Monday, July 12, 2010

Web 2.0 Wayback Machine :: Ontario Lottery's Black Eye for Blackface in 1983

image :: vidcap from commercial for Lottario/Provincial, fall 1983

Last year, John Slattery {Roger Sterling} on Mad Men donned blackface circa 1963 with the point being that nobody batted an eyelash back in the day.

I saw this gem on the Retrontario YouTube channel. It's two versions of an Ontario Lottery ad for the Provincial that ran in 1983. It's a cartoon with likenesses of film stars and entertainers from the 1930s::

Retrontario provided some backstory for the two versions::
"In [late 1983], the Ontario Lottery Corporation produced an ad for Lottario which was extremely racist, as well as sexist. It was a cartoon, portraying a number of high-profile figures including a caricature of Louis Armstrong depicted in an offensive way, and Al Jolson in black face singing "Mammy." A ten year old boy named Michael saw the cartoon and was very upset by the way in which the only Black person he had seen on TV was portrayed. He said he never saw Black people who looked like the people he knows he was himself Black.
The next day, with the encouragement of his mother and teacher, he called the Ontario Lottery Corporation to complain. Needless to say, at first, they were not very sympathetic to his concerns. However, Michael was persistent. Again with a little support from adults in his life, he called Jo Jo DeChinto with City TV. Jo Jo decided this was an important story and took immediate action, beginning with a call to the President of the Ontario Lottery Corporation, followed by interviews with several organizations who shared Michael's concern with the ad. The ad was pulled and Michael, inspired by his success, went on to continue monitoring and responding to other examples of racism in the media. I don't know where Michael is today, but I do know that he proved that advocacy and resistance can make a difference."
Perhaps most telling is how many still question any racism in the ad in the comments to the video. One commenter offers that perhaps the use of the culturally iconic Al Jolson may have been used ironically. 

Also in 1983, Taco {one-hit wonder} had a video for his cover of Fred Astaire's "Puttin' on the Ritz" that featured dancers in...blackface.

This is now known as the "uncensored" version, so there's a pattern here.

What's an advertiser to do? The core issue is when cultural iconography/rhetoric runs into the dicey terrain of power and representational imagery/logics. In short, it tends to be fair game to lampoon or derisively depict those with cultural power. A student of mine a few years back noticed that the concept of "dad" was used in advertising as the proverbial whipping boy. It's fair game to poke fun of dad and call him an idiot, often relating to stereotypical maleness or dadness. Can you do the same thing to mom? We're back to dicey territory on that one because of historical trajectories of gender and power.

Song:: Belle & Sebastian-'Black & White Unite'

Twitterversion:: [blog+video] #Web2_0Waybackmachine #Retrontario video of 1983 Ontario Lottery commercial w/cartoon Al Jolson in blackface. @Prof_K

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