Ethics Quiz: TV’s Imaginary Demographics

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The question is “What is ‘enough’?

The U.S. depicted in television commercials is decidedly—what, strange? Contrived? It is certainly not demographically accurate. All statistics I have seen indicate that African Americans make up less than 15% of the U.S. population, but that’s not how Madison Avenue sees it, or not how they want us to see it.

Actual statistics on this don’t exist, because I presume one will be called a racist for even noticing, but I would like to call for some volunteer counters. Watch TV on a commercial channel and count the number of white, black, and mixed race actors used in the ads, and report back here what you found. I’ve done this periodically over the last few months, most recently this morning. White actors were actually in the minority today and I’m counting Hispanic-Americans as white.

Do I care? Should I care? I don’t know. I certainly don’t care about the personal attributes of roles presented to hawk various products. Does it bother me that “Jake from State Farm” was magically made black? No, certainly in a vacuum it doesn’t matter: he seems like a nice guy.

But a white actor lost his job purely because of his race. Presumably many are losing their jobs too.

I also don’t like being manipulated, which is what this fantasy U.S. created by ad agencies, presumably acting on the directions of virtue-signaling corporations, is an attempt at doing. I’m assuming that soon we’ll be seeing a huge uptick in Asian-Americans (less than 6%) in ads, since the news media and progressives have decided, contrary to all evidence, that there is a massive “wave” of anti-Asian bias.

Maybe you think this propaganda—and it is propaganda—is a good thing, like the weird proliferation of mixed-race couples (around 10% demographically) in TV dramas and ads. Maybe it is: the representation is not true or accurate, but I suppose the theory is that seeing this version of America will work to subliminally eradicate racism and racial bias. That means, I guess, that calling attention to the device spoils the plan.

I feel that there are several aspects of the deliberate racial distortion that might be unethical:

  • As I already stated, it means that the ad-creators are discriminating against white actors for “the greater good.”
  • I don’t trust ad agencies and big consumer companies with social engineering
  • The effort is political propaganda, however well-intentioned.

Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz of the Day is…

Is the over-representation of black characters in TV commercials unethical, benign, or not worth thinking about?

23 thoughts on “Ethics Quiz: TV’s Imaginary Demographics

  1. I’ve been noticing this for some 3 or 4 years now, and since the onset of The Great Stupid it has moved from the noticeable to the obvious.
    The trend I have noticed lately is the emphasis on using blacks to sell luxury cars that I have never seen blacks driving… When was the last time you saw a nuclear black family in a Subaru or an Audi??? But all of their commercials have them (I wondered who was the real 16 or so year old black male looking out on a rainy day and saying “Mom, I’m taking the Subaru”)
    Not to mention the latest ads from Logitech (Apparently Gay Creative Blacks With Colored Hair).

    Corporate Virtue Signaling at this finest…

  2. Part of the change is even worse. The line, “She sounds hideous”, was taken as aggression against the transgendered community. Killing the joke to appease hypersensitivity.

  3. I don’t really understand why it’s still “Jake from State Farm”. Why not have a new character name? I have a problem with that more than anything. Give the guy a new name. Just stop covering up things and pretending we won’t notice the change.

    • What makes it worse is that the new Jake from State Farm always says “Get the real deal”. I am not buying the ‘real thing’ from the ‘fake Jake’.

  4. To be honest, so much is unrealistic in television and cinema that I don’t worry much about proportionate racial representation. Yes, I know that every other couple isn’t actually inter-racial, but then again I know it isn’t actually nearly impossible to slice a tomato with an ordinary chef’s knife, breaking into a computer system involves very little in the way of 3D animated graphics, and cars are specifically made not to explode in spectacular fireballs after every minor collision.

  5. Saw one sarcastic commitment somewhere online: “I was offended to see a couple that was neither gay nor biracial on a TV ad today.”

  6. Don’t care, don’t notice, because when commercials come on, I tune out because I find them all sophomoric. 🙂 I remember when my now-grown eldest was about 6 and fell in love with a turning dollhouse shown on TV. She HAD to have this magical toy….so, deciding it was a perfect teachable moment, I got it for her birthday. Her face glowed when she saw it….until she touched it and tried to use it. It was plastic junk. Within five minutes, face fell, eyes leaked and she walked away from it, never to ask for anything on TV again. YAY mom! Got my money back too.

  7. I conclude benign. Commercials are propaganda from the get-go, anyway. Even before the advertiser injects any virtue-signaling or unreal-worldism into the (for me) inconsequential details, such as the race of the actors, their supposed economic status, and however they are portrayed (come on, man: do THAT many families of African ancestry use their leisure time to go CAMPING?! I don’t think so…). If you’re going to watch or listen to an ad on TV or radio, respectively – or even, an ad on the infallible Internet – and you’re not self-trained to be on-guard and using your brain as you watch or listen, then you are failing to manage your spending habits wisely. (Not sorry – Reese’s.)

