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Race, Democracy, and Media

The Center for Media Engagement and Media Ethics Initiative Present:


The Spectacle of Lynching Redeployed:

On the Performance of Democratic Regard

Dr. Melvin Rogers

Associate Professor of Political Science
Brown University

April 9, 2019



D3vWpfuWkAUFd5v.jpg largeAmerica’s history is marked by a striking image—“black bodies swinging in the southern breeze.” Abel Meeropol—a Jewish American—first articulated this line in his 1937 published poem, “Bitter Fruit,” after viewing Lawrence Beitler’s horrific lynching photograph. Although Meeropol eventually put the words to music, it was jazz singer Billie Holiday’s haunting rendition of the song, now titled “Strange Fruit,” first recorded in 1939 that made it a classic. How does one practically and conceptually engage the simultaneous existence of a professed commitment to equality and liberty alongside the fact that white Americans visually digested those with whom they otherwise shared the polity? I engage this vexing issue by reflecting on the normative possibilities latent in Holiday’s performative rendition of Meeropol’s song.

Dr. Melvin Rogers is an Associate Professor of Political Science at Brown University. He is the author of The Undiscovered Dewey: Religion, Morality, and the Ethos of Democracy (Columbia University Press, 2008) and co-editor of African American Political Thought: A Collected History (University of Chicago Press, forthcoming). His articles have appeared in major academic journals as well as popular venues such as DissentThe AtlanticPublic Seminar, and Boston Review. Rogers serves as the co-editor of the New Histories of Philosophy series at Oxford University Press. Presently, he is at work on his second book, The Darkened Light of Faith: Race, Democracy, and Freedom in African American Political Thought.

The Media Ethics Initiative is part of the Center for Media Engagement at the University of Texas at Austin. Follow Media Ethics Initiative and Center for Media Engagement on Facebook for more information.


 

Race, Democracy, and Media

The Center for Media Engagement and Media Ethics Initiative Present:


The Spectacle of Lynching Redeployed:

On the Performance of Democratic Regard

Dr. Melvin Rogers

Associate Professor of Political Science
Brown University

April 9 (Tuesday) ¦  3:30-5:00PM  ¦  BMC 5.208


ebYmKbc-_400x400America’s history is marked by a striking image—“black bodies swinging in the southern breeze.” Abel Meeropol—a Jewish American—first articulated this line in his 1937 published poem, “Bitter Fruit,” after viewing Lawrence Beitler’s horrific lynching photograph. Although Meeropol eventually put the words to music, it was jazz singer Billie Holiday’s haunting rendition of the song, now titled “Strange Fruit,” first recorded in 1939 that made it a classic. How does one practically and conceptually engage the simultaneous existence of a professed commitment to equality and liberty alongside the fact that white Americans visually digested those with whom they otherwise shared the polity? I engage this vexing issue by reflecting on the normative possibilities latent in Holiday’s performative rendition of Meeropol’s song.

9780231144872Dr. Melvin Rogers is an Associate Professor of Political Science at Brown University. He is the author of The Undiscovered Dewey: Religion, Morality, and the Ethos of Democracy (Columbia University Press, 2008) and co-editor of African American Political Thought: A Collected History (University of Chicago Press, forthcoming). His articles have appeared in major academic journals as well as popular venues such as DissentThe AtlanticPublic Seminar, and Boston Review. Rogers serves as the co-editor of the New Histories of Philosophy series at Oxford University Press. Presently, he is at work on his second book, The Darkened Light of Faith: Race, Democracy, and Freedom in African American Political Thought.

The Media Ethics Initiative is part of the Center for Media Engagement at the University of Texas at Austin. Follow Media Ethics Initiative and Center for Media Engagement on Facebook for more information.

Media Ethics Initiative events are free and open to the public.


