PGTW: Lucky who?

POP GOES THE WORLD By Jenny Ortuoste for Manila Standard-Today, 8 May 2014, Thursday

Lucky who?

Two of instant noodle maker Lucky Me!’s television commercials are a grim reminder of the class divide that still separates the ‘haves’ and ‘have nots’ in our society.

In “Homecoming” for Lucky Me!’s Special Lomi, Kris Aquino and her son Bimby are driven to their ancestral home in Tarlac where they are respectfully greeted by bowing servants – a maid,  her daughter, and a man who doffs his straw hat.

The mother and son walk through a luxurious home, glass and polished wood gleaming everywhere. At a massive dining table, three uniformed maids bustle around.

As Kris serves her son a bowl of steaming noodles, the servant’s daughter smiles shyly from around a corner. Bimby invites her to join them: “You want some?”

The commercial ends with the little girl seated between Bimby and Kris, eating noodles.

I have never seen such a condescending ad in my life. The divide between the upper class – mother and son – and the working class – the househelpers – was so sharply contrasted and highlighted, it was disturbing and uncomfortable. The location reminded me of the Hacienda Luisita massacre of 2004. How is that going to stimulate anyone’s appetite?

In “Fast Rap,” which touts Lucky Me!’s Spicy Hot Beef Mami, yet another uniformed maid brings Sharon Cuneta, working late at night, a bowl of noodles, rapping  “Magigising na you! Ma’am.”

Sharon raps back, and in the end she breathes flame and scorches the maid, who, charred black and smoking, responds with thumbs up and a grin.

The “Ma’am” was discomfiting, the submission of an inferior to her betters and an example of the high power distance in Philippine culture. The fire-breathing, although intended as slapstick comedy, brought to mind nothing but the physical abuse suffered by domestic workers.

Advertising materials can create a fantasy or reflect reality. However, not all viewers can discern the difference between the two. Often, they have no awareness of advertising’s power to change attitudes, or, in this case, reinforce them.

The ideas conveyed in these two commercials may mirror common societal attitudes, but they are not necessarily good, moral, or ethical.

While being famous and popular celebrities and top endorsers in their own right, Aquino and Cuneta were also born into wealthy and prominent political families. They’ve never known a day’s hardship. They’ve never had to commute. They’ve never had to work in service positions. They’ve never had to go so hungry that all they could afford to eat was instant noodles.

Thus the ads, that contrast their societal status to those of the househelpers, are all the more repugnant for rubbing it in and for being neither ironic nor tongue-in-cheek – they were, in all seriousness, establishing and cementing the privileged status of the two endorsers, and riding on that status. There can be no bridging of the class divide when the media, pervasive in its reach, perpetuates it.

Surely in this day and age such notions should be outmoded and the barriers caused by accidents of birth be blurred. It is true that there is no equality in society because there will always be some who are more equal than others; but when such inequality is the result of constructed class and other cultural ideas, there is no good reason for continuing to promote them as if they were the natural order of things.

If the aim was for the ads to encourage the purchase of the noodles by being aspirational, they failed.

What they’ve succeeded in doing instead is confirm the yawning gulf between the haves and the have-nots.

What they’ve succeeded in doing is raise questions. Why should we buy this product? Why put money into the pockets of large food conglomerates when you can cook mami and lomi from fresh ingredients or buy from those who do, and support local farmers and restaurateurs? Why support those who promote the backward concepts of feudalistic privilege and entitlement?

What they’ve succeeded in doing is show who’s lucky. Lucky Kris, Bimby, and Sharon. Lucky Lucky Me!

And, believe it or not, lucky us – although the target of such insensitive and patronizing ads, we can choose not to buy those products.

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