    • “Commercials are propaganda from the get-go”; this is pretty much my opinion / observation also.

      I rarely, and I do mean rarely as almost never, watch commercials or ads. The very little TV or movies I watch are always recorded so I can FF through the commercials. Personally, I think 99.9% of all marketing is BS and the people creating the ads are scumbags.

      “and you’re not self-trained to be on-guard and using your brain as you watch or listen” Yes, sometimes I used to watch commercials just to criticize them or pick out misleading content.

      Like the car commercial – “Real people not actors.” FY – Sure they’re real people but they are still acting even though they aren’t “professional” actors.

      Or the Reverse Mortgage commercial with Tom Selleck of Magnum PI fame or something saying “I used to think Reverse Mortgages were a bad deal until I did the research”. Bullshit, why would Selleck have to research or even thing about a reverse mortgage. “I wouldn’t be here if I thought reverse mortgages took advantage of seniors in any way” More BS.

      You get the idea.

      • I confess: I had to end my own comment with a bit of self-deprecating humility, with the parenthetical, “Not sorry – Reese’s,” because that particular candy has broken the code to overpowering my resistance to junk food addiction. I do not manage my spending habits as wisely as I wish I did.

        Good example, Edward: that one about Tom Selleck and reverse mortgages. Ugh.

        And now…with a wedding anniversary imminent, I must quickly go out and buy a gift for my dear wife – plus flowers. (I bought the card a week ago.) We will be dining out at a restaurant that we have unanimously agreed to go to. (THAT is SOMETHING!) We are not yet at the “golden” anniversary, so, Chinese food will have to be enough, this year. (even if I do prefer Mongolian barbecue)

  8. If this is true, you are mistaken about Jake from State Farm:

    View at Medium.com

    The original Jake had a day job-at State Farm.

    Once the ad took off, they wanted a professional actor. At that point, should they have looked for someone like Jake, or just look for anyone?

    Knowing this, I like the new Jake.

    -Jut

      • As a professional director, I can assure everyone that about 75% of the population is capable of playing at least one role as well as any trained actor. The original Jake could have become as ubiquitous as Flo on progressive commercials. Maybe he didn’t want to.

        • The original Jake did do a call back for his old role. The casting guy even said he wanted the original guy for the role. Independent testing showed the new Jake polled better.

          I have read the accounts that said State Farm wanted a professional actor. I don’t know if I would have called the new Jake professional at that point (what does it take to be a professional?). He hadn’t even had an agent yet and was pretty much living out of his car at the time. The diversity aspects seems to be the simplest explanation.

          I think some of it had to do with the controversy surrounding the “he sounds hiddious line.” While the commercial gained a lot of traction, that lined got a lot of negative attention where it was later removed in the commercial and in the remake. Perhaps they did not want the negative press associated with it (guilty by association). But if that was the case, I don’t know why they would have had all the same actors besides the new Jake.

      • Sure, it could be a convenient cover story, but it might also be true. However, there is also plausible deniability. Once they turned “Jake from State Farm” into a bona fide campaign, they could have opened it to all-comers. They were not about to say, “we need a new white guy to play Jake.” Then, they pick a black guy as a token, or he was what they wanted. The original Jake seemed kind of obtuse; the new one seems smart and amiable, even as he deals with obtuse people.

        My ruling: Fair ball!

        -Jut

  9. I can’t think of the last time I saw a commercial.

    Dead serious. When I moved out of my parent’s house, I was working an average 70 hour workweek, Cable was expensive and I was never going to use it. So instead, if I ever had time to watch something, I rented movies from Blockbuster (those were the days). Since then, I’ve expanded! I now have a Prime and Disney+ membership, having just Cancelled my Netflix. Never in my life paid for cable, never paid to watch a commercial. And as a kicker: My Disney/Prime experience is still about $100 cheaper a month than getting cable.

    I think this is like the cellphone/landline thing (Haven’t had a landline in…. 10 years? Ish.), where there are segments of the population that are still consuming what I’m going to call “legacy” entertainment. As opposed to legacy entertainment, where people didn’t have a whole lot of options, and couldn’t pick much a la carte, people are able to pay for memberships to streaming services that are very tailored: Like Horror Movies? Get Shudder. Like Anime? Get Crunchyroll. Like the porn channels? Half the internet is already for you, you degenerate. No one likes commercials though, and so none of the streaming services have them.

    So, I wonder, as an answer to your question, if the reason that the demographics in advertising is different is at least partially explained in the target audience for the people left on legacy entertainment. In order to stream, you have to have some pretty decent internet, and while I view the internet as essential, and therefore can stream at my leisure, for a family that doesn’t have fiber, maybe they see the cost as restrictive. Unlike cable, streaming solutions require a credit card, some families might not have a credit card. It almost seems counterintuitive, because I think the people most likely to be su…. I mean, pay for cable would tend to be older and whiter, but maybe that’s shifting and advertisers are attempting to appeal to the changing consumer demographics.

