23 March 2007

Gatorade A.M. and The Smiling Milkman

Am I the only one wondering what the hell is up with the new Gatorade A.M. commercial?

So last night, I look up to catch a commercial featuring a smiling Black milkman à la 1930, resplendent in his spotless white uniform, cheerfully delivering bottles of new Gatorade A.M. to customers in a manicured subdivision, all to a jolly tune reminiscent of ice-cream-truck-sounding jingles.
(watch it here.)

I quickly unmute the TV, causing Firstborn Daughter to look up, annoyed at the sound of a dreaded commercial.
Me: Are they kidding? What is this?
FBD: Wow ... what the hell?
Me: Is it just me?
FBD: Um ... seriously, what the hell?

The final line of the commercial goes like this:
Gatorade A.M. -- same science, different time.

And how, Spanky!

The milkman is the very talented (not to mention good-looking) NBA star Kevin Garnett. I don't much follow basketball, being a football kind of gal, but evidently Kevin is the shit on the court.

Gatorade A.M is a new line created for the perky morning athlete. It comes in morning-friendly flavors, like Strawberry-Orange or Mango, that supposedly won't make you upchuck its sugary sweetness while still bleary eyed and half-asleep.

Coffee is a normal morning drink. Orange sugar-water is not.

Anyway, The milkman's customers are other sports stars -- three female soccer players (one of whom looks to be Mia Hamm), and Colts quarterback Peyton Manning -- all White, all rushing out to their morning workouts.  There is one Black neighbor (Kareem Abdul-Jabbar), out watering his lawn, who nods to the milkman.

So ... the only African Americans in this idyllic production are the only two athletes not portrayed as athletes, but rather as an iconic 1930s milkman and the only guy in the neighborhood doing yardwork.  The white athletes are portrayed as the superstars they are.

So the milkman comes up the walk with his syrupy wares as Peyton Manning rushes out the door for his morning workout. The milkman calmly throws him a Gatorade A.M. while saying, "Playbook."

Oops! Peyton's forgotten his playbook! As he rushes back for it, The milkman gives a satisfied nod, knowing he's helped keep the star quarterback on track. WTF?

Now, I'm thinking, Kevin Garnett is an NBA superstar, on the same level as these happy, suburban athletes, right? He is their peer, their equal. Given that, I'm wondering...
  • Why is he playing the milkman?
  • Why is he serving the other sports stars?
  • Why are he and the Black neighbor the only athletes not being portrayed as athletes?
  • And while we're at it, what's up with the lone Black neighbor doing yardwork, instead of heading for a workout with the other athletes and some Gatorade A.M.?

Am I the only one thinking this ad is just a little too close to the ads of yore? Something a little like this, maybe?

Why did this commercial immediately put me in mind of those days when success for Kevin would've likely meant a dapper chauffeur's uniform?  Or maybe a snappy bellhop or porter's uniform.

Or a pristine milkman's uniform.

Success for Kevin in those times would not have come packaged in an NBA uniform, trust.

I did not live in those times. My daughter sure didn't. My mom barely has memories of the milkman leaving glass jugs in the secret little door at the side of my grandma's house.

Why then, did that scene immediately bring a "WTF?" reaction? Why did that scene cause my 19-year-old daughter's jaw to drop?

Because ... those images are part of American culture, and we have absorbed them in a million little ways over the course of our lives. Even now.

The earliest posters and advertising purposely depicted Black folks in ways that made White folks feel superior and safe. From the wide-eyed pickaninny, the broadly smiling mammy, and the harmless old uncle, up to the first "positive" images of the "successful" Black man: smartly attired to happily pump your gas, tote your luggage, or wait on your table.

"Different Time" indeed, Gatoraide.

I know lots of people are going to roll their eyes and say this commercial isn't racist. Golly, how some people sure do look for racism around every corner! I'm sure folks will say, "Hey, good for Kevin, do that commercial, make some bank, baby."  And of course, the usual, "If it were a white guy in the truck, you wouldn't be bitching -- you're the racist!"  Well, guess what, it wasn't a white guy in the truck. And it wasn't a non-athlete serving a diverse group of athletes. So, whatever.  

I don't know Kevin's reasons for doing this commercial, and I guess it's his business. I'd be interested in his thoughts about it. I do plan to write to Gatorade. I am really bothered by seeing this in the media in 2007 like it's nothing.

I have a 14-year-old son who's into sports. It's enough of an issue that our media loves to present athletes as the main role models for African American kids. (Yes, great role models, but they're not the only ones, okay?) Now Gatorade has gone one step farther in presenting this fine athlete not as the successful basketball player he IS, but as a friggin' milkman, in a position of servitude to his fellow athletes, complete with all the trappings from those Happy Days Gone By.