 

Advertising Ethics and Social Issues

CASE STUDY: Gillette’s Close Shave with Toxic Masculinity

Case Study PDF | Additional Case Studies


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Screencapture: YouTube.com

Gillette took to social media to air their new “We Believe” advertisement in early January of 2019. The ad depicts what some would consider the issues related to the common “boys will be boys” mind set and the issues related to current social movements. The ad depicts men of all ages partaking in behavior that many found very controversial to begin with. The ad begins with audio from various newscasts that reported on several controversial topics such as the spread of the #MeToo movement and other ways in which men were involved in cultural movements from the past couple of years. The ad continues to show how these ideas are spread by depicting a scene where fathers are standing around a barbeque laughing and as making excuses as their young sons fight. Another scene depicts a very young boy crying to his mother after his peers had sent him text messages calling him derogatorily terms and questioning his masculinity.  Bullying, toxic masculinity, and sexual harassment are all addressed within the short ad campaign. While some believe this ad is challenging men to hold themselves to a higher standard, others disagree and feel that this ad is shaming them based on their gender. The commercial begins by showing men partaking in controversial behavior such as cyber bullying, cat calling, and fighting. The ad then challenges these men to step above these actions by depicting ways men can avoid partaking in and teaching such things to younger generations.

Scott Galloway, founder of the business research firm Gartner L2 and a professor of marketing at New York University, argues “The ‘woke’ business strategy will be a big theme in 2019 as that’s where the money is.” People who seem to agree with Proctor and Gamble’s stance on the issues in “We Believe” applaud the commercials portrayal of real world issues such as bullying and the #MeToo movement. These pro “We Believe” Twitter uses have defended the ad stating “This commercial isn’t anti-male, it’s pro humanity” (Evans 2019). Other viewers have taken to social media and other platforms to discuss their dissatisfaction with Gillette’s message. These viewers seem to feel that this ad blames certain social issues of today on all males regardless of true character.  Political commentator, Ben Shapiro remarked on the issues he saw in the Gillette campaign: “This ad is all about how men have created a crisis of masculinity in America. How men have trained their boys to be bad. How men are solely responsible for all of the ills in American society. An ad created by a company who makes their money off of men shaving” (Shapiro 2019). Along with Shapiro, the hash-tag #BoycottGillette has rapidly gained recognition after the company released this ad. Twitter users in support of this boycott find that “a company who has asked us to celebrate masculinity for 30 years suddenly wants us to feel ashamed of it.” (Grant, 2019). Others agreed with Gillette’s message about harmful gendered stereotypes but remained skeptical about companies like Gillette and Nike using social justice imagery and messages in a calculated attempt to sell products and brand.

Time will tell if such advertising campaigns help or hurt companies’ bottom lines. But the question stands: Is Gillette’s “We Believe” advertisement a smooth use of important social topics or simply another way to gain a positive image among consumers?

Discussion Questions:

  1. Was it smart for a company like Gillette to air a commercial like this or do you feel it will inevitably hurt them as a brand? Why do you think this?
  2. Will this affect the future of advertising and the way companies leverage social issues in campaigns?
  3. Do you think Gillette could’ve accomplished their message without sparking an enormous controversy?
  4. Do you agree that it was hypocritical of Gillette to air this commercial or do you think they’re trying to right past wrongs?
  5. Which brands and in which ways could you see classic male brands aligning or disagreeing with Gillette for Men?

Further Information:

Evans, Erica. “Gillette Is Being Praised and Condemned for an Ad about ‘Toxic Masculinity.’ Here’s What People Are Saying.” DeseretNews.com, Deseret News, 15 Jan. 2019, Available at: www.deseretnews.com/article/900050816/gillette-is-being-praised-and-condemned-for-an-ad-about-toxic-masculinity-heres-what-people-are-saying.html

Gant, Michelle. “Gillette Addresses ‘Toxic Masculinity’ in New Ad Campaign.” Fox News, Available at:  www.foxnews.com/lifestyle/gillette-addresses-toxic-masculinity-in-new-ad-campaign

McCluskey, Megan. “Gillette Makes Waves With Controversial New Commercial.” Time, 15 Jan. 2019, Available at: www.time.com/5503156/gillette-razors-toxic-masculinity/

