“They made everything black ugly and evil. Look in your dictionary and see the synonyms of the word black. It’s always something degrading and low and sinister. Look at the word white, it’s always something pure, high, and clean.”

— Martin Luther King Jr.

It’s spring now, and if you’re following nature’s cues — cleansing rains, blossoming plants — cleanliness might be on your mind. Lucky for you, the likes of Proctor & Gamble and Unilever have developed high-powered cleaning products to help you do just that. Thanks to new, incredibly high standards of cleanliness, when you clean, you can be sure that 99.9% of germs have been eradicated and that your floors will literally sparkle. But what if your apartment isn’t the only thing in need of cleaning. What if you’re dirty?

For your consideration: a contemporary U.S. cultural artifact: a television ad spot for Lamisil, an antifungal medication.

Ten Plausibilities:

1. The Lamisil spot strongly echoes the tragic, violent settler/native encounters described in early American literature. These encounters serve as a useful lens through which to view the advertisement.

2. One of the first things Bartolomé de las Casas notes about the indigenous peoples in his preface to A Short Account of the Destruction of the Indies is that “most of them go naked.” Our attention may be drawn to the fact that Digger, too, has no clothes.

3. The ad allows us to wonder about how the symbolic invocation of darkness functions with respect to Black as a racial categorization:

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4. Dirtiness is racialized and constructed as a gluttonous invader who must be wiped out.

5. The advertisement presents the white human body (segmented into commodifiable parts) as a natural landscape that must be protected from invading forces.

6. Once the white pill catches Digger inside the nail, the darker environment fades into the background, replaced by the lighter background, which the ad associates with the white foot in its opening moments.

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7. The advertisement upholds a racialized version of cleanliness.

8. Viewers are taught to imagine their bodies as territories to be fought over.

9. Our conceptions of cleanliness and health are filtered through pre-existing ideologies about race and the body.

10. This advertisement is part of a genre of advertising concerned with products that bear a
close relationship to cleanliness, health, and the body, most of which position one’s body and environment as things that must be aggressively controlled and monitored.

Happy cleaning!


 

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