This is what my son is supposed to see as the role of a successful Black athlete? Are you fucking kidding me?

You suck, Gatorade.

I just wanted to point this out, say something, because this is not okay. Rant over.


  1. Wow, so wrong. First "boy" cows and now this? We are so messing up the youth of our country.

    The worst part may be that Gatorade didn't catch it. SOMEONE must have noticed. There are entire departments dedicated to this kind of thing in hollywood-land. I hope they're not subscribing to the notion that any publicity is good publicity.

  2. Gatorade caught it. They did it deliberately, and probably have some fucked-up rationale for it.

    But Tactless, or Cowbell: what did I miss about boy cows? I just joked about that a coupla days ago-

  3. TW: yeah, I prefer to think, "Geez, how could they not catch that?! Hire some people who have a clue!" But, as time goes on, I tend to think Lucy has it right. >sigh<

    Lucy: The "boy cows" was from my 10-Mar-07 post on the movie Barnyard. It's an udder thing. Weird.

  4. I was amazed when I saw that commercial. Seriously, I thought there was going to be some kind of punchline at the end that emphasized and denounced racism like that.

    My optimistic side wants to say it just slipped by them, but my logical side says there's no WAY someone could just not notice that. I mean, whose bright idea was it anyway? Who raised their hand in the marketing meeting and said, "Picture this, right. We have a black milkman..." And who nodded their head and said, "Oh wow, that's brilliant!"

    Or maybe they think they're the type that "doesn't see color", which is another kind of racism entirely. Anyway, I find that hard to buy because the milkman just "happened" to be the only black guy (besides the one who was watering his lawn. And while we're on the subject, how does the viewer even know it's HIS lawn? It's an athletes' cul-de-sac; he should be working out if he's an athlete!)

    I certainly won't be buying Gatorade anytime this century. Glad to see you agree, cowbell.

  5. i COMPLETELY agree! i just saw this commercial and went onto google to see if anyone else cares. ew.
    -white f. 23

  6. I would have never looked at this commercial in such a way, but now I won't look at it the same again...

    However, *perhaps* Abdul-Jabbar was watering his lawn because he is retired? Maybe that's why he wasn't going to work out like the others?

    And I got the impression Manning was the one looking like kind of a chump, forgetting his playbook, and Garnett looked wise and helpful.

    But that's just what I saw...

  7. oh Jesus Christ. Lighten the fuck up. You'll live longer.

  8. yawn..
    get a life.

  9. you're right. why don't you put yourself out of your misery?

  10. What, no cries for Mia Hamm being portrayed as a "soccer mom?" Look, I found a racist picture for you: http://www-lu.hive.no/plansjer/engelsk/milkman.jpg
    Wait, I don't get it? How can there be a white milkman?

    Seriously, keep looking for racism and maybe eventually you'll find it somewhere.

  11. I think it's alittle misleading to say, "the only African-Americans in this little production, are the only 2 athletes not portrayed as athletes," I think the high school football team has some black players on it, including the one Garnett passes the gatorade to.

    I also wonder why the anger directed at Gatorade isn't also directed at K.G., if the ad is indeed racist, doesn't he deserve some critisism?

  12. TommoTornado12 April, 2007

    Racist? Are you serious? The fact that someone could look at this commercial and think 'racism' the first time they saw just boggles the mind. Alright, given the world we live it, if you literally sit down and over-analyze a piece like this, you are going to find things that could be construed as racist. But what's the point if you have to over-analyze in order to get to that conclusion?

    Why don't you try and take this for what it is, a simple commercial. I have a feeling that the marketing guru's working for Gatorade didn't have racism in mind when they made this commercial. Kevin Garnett and all of the others in this ad were paid to do this. I guess we can't make anymore commercials that depict Garnett being a 'milkman' because, God forbid, it's degrading and racist. Gasp! How is Kareem, who is watering his own lawn, viewed as racist? If he had been playing basketball or something, would this commercial been any different. I guess you still would have found a way to play the racist card. To point the racist finger at this commercial is just ridiculous. What a waste of thought...

  13. If you want more racism, then look how KG plays the Bagger Vance role and looks out for the well-being of the absent-minded whites....

    But seriously. Kareem is probably playing the happily retired athlete taking the suburban pleasure of yard-work.

    But I think KG's role as Gatorade spokesman has more to do with your perceived racism. The ads-people were probably trying to cover as many bases as possible: men, women, black, white, old, all the sports possible: football, soccer, basketball. In this set-up SOMEBODY has to be the milkman. Would there be perceived gender bias if the woman had been serving the athletic men? If the old had been serving the youth? If the whites had been serving the blacks? In that case, might that not be pandering to a desire for a balancing of past accounts?

