Deeply White: Rembrandt Promises to “Whiten on the inside and out”

September 8th, 2012

I found this commercial at best, simply an ill-thought out attempt to be clever, and at worst, a complete and utter lack of consciousness about the still very present and active processes of ethnocentrism and racism which seek to stamp out difference; both literally and figuratively, whiten.

Then again, maybe it’s just a commercial… right? Maybe it’s really not that deep.

But cultural products take place within very specific contexts and social forces.   To say that this is “just a commercial” is to not recognize that all symbols, all choices of representation and presentation are just that, choices.

Graffiti is often associated with social ills.  Gangs.  Dark bodies.  Vandalism.  Young, scary dark children destroying property.  The commercial adopts the view of graffiti as a problem.  As vandalism.  As something out of place and wrong.  Dark and disorderly, and in need of being cleaned up, like plaque.

To not recognize that graffiti only works in this commercial when you imagine it in this way, is to not recognize that whiteness as pure, perfect, and devoid of all color; without stain or impurity, still reigns as the dominant ideology within the American visual lexicon.  They suggest their toothpaste, in an especially charming civilized British accent, as the solution to not only rid oneself of the stains on the outside of the tooth, but to fix it at the core as well.

To others however, graffiti is the artwork of disenfranchised youth in urban centers, and artwork which blossomed during the “Golden Age of Hip Hop”.  From this perspective, you can react with wonder when you see 10 feet tags on the craziest and hardest to reach places around the city and think on those kids who just want to be recognized and noticed as being and existing.  You can applaud them for their talent and resourcefulness, and be thankful that it’s not your garage door they tagged.

And if you have this perspective, then you know that Rembrandt and ever other toothpaste is full of crap because teeth just aren’t white.  They’re more of an eggshell.  Off white.  A shade of tan.  No matter how much you brush.  And those people who do have freakishly bright smiles?  They cheated.  They had some fancy procedure done that most of us can’t afford.  White teeth, like pure and unstained white bodies, do not exist in nature.  Certainly not after you eat that peppery salad for lunch, because you are going to have some green and black in between a couple of your teeth no matter what shade you are.  And those are the breaks.

1 reply
  1. Tamara says:

    While looking for the video of this ad to post on facebook, I found your essay here. Couldn’t agree more. To the creatives who developed this concept, I guess racism is funny. It’s not. These ads probably come from people who actually believe we don’t have racism in this country any more, simply because we have a black president. Uh Huh.

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