Monday, August 11, 2008

Mere Oversight, or Ridiculously Racist?

Sometimes you can see something a million times without realizing that anything is amiss. Then, that 1,000,001th time you say: "hold the phone, I do believe that is fucked up." I had this experience the other day while watching TV. A commercial came on for Michelin Tires and I turned to Inky and posed, what now seems like a dumb question:

Greazy: "Is the Michelin Man supposed to be like a walking stack of tires?"

Inky: "Yeah, I guess. What else would he be?"

Greazy: "True, they are a tire company, but, um, why isn't he black?"

The conversation repeated itself with XL a few days later and after much reflection (and sadly about 45 minutes of Internet research) I have come to the conclusion that the Michelin Man's lack of pigment is nothing short of a thumb in the eye of any person of color. You have to believe that the marketing department at Michelin got together around a board room table filled with crusty bread and stinky cheese and had a frank discussion about the mascot that they had been asked to come up with.

The story goes that Edouard Michelin, the brother of the French company's founder Andre, came up with idea of a tire man named Bibendum after seeing a stack of bicycle tires in 1898. The most faithful reproduction of this stack of rubber would have looked just like the rolly poly M.M. we know today, but he would have been totally black. Not the image that you use to sell tires in the late 19th Century, unless of course they have 19" rims.

So the decision was made to make him white, and almost cute, and 110 years later we have this Klan looking motherfucker bouncing around our TV selling us black rubber tires. Makes you think, doesn't it?


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