Meyersohn, Nathaniel. “Gillette Says It’s Satisfied with Sales after Controversial Ad.” CNN, 23 Jan. 2019, Available at:  www.cnn.com/2019/01/23/business/gillette-ad-procter-and-gamble-stock/index.html

Authors:

Grace Holland & Scott R. Stroud, Ph.D.
Media Ethics Initiative
Center for Media Engagement
University of Texas at Austin
February 26, 2019

www.mediaethicsinitiative.org


Cases produced by the Media Ethics Initiative remain the intellectual property of the Media Ethics Initiative and the University of Texas at Austin. They can be used in unmodified PDF form without permission for classroom or educational uses. Please email us and let us know if you found them useful! For use in publications such as textbooks, readers, and other works, please contact the Media Ethics Initiative.

Just Do It?

CASE STUDY: Nike, Social Justice, and the Ethics of Branding

Case Study PDF | Additional Case Studies


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ViktorCylo / CC BY 3.0 / Modified

In September of 2018, Nike unveiled their 30th anniversary “Just Do It” campaign, featuring prominent athletes such as Serena Williams, LeBron James, Lacey Baker, and Odell Beckham Jr. Also featured in the series is former San Francisco 49ers quarterback turned activist Colin Kaepernick, who has been a controversial figure since early August of 2016 when he protested racial injustice in America by sitting and later kneeling during the national anthem at the start of football games. Kaepernick’s Nike advertisement, which he posted to social media sites on September 3, 2018, displays a close-up image of his face with the words “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything” written across the image. Some have praised the advertisement as taking a stand in the nationwide debate over the state of minority rights while others have been concerned with Nike’s movement into the arena of political advocacy.

Gino Fisanotti, Nike’s vice president of brand marketing for North America, defended the company’s featuring of Kaepernick, who has not played in the NFL since the 2016 season when he refused a contract with the 49ers: “We believe Colin is one of the most inspirational athletes of this generation, who has leveraged the power of sport to help move the world forward.” Additionally, many high-profile athletes and celebrities have voiced their support for Nike and Kaepernick, including LeBron James and Serena Williams, both outspoken figures about social justice in their own right. “He’s done a lot for the African American community, and its cost him a lot. It’s sad,” Williams said of Kaepernick. “Having a huge company back him,” she continued, “could be a controversial reason for this company, but they’re not afraid. I feel like that was a really powerful statement to a lot of other companies.”

Other observers see Nike’s move from the commercial to the political as potentially concerning. Michael Serazio worries that this is just another sophisticated trick from a corporate powerhouse: “Getting us to think we’re making a statement by buying Nike is the long con advertising has played, and it has played it well.” Increasingly, brands are giving in to a recent demand for politicization, forcing consumers to question the political participation of various corporations. Some argue that Nike is using a popular movement to increase its own sales, and taking advantage of the prestige and celebrity status of its minority athletes while doing so. Another worry is that it distracts attention from how Nike products are made, often by workers in difficult working conditions in developing countries. As Serazio puts it, the new campaign risks diverting our focus from “the marginalized who make stuff rather than the posturing it affords those privileged enough to own it.”

The advertisement campaign is a risky move for Nike, who might garner heightened attention to its products and brand, but who also runs the risk of alienating part of its consumer base by becoming too politicized. Swaths of the football-watching public, and public at large, are divided by the anthem protests carried on by Kaepernick and others. By featuring the originator of this series of protests, many fans might view Nike as standing with black athletes and their concerns. Yet others may view the advertisement as an attempt to profit off of a protest that strikes at the heart of patriotic values that some hold dear. Some owners of Nike products even illustrated their disgust with the campaign by burning their shoes, and then subsequently posting the flaming images on social media. So far, however, Nike has not sacrificed anything due to the gamble that this advertising campaign represents: Nike stock is up 5% since the advertisement hit the public, representing $6 billion increase in Nike’s market value.

Nike’s campaign was meant to garner attention and make a statement on its 30th anniversary. It succeeded at accomplishing these goals. But many are still wondering: was Nike primarily interested in taking a courageous stand on an important political issue of our time, or were they simply using Kaepernick as a clever ploy to sell more shoes?

