditions here on campus is not walking underneath the arch on the west side of the mall. There are many stories that accompany this tradition, some that are true and some that have been glorified over the years. The underlying meaning behind avoiding the arch is that if you walk under it before you graduate, you will be blanketed with bad luck (some say death) to the point that you won't graduate. No one wants to be plagued with such bad luck, even if nothing has ever happened and this tradition is completely made up. It has been instilled so deeply into the population here on campus that the college has put special walkways in place that go around the arch in order to accommodate the students.

A structuralist would look at this tradition by breaking it down into the signified and signifier which come together to form the sign, in this case the arch which represents the tradition here at Wabash. The signified in this case is the concept the words "the arch" refer to here on campus. Although it can be a wide range of things, the most common would be the avoidance of the arch, and the bad luck that is associated with walking under it. The signifier is the arch itself, or again the words "the arch." These come together to form the sign which would be the tradition I explained above, that it is bad luck to walk underneath the arch. This sign is something that is understood and accepted by Wabash students. It is rarely questioned or tried, but rather taken for what it is and left at that. However a post-structuralist would look at it a bit different. First, by accepting this notion of bad luck if we walk underneath the arch without questioning why or for what reason, we also accept a whole host of other principles on how we should walk around all arches for fear of bad luck. An arch is often seen as a sort of gateway to new possibilities. By passing under an arch you leave behind the past and are accepting whatever it is that lies ahead of you as a bright future. However, by twisting this usual portrayal of an arch around, we at Wabash have blindly taken this passage into new possibilities away from ourselves. Maybe that was the intent of starting such a tradition here at Wabash. After all we are a school that prides itself on tradition and not changing the way things are done. By eliminating students from walking under the arch we are taking away their metaphorical chance at leaving the past behind and looking ahead. We are forcing Wabash to stay true to its time old traditions.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Pepsi Max

I agree with everyone who believes this commercial ad is not meant to be taken as offensive. The point of the commercial is that Pepsi Max tastes just as good as the great tasting Pepsi, but it has no calories. I can definitely see how this commercial could be seen as racist and offensive, with the ending of the commercial having an African American "knocking out" a caucasian women, then making a run for it. this can be seen as a stereotypical reference to African Americans, but I do not think that is what the advertisement is getting at. I find the commercial humorous, and that is how the advertisement is suppose to appear.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Pepsi Max

This commercial has clearly excited many people with its possible racial connotations, but I think it is all a bunch of bologna. Why are so many things these days taken as a personal attack? Obviously, it is hard to ignore someone's race regardless of who he/she is or what he/she is doing. A difference in skin color (for example) is very distinctive but only in the visual sense. Clearly, race has deep cultural and historical connotations, but “race” is really just a physical quality (or qualities) that differs among the broader human race, no different then the color of one’s hair or the size of one’s feet. Why this issue of race is continuously brought up as an issue, even in this day and age where cultures are totally and complete intertwined and people with different racial backgrounds live with each other, boggles my mind. I find it offense that others would find this commercial offensive. The reason why these problems exist in the first place is because it is continually brought up. People create the problem because they say that there is one. When we initially watched the video before the race issue was brought up, I did not see an issue whatsoever. Race had not even crossed my mind. Drawing the conclusion that Pepsi was purposely trying to make black women look violent, over-bearing, or what have you is irrational because, with that line of thought, one could have just as easily drew the conclusion that Pepsi hates joggers since the women was hit in the head with a can. The race issues would go away, to a large extent, if people stopped insinuating that there is a problem. There is no problem. Those who find it offense are trying to bring these “issues” to light because they want to strive for equality where they believe there is inequality, but their efforts are extremely counterproductive. The very first step in the effort for the racial equality in the media and beyond is to ignore race entirely. Race should never be brought up at all because if it isn’t, the problem disappears. After all, wear are skin color wherever we go, as we do our knees, ears, and fingernails. Racial differences should be celebrated as the beautiful variety of humankind, not an excuse to separate ourselves from each other by insisting that (for example) the portral of a someone in a commercial is directly correlated with these differences. Those offended people are selfish for drawing these conclusions because they only divide us. Pepsi obviously was not trying to be intentionally offense considering that the purpose of their commercial is to sell their product to as many consumers as possible, so let us drop this idea altogether and laugh at the commercial because it is pretty damn funny.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

The Pepsi Max commercial has certainly garnered a lot of attention as people question its possibly racist undertones. It's relatively easy to assume that Pepsi did not intend racist undertones, but it's very difficult to pick apart whether or not the commercial is implicitly, subconsciously racist--at least through its portrayal of stereotypes.

