Monday, October 16, 2006
Advertising agencies consistently introduce characters that symbolize the cultural cluelessness, insensitivity and even racism so prevalent in the industry. Classic examples include Aunt Jemima, the Frito Bandito, and the Calgon Couple conspiring with their “ancient Chinese secret” (sorry, couldn’t find a good image of the Asian duo, and settled for a shot from Saturday Night Live’s parody of the iconic commercial starring Maya Rudolph and Jackie Chan). MultiCultClassics is proud to present the latest such character: Marc Brownstein.
Anyone unfamiliar with this new character is cordially encouraged to read the AdAge perspective presented in Essay 1205.
Just to be clear, this commentary is not intended to be a direct attack against Marc Brownstein. After all, it’s highly likely that Brownstein is a decent fellow and upstanding citizen. And he’s probably not a mean-spirited racist. Therefore, let’s avoid being haters regarding the true Marc Brownstein.
Rather, readers can think of Marc Brownstein as a label for actions and attitudes. Based on recent events (many of which have been detailed on this blog over the past months), it seems safe to conclude that every major Madison Avenue shop has a bunch of Marc Brownsteins on staff.
So what exactly is a Marc Brownstein?
When confronting issues of diversity and exclusivity, a Marc Brownstein openly displays passive bias. (Click on the essay title above to read the MultiCultClassics kickoff essay, which serves up the phenomenon of passive bias.)
For guidance on race-based questions, a Marc Brownstein seeks counsel from a Black friend (who is often the only Black person in the Marc Brownstein social network). Of course, this Black friend will be a class act, unlike the majority of minorities featured on evening news broadcasts and regular installments of The People’s Court and Cops. Plus, the Black friend’s viewpoint will completely represent the opinions of every dark-skinned individual on Earth.
A Marc Brownstein will refuse to believe discriminatory hiring practices exist in the advertising industry. Yet Marc Brownsteins are never able to adequately explain the lack of color in the Ivory Towers of Madison Avenue. In fact, a Marc Brownstein will inevitably place the bulk of the blame on minorities for failing to pursue opportunities in the field. “We’re just not getting any résumés from Jamal and LaQuita,” is a normal Marc Brownstein complaint.
Mirrors are obviously in short supply with Marc Brownsteins, as they don’t connect their personal job histories with the global problem. That is, a Marc Brownstein enters the business via nepotism, cronyism and a host of isms rooted in privilege. Heaven forbid a Marc Brownstein should be judged solely on talent.
The standard Marc Brownstein definition of minorities includes adjectives like “inner-city” — as if minority recruitment must start in the mean streets of urban America, the veritable undiscovered country for a Marc Brownstein.
The Marc Brownsteins of the world love to jump on pedestals and unload cool solutions for the diversity dilemmas, incorporating the insights of the Black friend and a perusal of the nearest Shelby Steele book. Oddly enough, the plans usually offer a lot of common sense and keen tactics that could lead to success. However, a Marc Brownstein will never prove the theories by attempting to execute them. Better to let another agency serve as the ceremonial guinea pig.
On the flipside, a Marc Brownstein will also suggest ignorant concepts like creating “a TV show in an agency environment with a cast that’s truly diverse.” Now there’s an innovative way to entice potential candidates — let’s show folks a totally fictional scenario that doesn’t currently exist anywhere. Somebody call BET pronto.
And that, in a nutshell, describes a Marc Brownstein. Feel free to develop mnemonic devices or jingles for the critter.