Due to my intense love of Brick City, the Sundance Channel's Peabody Award-winning documentary series about Newark's politics and people, I missed a major chunk of the Super Bowl. That meant playing catch-up on pop culture moments like the Pepsi MAX "Love Hurts" commercial that has the black blog- and Facebook-osphere buzzing this week.
To sum up the $800-spot, which was created by amateur filmmaker and professional white guy Brad Bosley for Pepsi's annual consumer-ad contest: "Love Hurts" features a dark brown woman who physically abuses her lighter-skinned mate to keep him from eating high-calorie foods. When he attempts to order fries, she kicks him under a restaurant table. She also shoves his face into a pie he's angling to eat and stuffs a bar of soap into his mouth to block him from scarfing down a burger.
The victim of this Angry Black Woman does get one moment of peace when he chills on a park bench sipping calorie-free Pepsi MAX. But then a "pretty blonde" straight out of central casting jogs up and cheese-smiles at him, causing his tormentor to hurl a can of Pepsi MAX at his head. He ducks, the can hits the flirtatious blonde instead, and the black couple skitters away, leaving the blonde writhing on the ground.
Full disclosure: My irritation at this commercial was as delayed as my viewing of it. Intellectually and politically, I knew it was dead wrong. But execution wise, "Love Hurts" is so over the top, I chose to see it as satire, the same way I rationalize well-timed ig'nance by standup comedians like Kevin Hart.
A Facebook post by a black 40-something health writer and activist friend slapped me back to Earth:
The Pepsi add featuring an angry, violent, dark-skinned woman pissed me off. Is it just open season on Black women's images??? If it offended you also, let Pepsi know by emailing them at this URL:http://cr.pepsi.com/usen/pepsiusen.cfm?date=20110207
So did black feminist cultural critic Sistah Toldja, who points out how "Love Hurts" uses complexion and weight to reinforce the Angry Black Woman trope:
Let's talk about the actors couple for a second. The husband is bald, sturdy and marginally attractive. Definitely not a Boris Kodjoe, through he's about the same complexion and has a similar beard and goatee look. I'd say the wife is very pretty, aside from an unfortunate looking weave. She's also darker and heavier than most of the women we see in print or TV ads (unless they are "big" women, such as the stars of the Pine-Sol and Popeye's commercials). If I had to guess, I'd say she was a plus model (somewhere around the size 10-12 range; remember: most plus models aren't actually plus sized). However, it's very clear that she isn't supposed to be a "hot" or beautiful wife--the juxtaposition of her and the pretty blonde makes that very clear.
On thegrio.com, writer Ronda Racha Penrice reeled at what she deemed as the ad's inherent colorism:
Courtesy of Pepsi Max, we got a black woman physically abusing her husband as she caught him cheating on his diet. Now, of course, the black woman has dark skin. After all, light-skinned women are just incapable of any sort of aggression, according to popular culture. Somehow such demanding behavior just typifies women with a darker complexion. It must be something in the melanin.
And over at Black Voices, Dr. Boyce Watkins, who wrote that the "man in him" found the ad hilarious, ties the whole mess up:
There is also the broader implication of a black woman physically abusing her man, as if domestic violence is funny. The man in me is willing to laugh it off, but there is another part of me that is disturbed. So, between the act of giggling away serious violence, perpetuating the image of the angry black woman, portraying the black couple to be violent criminals and re-igniting the stereotype of the black woman beating her man for wanting the white girl, this ad gives black America a whole lot to talk about.
Actually, I think it's settled. This commercial plays on corny, racist tropes. And it sucks.
Housekeeping: I'm working on a bigger piece that I'll post later this week, so please forgive the brief hiatus. Thank you for your support.