I’ve gone back and forth about writing this post several times. There’s one part of me that says, “This is such a minor thing, why even bother?” Another part of me says, “If you don’t get it out of your system you’ll end up stabbing an advertising executive somewhere.” So I shall blog.
Who amongst us hasn’t seen the Geico Caveman commercials? The basic template is:
“Using Geico.com is so easy, a caveman could do it!”
[caveman gets upset]
Here’s a compendium of them on YouTube.
The first time I saw these commercials I didn’t think much of them. I got the joke, found it to be only slightly funny, but it didn’t piss me off so much. It’s a send-up of how easy it is for some commercials to unwittingly offend and also a send-up of folks who get overly offended at small things like stupid and ill-conceived commercials.
I fully realize that by talking about this at all I am taking a first class seat on the irony train.
But I really felt, as the commercials went on and got more elaborate, that they were making light of an actual problem in our society. And, I have to say, I’m really starting to feel like they’re a little bit racist.
In the world of the commercials, the cavemen are mostly well-educated, cosmopolitan people–no, no, Men, because we have yet to see a female cave person–who hold jobs and have plenty of money and seem middle or upper class. When they hear the line about ‘so easy a caveman could do it’ (or see posters about it) they become offended because the commercial insinuates that they are nothing but stupid, bipedal animals only capable of the simplest of tasks. No matter how they try to address this issue – by talking directly to Geico, by appearing on Bill O’Reilly-type cable news channel shows, or even by going to therapy – the message they get from everyone is that the commercials are valid because, well, cavemen are just simple, stupid bipeds barely above animals. There’s even a commercial where one caveman is disappointed in another caveman for ‘selling out’ by getting insurance through Geico.
If this isn’t clear to everyone by now, I think the Cavemen are really thinly veiled pastiches of black people! Their skin is even dark (but not too dark or else someone might get offended). They’re seen as simple, stupid creatures. They have a hard time getting white people to understand their feelings about the issue. In the end, the prevailing opinion is that the slogan is fair because the cavemen really are what others think they are, despite the evidence. And, let’s not forget, that the cavemen are really just being oversensitive to begin with.
If anyone out there doesn’t get how this is exactly the struggle black folks have been having with the white-dominated media since… well, since minstrel shows, let me know. I will school you.
Looking at these commercials and how very (detailed? accurate? historically-minded?) they are, I have to wonder if the advertisers are being racist or if they’re making a point about how far we have and haven’t come in terms of race relations and the media. Are they sending out a veiled message that people should stop being so damn sensitive about racism (or sexism or queerism or whatever) in commercials and making fun of people that are? Are they being subversive? Or are they just a bunch of people who are too stupid to understand the message they’re sending and just think it’s a funny, funny joke?
I honestly can’t tell.
Which is why the commercials irk me. I don’t know whether to be full-out angry or just annoyed or ignore the whole thing. What do you think, faithful readers?