Discussion Questions:

  1. Should a company like Nike get involved in matters of political controversy and social justice?
  2. Is Nike misusing Kaepernick and the NFL protests in its recent campaign? If you judge this to be the case, what other ways could Nike do if they wanted to bring attention to these issues and protests?
  3. Do you think that these advertisements will hurt Nike’s brand or bottom line? Do you think this is an important ethical consideration for Nike?
  4. Should companies take stands on controversial debates orbiting around justice and the public good in their advertisement campaigns? Why or why not?
  5. Nike clearly has the ability—and right—to take a stand on this issue. What should the virtuous consumer do in reacting to Nike’s campaign? What about if they disagree with Nike’s stance?

Further Information:

Anderson, Mae. “Good for business? Nike gets political with Kaepernick ad.” September 4, 2018. Available at: https://www.apnews.com/6aaced14b24d4622aefeb44d3b17c2d6

Belvedere, Matthew J. “Sorkin: Nike’s Kaepernick ad decision was based on ‘attracting big name athletes’ who side with his cause.” September 7, 2018. Available at: https://www.cnbc.com/2018/09/07/sorkin-nike-kaepernick-ad-based-on-attracting-big-name-athletes.html

Boren, Cindy. “As Trump tweets, Colin Kaepernick shares new Nike ad that reportedly will air during NFL opener.” Washington Post. September 5, 2018. Available at: https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/early-lead/wp/2018/09/05/trump-says-nike-is-getting-absolutely-killed-over-colin-kaepernick-ad-renews-attack-on-nfl-players/

Reints, Renae. “Colin Kaepernick Pushes Nike’s Market Value Up $6 Billion, to an All-Time High.” Fortune. September 23, 2018. Available at: http://fortune.com/2018/09/23/nike-market-value-colin-kaepernick-ad/

Rovell, Darren. “Colin Kaepernick part of Nike’s 30th anniversary of ‘Just Do It’ campaign.” ESPN. September 3, 2018. Available at: http://www.espn.com/nfl/story/_/id/24568359/colin-kaepernick-face-nike-just-do-30th-anniversary-campaign

Serazio, Michael. “Nike isn’t trying to be ‘woke.’ It’s trying to sell shoes.” Washington Post. September 5, 2018. Available at: https://www.washingtonpost.com/outlook/2018/09/05/nike-isnt-trying-be-woke-its-trying-sell-shoes/

Authors:

Holland J. Smith & Scott R. Stroud, Ph.D.
Media Ethics Initiative
Center for Media Engagement
University of Texas at Austin
September 24, 2018

www.mediaethicsinitiative.org


Cases produced by the Media Ethics Initiative remain the intellectual property of the Media Ethics Initiative and the University of Texas at Austin. They can be used in unmodified PDF form without permission for classroom or educational uses. Please email us and let us know if you found them useful! For use in publications such as textbooks, readers, and other works, please contact the Media Ethics Initiative.

Sweet Justice?

CASE STUDY: Pepsi’s Controversial Use of Protest Iconography in Advertising

Case Study PDF| Additional Case Studies


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Screen Capture of Pepsi Ad / Modified

Sometimes advertising catches a viewer’s attention and speaks to important needs of the present. In April 2017, Pepsi released what it thought was just such a timely commercial starring Kendall Jenner on YouTube. The commercial showed Jenner leaving a photo shoot to join a protest that appeared to be innocuous. After taking part of the protest that consisted of a racially diverse group of individuals with signs reading, “Join the Conversation,” Jenner walked up to a line of stoic police officers who formed a wall in front of the protesters. She handed one of them a freshly-opened can of Pepsi. The officer carefully took a sip of the drink and then smiled. The crowd of protesters began to cheer and celebrate. The advertisement concluded with the Pepsi logo and the words “Live for Now” displayed beneath it.

