A few weeks ago my son and I took a driving trip to Ohio for a cello institute. I want to tell you to read this post thinking about classical music filling our ears for a week. But I felt like it was a week TV. In the car driving there, in between lessons at the camp, and after playing cello all day we’d come home and order room service and watch TV. So I have seen a lot of commercials. And I realized that I can tell a lot about where education is going from watching TV.

Butterfly Garden
This is a product that has been sold in schools for forty years. You buy the butterfly larvae or whatever they are, and then you put them in your netting thing and watch them become butterflies. It’s a great commercial and it made me want to buy it for my kids. But I realized, as I was watching the mom help the kids have educational moments with their insects that what the commercial was really selling was homeschool. You can take the best of school and bring it into your home. I see the trend here is that parents feel more and more responsible for their kids educations.

Gerber college savings
That butterfly mom was white. I know you know that. It’s just how commercials are. There has to be a good reason to have a black person in a commercial. The default person is white. Please, do not badger me with comments about racism. I’m just reporting what is true. For example, the Reese’s Peanut Butter cereal has a great rap song in this commercial, so there’s a black kid singing and dancing to it. It’s how the world of advertising works.

So the Gerber college saving plan, (which I’ve written about before) is attempting to scare parents into saving for college. I’m not going to go into how stupid the plan is—it’s not just savings for school but it’s also a life insurance policy. Or health insurance. It’s unclear. But what’s clear is that it’s a scam, because who, really, can save for college? It’s too expensive. The only impact saving for college has is that the school awards less financial aid because you have money sitting in the bank. And, on top of that, it’s pretty clear that college is a huge waste of money.

But here’s the thing about this ad: It’s black parents who are doing the savings. What I take from this is that it’s becoming mainstream to think savings for college is stupid—the financial equivalent of a hamster wheel. The more you save, the more money they take from you. So Gerber has decided that maybe black families, who typically do not enter college at the rate of white and Asian families, might be suckers for saving for college.

The commercial is a sign that not saving for college is becoming socially acceptable and even forward thinking. Because it’s so clear that college is a scam.

Food commercials (all of them)
It’s the mom who is cooking. Even though men are doing more and more of the cooking, cleaning and childcare, that’s simply not true in the commercials. And I think this is because commercials are aspirational. And women do not want to have a husband who’s home taking care of the kids. Pew Research shows that a wide majority of women with kids would rather have a part-time job than work full-time or stay home full-time.

To me this means that women want to be the main caretaker and they want men to be the breadwinners. Because there is no other reasonable way for women to work part-time and support a family. (Generally speaking, part-time careers are not stable enough for families to rely on them for sustenance.)

This means that parents are leaning toward teaching kids at home, ditching college, and having the mom as the main caretaker. Once you have all that in place, it’s a small step to start homeschooling.

6 replies
    • Simone
      Simone says:

      In the world of advertising that is never the case – a cigar is always more than a cigar.

      As an African-American woman, I agree with Penelope’s assessment about targeting advertising to Black families about saving for college. College is sacrosanct in the African-American community to the extent that no mother or father would ever tell their child not to go to college because its a waste of time.

      That’s a luxury only white people can afford; we still need every advantage we can get. As my father use to say, so much that its drilled in our heads, “Education is the Black man’s salvation”.

      As for ads with only women in the kitchen cooking and cleaning, I always wondered about that too. And suspect your assessment is dead on here as well. I agree that commercials are largely aspirational and I do not aspire to have my man in the kitchen cooking or cleaning; I aspire for him to be rich enough to hire someone to do the cooking and cleaning for us!

      Penelope, love your blog. Please don’t ever stop because I can’t wait to see what you blog about from a nursing home or, excuse me, retirement community as they are now being called. (I’m from Florida so should know better).

      • karelys
        karelys says:

        Completely agree!

        I hail from a country where most people are dark skinned and even then the ads are full of people with Anglo features. It’s like WTF!

        But everything is aspirational. And right now, on the verge of my last few months of working for a paycheck and hoping I’ll rake in enough money to cover the bills so I can stay with my kid at home….all the commercials with the moms cleaning the house, keeping a clean house while sitting on WHITE couches sipping tea/coffee with their girlfriends while their kids play outside all pretty are super aspirational!

        I am expecting my house to look like the same wreck it does now that I work full time because I’ll be like a hungry wolf working from home or wherever I can meet clients to ensure the paycheck keeps rolling. My old boss offered to give me a chance to work for commission from my house and I’ve never done it. But from what I read in this blog, working from home looks like a lot of crazy because the neat boxes of “office time” and family time and rest time are all swished together.

        I want my butterfly thing for home though! that’d be awesome!

  1. Cassie Boorn
    Cassie Boorn says:

    There have been a bunch of start-ups popping up lately that deliver activity kits for kids. They have a bunch of them ranging from science, art, play, etc. but the concept is the same: once a month parents get a box with exact details on how to complete an activity and all of the supplies they need.

    The biggest obstacle to getting more people to homeschool is how “hard” it is. (I don’t homeschool. I think it is hard.) But it appears that more and more companies are making learning at home simple for parents.

    So interesting.

  2. another Lisa
    another Lisa says:

    Not sure if you noticed but the black rapper for Reese’s Peanut Butter cereal was also very light skinned and his facial features looked mixed race.

    • Simone
      Simone says:

      Wow… I always thought only black people noticed such things. Yes, Virginia, there are some cool white people! And let it not go unsaid that Barack Obama was largely accepted by the mainstream because of his mixed (white) heritage.

      If the next black president looks like Danny Glover, Denzel Washington or Samuel L. Jackson then we’ll know we’ve overcome. But hey, baby steps.

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