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Jewish World Review May 4, 2001 / 9 Iyar, 5761

Greg Crosby

Greg Crosby
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Consumer Reports

Those Smiling Faces -- LAST week I mentioned how the Quaker man came to be the logo for the Quaker Oats company -- that friendly, smiling face on the package that we all grew up associating with cold winter mornings and hot cereal. There are, of course, many other faces on the supermarket shelves that smile out at us, Betty Crocker for one -- although her smiling face has undergone a politically correct face-lift recently.

Up until a few years ago, Betty Crocker had what some would call a middle American Waspish face. A well-groomed attractive woman with her light brown hair worn up in a sort of librarian manner who seemed to be in her late thirties or early forties. She never looked like a “mom” type --- more like a kindly schoolteacher who took her work seriously.

Today’s Betty is still attractive but now definitely younger and transformed into a Latin woman with her dark hair shortened and worn loose. She’s lost that serious schoolteacher look and now takes on the persona of a modern business woman. The company did the make-over, we are told, to better reflect the diversity in America. The face supposedly is a composite of all American women, but she is unmistakably Latina -- which is fine. After all, the character belongs to the company and they must do what they believe is best for them.

But, here’s the stupidity-- why would a Latina woman have a white bread Anglo-Saxon name like Betty Crocker? If you change the ethnicity of the person’s face, at least change her name to go with her new looks. Seems to me a name like Bonita Chavez would be more appropriate. Or Beatriz Cruz.

And while you’re at it, take the next step and change the food products you manufacture to better reflect America’s diversity, too. What’s a nice Latina girl doing on a box of Yankee pancake mix? Drop the white layer cake mixes and fudge frostings and start producing Latin foods to go with the new image. If you’re gonna do it, then do it right.

I’m glad they haven’t transformed Aunt Jemima into a Latina yet, although it could happen at any time. They have done away with her trademark bandanna, probably due to politically correct reasons and complaints from pressure groups. Aunt Jemima, for many years now, sports a modern bouffant hairdo which really doesn’t do much for her looks, but is completely inoffensive.

But what about the name? Once you’ve taken away the characteristics that made a character unique, then it isn’t that character anymore. You can call that black woman on the syrup label Aunt Jemima if you want, but she’s not Aunt Jemima. Might as well modernize her all the way and change her name to African-American Jemima, or Ms J or Jamin’ Mima or something.

Uncle Ben still looks like Uncle Ben, thank goodness. Maybe they left him alone because he’s a man and nobody knows what to do with men these days. Chef Boy-Ar-De looks the same. The chef (does he have a name?) on the Cream of Wheat boxes still looks like himself, too. As does Orville Redenbacher. No, they don’t mess around with modernizing the guys for some reason. It’s a good thing, too, because you can imagine how silly the Quaker Oats guy would look with a buzz cut and an earring.

One thing I notice, is they change Paul Newman’s face on the labels of “Newman’s Own” to relate to whatever the product happens to be. For example, on a jar of salsa Newman is wearing a Mexican sombrero and a big ol’ Mexican bandito mustache. I guess it’s okay if Paul Newman does ethnic stereotyping because all the profits made from the sale of these products goes to charity. But if his company put out bagels would Newman appear on the label dressed as an Orthodox Jew? Or would he appear in black-face on a can of black-eyed peas or hominy grits?

I really shouldn’t pick on poor old Paul. After all, like the Quaker Oats man, Betty Crocker, Aunt Jemima and Orville Redenbacher, he is now one of the faces smiling out at us from the supermarket shelves -- and with grocery prices the way they are, we certainly need all the smiles we can get.

JWR contributor Greg Crosby, former creative head for Walt Disney publications, has written thousands of comics, hundreds of children's books, dozens of essays, and a letter to his congressman. You may contact him by clicking here.

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© 2001 Greg Crosby