The obvious examples are the "angry, black woman" stereotype--this is clearly portrayed by the controlling, dominant attitude of the woman in the commercial. She controls her husbands' dieting habits ruthlessly, until at least he is allowed to imbibe "Pepsi Max," whispering "maximum taste" to himself as the white woman jogs by and catches his eye, implying that the "white" woman is more attractive than the "black" woman. And it's debatable or not whether the image of the black couple running away at the end of the commercial is suggestive of "blacks" as "criminals and wrongdoers," or perhaps a subtler but highly unlikely reference to pre-emancipation American slaves running from their "loftier, nobler" white lords.

Either way, I think I disagree slightly with the notion that the commercial is racist if you want it to be, and I think there's a finer point to be made about perspective. Honestly, when watching the commercial, I saw nothing wrong with the commercial, and this made me start thinking about why others would see a problem with it. Who would see a problem with it? It seems the issue at hand is a matter of perception: as a middle-class, white, non-minority, youth, the commercial seems largely inoffensive. However, a black individual watching the commercial, who has experienced some form of racism in the past or in areas where race issues are prevalent would be more likely to immediately perceive the commercial as racist. Meanwhile, a middle-class white individual raised in a suburban environment where race issues weren't prevalent and where whites were the overwhelming majority would not be conscious of race issues, or have them on his or her mind, and would then completely miss the possible racist connotations.

While I attempted to tackle this issue, a thought experiment occured to me: imagine sixty years from now as you approach old age, if the immigration issues were solved and the Mexico-America borderline and the word "immigration" itself was no longer a hotbed issue, and the concept itself was deceased, as deceased as slavery is today in America. A commercial pops up on the TV, and it shows an unusually thirsty Hispanic individual stealing a box of Pepsis as he runs from the store and escapes from the store owner by scaling a wall and escaping to the other side. To the eyes of our generation, the commercial does not "appear,", but is blatantly and grossly offensive and disrespective, but to the eyes of the generation below us the commercial would seem humorous as an individual goes to incredible lengths just to satisfy raging thirst.

I think, likewise, that a black individual living in an area of the United States where race issues are tense would see the commercial as irrefutably racist, not possibly racist--there would be no question of "possibility."

I'm not sure the example is perfectly analogous, and I don't intend it to be, but it gives food for thought. The perspective from which you approach the commercial seems to determine the extent to which you interpret the signs to have a certain meaning--the signified varies depending on the ethnicity and life experiences of the viewer.

One last thought: while bouncing ideas off a friend and discussing the commercial, he mentioned to me a video interview Morgan Freeman on his stance on black history month:

This might be old news for some, but I hadn't seen it before. I think it's also interesting in that it shows raising awareness of existing social issues to some extent encourages them. Because, in truth, what we all desire in reality is for everyone to be able to watch the commercial without having feelings of resentment at possible racist tones--what's being questioned is the motive. As long as motive is in question, it seems unlikely that racism can disappear.

Pepsi Max

I do not take this Pepsi Max advertisement to be offensive. It is supposed to be a funny commercial which focuses on aspects of relationships. Although it can probably be taken as racist or sexist, I do not believe that those were Pepsi’s intentions. It does make one reflect on the idea that any publicity is good publicity though. If their intentions were to make a controversial advertisement, which could offend women and African Americans, than they prevailed. Some repercussions from the advertisement are that nearly 100,000 people have watched the YouTube video of it, many people have blogged to express their offense from the ad, and a number of news stations have done pieces on it. I wonder how many of those people have tried a Pepsi Max. Could all of this turmoil actually be helping Pepsi advertise their product? Sure, the people who took offense to the ad might not buy Pepsi Max but the huge amount of publicity that the racism and sexism of the ad caused surely has to be helping the company in its promotions. Although I do not believe that the company was trying to make this commercial be offensive, it is notable that it has caused a great uproar. If the statement that any publicity is good publicity it true, then the offensive nature of the advertisement might be helping Pepsi further advertise and sell their product.

Offensive or Not?

It's difficult to analyze the Pepsi commercial aired during the Super Bowl and not find some form of racial stereotyping in it, or any form of racism for that matter. What bothers me is the fact that it's almost too easy to find racism in it, solely because there are two races present in the commercial. Regardless of who was chosen to be included in the spot, we could make some legitimate racial criticisms. If whites were only involved, blacks could argue that a bias is present. In contrast, if only black people were portrayed in the commercial, then whites could contend that Pepsi is merely satisfying any potential conflicts regarding racial bias.

The Pepsi spot for the Super Bowl brings a different racial dynamic, however, because it isn't just about race. There's potential for debate in how the races interact. It isn't all that noteworthy that we witness a wife nagging her husband about eating healthier. What raises the level of interest with this commercial, particularly from a racial perspective, is in the desirous looks directed from the black man to the cute white girl who sits down on the park bench to relax from a jog. It's almost inevitable that this encounter could be misconstrued racially, considering that his black wife throws a Pepsi can at her husband and ends up hitting the white jogger accidentally. What can appear offensive is when the black couple flee the scene as the jogger withers in pain.