    You're also missing the other big reality. KG is paid well for his bball skills. In the commercial, he's receiving fat checks (as is everybody else). While in the past blacks were relegated to low-pay jobs, what we're clearly seeing here is how marketable people make money marketing.

    Is it racist when you see black basketball players hoopin' it up in an inner-city park, and then drinking gatorade? Does that propogate the image of the urban black? Or is that trying to reach a targetted audience?

    Your claims require a little more evidence than you present here.

  14. Wow, this is why I need to stay away from Blogs. I don't have the time to contribute, and being passionate, I wish to contribute to way too much than is good for my time available.

    I am 40 and old enough to know about the imagery from the past that is being invoked here, however, I was COMPLETELY blind to any of this.

    Although I have been only involved in the periphery of marketing (done some copy-writing and handled print ads for the business I work for), as typical ADD, have been a "student of the ad" my entire life.

    Couldn't help notice how ads were constructed to manipulate (in a good way sometimes).

    I will add that I am a white person who was a pastor's kid and had to literally have racism explained to me after we moved to a bigger city.

    As well, I was unconsciously drawn to black culture by watching things like Shaft and The Mod Squad and being like "Man, what is it these people have I don't?...I want it!".

    Later a black friend blurted out "Soul." when telling him of the above.

    So, I am very sensitive on the subject and, as an example from my younger days, threw down with another airman when I was in the service (USAF) who used the n-word unapologeticly (and seemingly without a thought).

    Real racism: Not cool.

    So, with all that preamble, let me say I found this blog when trying to find out who the Milkman was in the ad...because I loved his portrayal so much!!

    I didn't love "the milkman" due to his characters' "safety" because of "Fear of A Black Planet" (hee-hee...I hope you get it...I'm a HUGE P.E. fan), it was because the ad had him portrayed as The Man!

    I am very impressed with Kevin Garnett (now that I know that's who he is), who projects calm wisdom and seems to genuinely broadcast kindness (empathy?)as well throughout this commercial.

    To read your blog and think back, I see the observations being presented and their circumstantial evidence of what many of you think of this commercial's "real" message.

    Seriously, initially I had to check myself and really put my feet to the fire as I was concerned I had been taken somehow.

    Was it my innocence of not looking for that as a default (try to think the best of things unless they set off alarms) maybe?

    No. Instead I offer all of you a different vision of the events.

    I see Kevin and Kareem as "above" all that is going on (ergo the knowing nod between them) and as the calm, wise purveyors of the "milk".

    They seem to be the mentors in this scenario to the harried white folk running around in this.

    Not service as in "Yessuh!", but in "Man, you people would be out of business without me." of the competent administrative assistant who is behind every great business-guy/doctor I have ever dealt with when I worked IT for a while.

    I think the observations of portrayals of blacks in this as "non-athletes" is an astute one, but I think the conclusions drawn are specious reasoning.

    Seriously, I think it might be getting into a mind-set, and then very well supporting how you got there, but I would like to offer an alternate look.

    The amount of subtle expression by Garnett is genius (credits to him and to the director for potentially being the one to coax it out of his natural repetoire), and I love this commercial.

    Please consider what I have said. It is in earnest, and qualified by my background and personal convictions on the subject.

    I also hope I conveyed my feelings in a way I hope will be more considered to a simple disagreement.

    Oh, and excuse any spelling and grammatical errors. :)

    See why I need to stay off blogs...hmmm...or maybe why I should start my own. ;-P

    Groove Champion
    The Lord of Low;The Bass Commando.

  15. You gotta be kidding me.

    It's a funny commercial. That's it. There's nothing racist about it. Think you're looking into it a little bit too much?

    Or maybe you are just looking for racist overtones because you in fact, are a racist.

  16. Kareem is not an athlete anymore. He's old. Manning and the ladies still play. Whatever. You fucking racist asshole. You'd think it was brilliant if white people were waiting on black people. DIE.

  17. There's a racial message, but it's a positive message about race. It represents how far we've come. The black milkman's role represents the past. Milkman? No one has a milkman anymore. Today, the only other black man, Kareem Abdul, obviously lives in this VERY white upper middle class neighborhood and is watering HIS lawn. He's prepped out. Many minorities actually like white people and vica versa. In the end the white Colt's player, who lives in the big house, is helped out by the smart delivery man who remembers his playbook. He is portrayed as a smart decent guy. It is a message about how racial stereotypes are old and dying. it is about race, it is an abstraction about race. This is a new day for race. Watch it in that light. Everyone in the ad is happy. Try that on.


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