By Bob Black

What I'm about to reveal will change forever the way you watch TV. Once you've seen it once, you'll see it everywhere.

Everybody knows that the people on TV look different from the rest of us. They are better looking. They have every good thing the world has to give, including, by the end of the commercial, whatever they're trying to sell you. Their hair is perfect. Their teeth gleam. But it goes further than that. One day I noticed that there were a tremendous number of redheads in TV advertising. Out on the street you might see a hundred white people before spotting a redhead. In TV ads it can be one in five or one in ten. Then I noticed something else. Of the African-Americans in ads, a tremendous number have very light skin ("high yellow"), far more than in the general population. Multiply one low probability by another and you get a very low probability that you would see a redhead and a high yellow in the same ad if the people in the ads, as the President might say, looked like America. I began to watch for this rarity, which should have been rarer still since I confined my research to female pairings.

It turns out that, once you know what to look for, you can rarely get through a station break without what I call a doubleshot. Soon I wished I could close the doors of perception, lock them, and throw away the key. I felt like the Ray Milland character in The Man with the X-Ray Eyes, who went mad because he could see through everything, including his own eyelids. Is this what color TV was meant for?

The reader who thinks I'm bullshitting will learn otherwise, to his sorrow, the next time he watches TV. I can dramatize my discovery no better than by verifying my claim that there's a doubleshot ad for almost every product or service you might need or desire. Walk with me and see.

The day begins when the alarm clock rings (purchased at WARDS). You shower with DOVE, shampoo with CLAIROL, and brush your teeth with CREST. You put on the glasses you got from ANNE KLEIN EYEWARE and a suit from TALBOTS. You dab on a hint of LOREAL. You take VALTREX for that condition you developed after a bout of unprotected sex and, to keep you regular, FIBERCON. After a strong cup of MAXWELL HOUSE coffee, you enjoy breakfast at APPLEBEE'S and proceed to work. Your employer is NEW YORK CONSUMERS FOR ECONOMIC COMPETITION, INC., a business lobby masquerading as a consumer group. The hardware you work with, from INTEL and GATEWAY, is state of the art. For lunch you have lots of choices: CHUCK E. CHEESE, RED LOBSTER, SUBWAY, OUTBACK STEAKHOUSE, etc.

Quitting time at last, and home you go. Since you aren't very hungry you just nibble on some TRISCUITS washed down by CRYSTAL LIGHT. Your mood is a little low: it's that time of the month (you prefer WINGS STAYFREE). The rug needs a going-over with your EUREKA but you're just not up for it tonight. For that matter, the kitchen needs a new coat of SHERWIN-WILLIAMS. Although it's probably not a good idea, you crack open a bottle of TURNING LEAF MERLOT. You even consider ringing up the PSYCHIC HOTLINE (through your long-distance provider SPRINT) but think better of it. You're already almost maxed out on your MASTERCARD, EQUITABLE has just jacked up your insurance premium, and you're giving serious consideration to seeking credit counseling from GENUS CREDIT MANAGEMENT. But that decision is a headache to be put off to another day. You can put off the decision, but you can't put off the headache, so you take a TYLENOL and go to sleep.

It's gone that far. From A to Z, ACCOLADE to ZENEKA PHARMACEUTICS, wherever you go, there they are. Separate sightings are still more numerous. It may well be that these casting decisions stem from market research as to the kind of people most people like to see on TV (not their own kind of people, apparently). Most people are losers and they know it. You can't use people like them to sell them stuff because they'd never buy anything off people like themselves. One tried-and-true method of selling to the masses is by using celebrity salesmen from a life worlds removed from theirs, but, even aside from the labor costs, distance is what sustains celebrity: familiarity devalues it. To maximize the effectiveness of celebrity ads they must be kept scarce. The journeymen ad actors will have to come across as more familiar and accessible than the celestials but still superior to the normals--a better version of the viewers.

I'm talking about nothing but culturally conditioned self-perceptions of the body. The people in TV ads are the idealized versions of the people who are not. Madison Avenue's (and Hollywood's) preference for high yellows continues an old tradition among both blacks and whites of most highly esteeming the most white-looking of black women. At the same time, these light-skinned women are, after all, black as Americans reckon race. In a country like Brazil they would occupy a distinct racial category, but Americans of all races still cling to our ancient theory that anybody who appears to have or is known to have even a trace of African ancestry is black. So the darker African-Americans do not reject high yellows as members of their community, but they may envy them and are tempted to identify with them at least to the extent of heeding the advertising messages they present.

The explanation for TV advertising's fetish for redheads is not as obvious, but I think it's not too different in the long run. The axiom is the same: white is good and the whiter the better. Americans who now consider each other white (or so they say) haven't always been so sure who was white and who wasn't. In antebellum America, English-stock native-born Protestants seriously pondered whether Irish Catholics were white. Fifty years later, there was much doubt whether immigrants from Sicily and southern Italy were white. After all, most ostensibly white Americans have brown eyes, and an even higher proportion has brown hair. That doesn't mean they're not white, but, after all, they could certainly look whiter, and looks are all that matter in the advertising context. Who, then, looks white to white people and even more reliably whiter than a lot of them do?

Redheads. Almost always they have blue (or green) eyes and fair complexions. Somebody might up and say that this is also true of blondes. Insofar as this is true, it further proves my point. Blondes are also a small minority of the white population, but more numerous than redheads, and vastly overrepresented in TV advertising. There may well have been a time when blondes dominated ads as redheads and high yellows do now. Maybe the admen overdid blondes at a time before political correctness pressured them into bringing in some blacks, and they turned to redheads as an alternative source of ultra-whiteness. I've carried this ball as far as I care to, somebody else is welcome to pick it up and run with it.

Fads usually run to extremes before they run their course, and the doubleshot craze is no exception. The ultimate doubleshot (whose premium status is marked by an asterisk) is the hole in one: an actress who is both a redhead and a high yellow. Examples include TRIDENT GUM* and M&Ms*, but another example will end our excursion with sublime absurdity: the UNITED NEGRO COLLEGE FUND*!

Bob Black
PO Box 3142
Albany, New York 12203-0142