What should have been seen as an accident has been portrayed in an potentially offensive manner because of the race of the people in the commercial. Whether it was Pepsi's original intention or not to push these contentious aspects, it's hard to ignore the racial situations that potentially exist in the TV spot. I don't believe the commercial is offensive because of the comedic aspect of it, but there are many reasons other people can think otherwise.

Pepsi Max Ad

I do not believe this commercial is offensive. It is the nature of commercials, especially Super Bowl commercials, to be over the top and almost cartoonish in nature. At the core of this commercial, we have a couple that is attempting to eat healthier. The husband is not as faithful as the wife and is constantly being "repremanded." However, they come to agreement by drinking Pepsi Max. Of course, this would be dull for a Super Bowl ad. Both of their characteristics are increased for comic effect. The husband's wandering eye goes from beyond unhealthy foods to female joggers, while the wife's determination turns into physical punishment. This is basically a modern day episode of "Bugs Bunny." Nothing offensive was intended. It's just slapstick.

It can be argued that stereotypes of race and gender make this commercial offensive, though. I would pose this question in response: Is there a way to do this commercial in a non-offensive way? People would still find it offensive if the characters were different. If the couple was white and the jogger was black, then you would have a white woman attacking a black woman, which would be equally racist and just as controversial. If all of the characters were of the same race, then it could be argued that the people casting the actors were not hiring with racial equality. Also, a change in gender would be even more offensive. Imagine a husband punishing his wife throughout this whole commercial. All of a sudden Pepsi would be supporting domestic violence.

The Pepsi Corporation obviously does not support domestic abuse, nor does it promote racial stereotypes. They are a business. They want everyone to buy their product. I argue that this is nothing more than a silly, slightly obnoxious commercial. In fact, I think that it was created in the least offensive way possible.

The Pepsi Can of Worms

Pepsi's ad aired during the Super Bowl for its new, zero calorie beverage-- Pepsi Max-- has been one of the most talked-about spots of this year's annual clash of the commercial titans. Unfortunately for Pepsi, the "talk" has not been all positive. The ad has been accused of racism. The ad shows a series of instances in which a wife forcefully prevents her husband from eating unhealthily. In the last scene the husband fears scolding for being caught drinking a Pepsi Max, but his wife instead approves, pointing out that Pepsi Max has zero calories. Right when a return to marital bliss seems imminent, a young, attractive woman jogs by, makes eye contact with the husband, and elicits a wave and smile. The wife hurls her unopened Pepsi can at her husband but he ducks and the can instead pegs the runner in the head, knocking her over. The husband and wife look at each other and then wordlessly agree to flee the scene of the crime, leaving the runner groaning in pain.
One can imagine this storyboard, when brought to life with Pepsi's six or seven-digit marketing budget, proving comical to almost any demographic. Husbands and wives, or anyone who grew up watching their married parents interact, would find humor in the common conflict between this ad's couple. And everyone with a funny bone (with the exception, perhaps, of avid joggers) would laugh at the oblivious passerby unexpectedly beaned in the head by a flying object. Many of us would also relate to the embarrassment such a situation would cause and likely be struck as well with the instinct of running away. These are the core jokes in the spot-- the spousal conflict is the build-up and leads to a simple slapstick punchline.
The detail with which many viewers took offense was the race of the characters. The husband and wife were black and the runner was white. Offended parties claimed that the conflict was cashing in on racial stereotypes of the black wife as overbearing and controlling, and of black people in general as given to criminality and refusal to face the consequences of these crime. It is impossible to determine whether these stereotypes were intentionally exploited for comedic purposes, but it may be helpful to imagine ourselves in the shoes of the casting director and hypothesize as to his or her thought process. The storyboard itself provides ample humor. For what characteristics in our actors would we look in order to maximize the effect of these jokes? Personally, race is not a criteria that comes to my mind. A more relevant detail would be the physiques of the actors, because the conflict is over diet, and the object of the husband's illicit desire in the last scene is a more physically fit woman.
If there is any humor added by the fact that the couple is black, it is a highly marginal gain relative to the humor in the plot itself. I do not believe that Pepsi envisioned any such increase in humor from this detail, because it would only exist if such a stereotype was prominent, and if it were, that humor would not be worth the backlash that would inevitably result from a commercial that blatantly espouses racial stereotypes. I sincerely believe that the casting of this commercial was, in regards to the comedic message it attempted to convey, completely race-blind.