Everybody's Betty: Ms. Crocker's cheeks get a touch of color

September 13, 1995|By MIKE LITTWIN

Once upon a time, we believed America was a melting pot. But then we decided it wasn't.

Multiculturalists suggested the salad bar was a better metaphor. You can mix everyone together, but each person and/or vegetable remains distinct. The problem with this theory was, of course, what to do with the salad dressing.

Now, there's an even better idea.

The new thinking is based on the life of Michael Jackson, our most successful crossover artist, who figured out how to be black and white simultaneously.

But, to be like Mike, you no longer have to put in the years of hard work and endure all that plastic surgery. And no need for sleep-overs, either, which saves on those messy civil suits.

All you need is a computer and a dream.

With a computer, you can be black and white, man and woman, child and adult, all at once.

It's called morphing.

Scary? Not at all. It's advertising.

So when General Mills went looking for the new Betty Crocker, they brought along somebody from the computer division. And they came up with a plan. They weren't looking for the ur-woman. They were looking for all women, to be reduced to the everywoman.

As American icons go, I never gave much thought to Betty Crocker. She wasn't objectionable in the way, say, that Euell Gibbons was.

She was just that uptight, middle-class, white-bread stereotype who tried to answer this sociological imperative: Has any woman ever made Hamburger Helper while wearing pearls?

Let's face it. Betty Crocker never came up. Aunt Jemima was racist. Elsie the cow was animalist.

Betty Crocker was just, well, boring. Here's how the new Ms. Crocker will emerge, and it's not from the soup, primordial or otherwise: The computer will take 75 images and morph them into one image, 75 pictures into one computer-enhanced every-picture.

So, if you relate to the young professional woman, she's there. The woman at home with the kids, she's there, too.

Married women, single women, divorced women. White women, black women, Inuit women. Maybe no welfare-women. But certainly pro-choice and pro-life women. They're all there.

This is an important advance because, as we know, advertisers are facing a serious challenge. The country is changing. It's browner than it used to be, more foreign than it used to be, more divided than ever. And there's nothing advertisers hate more than a divided nation, if it means that markets get fractured, too.

So, this is perfect. You hit every audience at once.

You've seen the prototype. It's those guys in the shaving commercial. For one second, it's an Asian face, then a black face, then a white face, a tall guy, a short guy, bald guy. You get the idea, guy.

We're all the same. Or if we're different, we're all the same to the razor blade, which is a touching message.

If you think race is a problem in this country, you don't watch commercials or go to the movies. The black-and-white buddy movie has become a Hollywood tradition. Put Mel Gibson and Danny Glover on the screen together, throw in some chase scenes, some explosion scenes, some shoot-'em-up scenes and you've got a multiracial hit on your hands.

Even more subversive, and more to the point, is Disney. I know. Annette wasn't subversive, but "Pocahontas" is.

In the movie "Pocahontas," they made this 12-year-old American Indian into a curvy, almost-Indian-looking, deerskin-top-over-the-shoulder sex goddess. If she doesn't look like a real Indian, it's because there's this Hollywood feeling that all real Indian women must look like Geronimo's mother. How many tickets will that sell?

What General Mills wants for Betty Crocker is to bring the races together, at least at the grocery store. It's the new affirmative action.

We're not holding hands. We're sharing hands -- also eyes and noses.

You know what the new Betty Crocker will look like. She'll be tan, but not dark. Not Oprah dark, certainly. But not Martha Stewart white either.

The eyes should be slightly Asian-looking. Asian eyes -- not full-blown Asian eyes, but sort of semi-Asian eyes -- are, well, beguiling.

Nose? A little broad. Not too broad. Not flat. Not wide. A hint of broad.

She'll be an entirely new race unto herself. Call it off-white.

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