The commercial proved controversial. Some saw in this video the possibility of unity in an America caught in the throes of anti-police protests. Those who lauded the commercial believed it was Pepsi’s well-intentioned attempt to promoting diversity and unity among viewers. The ad incorporated a diverse group of actors composed of various races, genders, and possibly religions representing the protesters. An anonymous actor involved with the commercial stated that Pepsi tried to “depict a message of unity.” He also said that “The commercial had hip-hop dancers and we were all together as humans. I think they tried to show the meaning that people from every country can be together.”

But many viewers did not appreciate the advertisement. Those who were offended by the commercial believed that the video was tone-deaf and that it co-opted serious protests that were occurring across the U.S. in order to sell a soft drink. Many people expressed their frustration towards Jenner online. The video’s images brought to mind the Black Lives Matter protests that were featured in most news sources at the time. For instance, the shot of Jenner giving a Pepsi can to the officer resembled the powerful photo of Ieshia Evans, a black woman protesting the death of Alton Sterling, drifting unflinchingly and effortlessly toward approaching heavily-armed police officers. Others argued that the commercial oversimplified and trivialized the progress and struggle of the civil rights movement in America. Those who disagreed with the commercial saw Pepsi as asserting the idea that the simple gesture of giving a police officer a sugary beverage would put an end to police brutality and racial animosity. Berenice King, the daughter of Martin Luther King Jr., tweeted a photo of her father with the following caption: “If only Daddy would have known about the power of #Pepsi.”

Pepsi eventually capitulated to the rising public pressure. After removing the ad from online sources, they released the following statement: “Pepsi was trying to project a global message of unity, peace and understanding. Clearly we missed the mark, and we apologize. We did not intend to make light of any serious issue. We are removing the content and halting any further rollout. We also apologize for putting Kendall Jenner in this position.”

Discussion Questions:

  1. Did Pepsi do anything ethically problematic in producing the ad in question? Why? What values are in conflict in this case?
  2. How much do the intentions of advertising companies matter in judging the appropriateness of their advertisements?
  3. Was Pepsi’s response to the controversy over the advertisement adequate?
  4. Should an advertiser’s creative freedom be limited by social issues of the day? If so, how should advertisers guide themselves in creating edgy but ethical advertisements?
  5. Would there be an ethical way to use protest iconography in a Pepsi ad? Explain how you might do so, if you think it is possible. How does this use differ from the advertisement that Pepsi released?

Further Information:

Hirsh, Sophie. “An Actor From THAT Pepsi Commercial Says Most Actors Weren’t Aware It Would Be Problematic.” Teen Vogue. 30 May 2017. Available at: https://www.teenvogue.com/story/pepsi-commercial-backlash

Pinsker, Joe. “How on Earth Does an Ad Like Pepsi’s Get Approved?” The Atlantic, 8 Apr. 2017. Available at: https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2017/04/pepsi-kendall-jenner-ad-how/522423/

Schultz, E.J., and Ann-Christine Diaz. “Pepsi Is Pulling Its Widely Mocked Kendall Jenner Ad.” Ad Age, 5 Apr. 2017. Available at: http://adage.com/article/cmo-strategy/pepsi-pulling-widely-mocked-kendall-jenner-ad/308575/

Victor, Daniel. “Pepsi Pulls Ad Accused of Trivializing Black Lives Matter.” The New York Times, 5 Apr. 2017. Available at: https://www.nytimes.com/2017/04/05/business/kendall-jenner-pepsi-ad.html

Wong, Julia Carrie. “Pepsi Pulls Kendall Jenner Ad Ridiculed for Co-opting Protest Movements.” The Guardian,  06 Apr. 2017. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/media/2017/apr/05/pepsi-kendall-jenner-pepsi-apology-ad-protest

Authors:

Urub Khawaja & Scott R. Stroud, Ph.D.
Media Ethics Initiative
Center for Media Engagement
University of Texas at Austin
July 22, 2018

www.mediaethicsinitiative.org


Cases produced by the Media Ethics Initiative remain the intellectual property of the Media Ethics Initiative and the University of Texas at Austin. They can be used in unmodified PDF form without permission for classroom use. Please email us and let us know if you found them useful! For use in publications such as textbooks, readers, and other works, please contact the Media Ethics Initiative.

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