  10. Regarding the Quiz, there is a problem with the whole structure.

    Is it the job of commercial makers to make things that “look like America”? No, it is not. However, they want to make money; they want to target certain groups; and they want to signal their virtue.

    So, if they make a commercial that they want to attract “all” demographics, they have a choice: do they make a slew of commercial with percentages that match the demographics (100 commercials, six of which feature Asians), or do they do one commercial that crams everybody in, right down to the guy in the wheelchair playing basketball?

    The answer is obvious, I think: the most cost-effective thing is to cast a wide net in every commercial so as to reach the broadest array of customers. The effect of that is that smaller groups will end up being over-represented and larger groups will be under-represented.

    It’s all a function of money-so it can’t be unethical.

    Same is true in TV shows. To have any broad appeal, you have to skew casting. If you don’t have broad appeal, you would end up with your white shows and your black shows (hell, even Margaret Cho can squeeze out her own sit-com under those rules). But, as much as I liked Good Times and What’s Happening, having “white shows” and “black shows” seems worse than trying to create something in a culture that is probably the most culturally diverse place on earth.

    After all, I like All in the Family far better than What’s Happening and Good Times. Was George Jefferson (Sherman Hemsley) a token black character. I don’t really think so (certainly not as much as Tom Willis (Franklin Cover) was on The Jefferson’s), as the show was intended to be controversial and needed to have points of antagonism. But, it also kept those shows from having more limited appeal. And, we got Different Strokes out of the deal.

    The big surprise in that regard could be The Cosby Show, which had a broad appeal, while having very few white characters.

    Given the constraints of the medium, especially considering the goals of the production, exact representation (proportional representation?) is impossible or impracticable. Exact representation is not the goal and shouldn’t be.

    So, while it is generally benign, it is usually not worth thinking about. Having said that, however, even I can feel myself rolling my eyes at certain shows, movies, commercials. Most appropriate right now seems to be the explosion of “trans” characters (almost as if: 1) they want to show us how progressive they are in including such characters; 2) how small-minded we are if we object to them; or 3) to provide cover so that no one can come along and call them transphobic).

    -Jut

  11. Is the over-representation of black characters in TV commercials unethical, benign, or not worth thinking about?

    It’s not unethical to present to the public but it’s unethical to make the decisions behind the scenes based on race.

    It’s not benign, no form of propaganda is.

    It’s a form of visual propaganda and yes it can and should be talked about, how it’s discussed makes all the difference.

    Personally I think they are going a bit overboard across the board with their visual propaganda but it’s no more relevant to my life than it was when the vast majority of the people depicted were all white. Why it’s not relevant to my life can be found in the words of Martin Luther King Jr. “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

  12. I find little difference between the direction commercial makers have taken and the announcement by Coke’s counsel last week involving racial quotas when hiring law firms…at least as far as I’m concerned. I have a choice to support those advertisers by buying or avoiding their products. In Coke’s case, I exclusively drank their products for forty+ years. With their blatantly racist decisions, that ended last week until they announce a reversal.

  13. 70% of black children are raised in fatherless homes and live at or near the poverty line in real life. In tv land, 100% of black children live not only in an intact family but in affluence.
    The US Census Bureau reports 15% of couples are mixed race. In TV land they are in every commercial.
    The gay population is reported to be somewhere between 4-8%. IN TV land the number is much higher. There has been a noted uptick in the number of Gay erotic love scenes. It seems that each program has at least one. Prostitutes have been increasingly referred to as “good hard-working girls” with little reference to the abuse they receive by pimps and johns.
    Finally, a question, how many couples have sex standing against the hallway wall?

  14. I don’t watch broadcast television, but I do stream, and that leads to certain realizations about the world, and, I assume, alternate universes:

    About 70% of America is Black, all of them living in better neighborhoods than I do. Most families look like a meeting of the U.N. Hispanic World is All Brown, lacking any Blacks or Whites, though Asians sometimes lurk in the background. About 50% of chefs are Gay, and half of them squeal … a lot. Women are not only superior (note: buy a Her-She bar to support them), but do everything with an air of righteous indignation/arrogance, even if it’s something as simple as driving a car down Hip-Hop Street, mocking Old White Women and their Entitled Dogs. And, of course, all American companies, like all sports franchises, actively hate half the Americans they expect to support them.

    Jake? Don’t care. Allstate® never did anything with the character, so good on them for creating something from very little. And, yes, he does seem like a nice guy. But I’ll stick with Nationwide.

    But, Jimmy Olsen, perky red-headed cub reporter for the Daily Planet, a great metropolitan newspaper, as an arrogant, unlikable, Black bald guy? Just ain’t right. In any universe.

    And don’t get me started about Captain Marvel, shemale Thor or the execrable Wonder Woman who is now a role model for no one.

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