“All Skin Is Not Created Equal”: Televisual Flow and Racial Ideology
by Ronald Becker — Miami University
April 24, 2007 – 11:43
We all likely have our favorite examples of televisual flow—those sometimes odd, sometimes hilarious, and often sadly predictable moments when the juxtaposition of program and ad expose more than either intended. Here is mine: a rerun episode of the oh-so 90s NBC sitcom Newsradio ("Daydreams," o.a.d. November 13, 1996) and a L’Oreal ad featuring Andie MacDowell. On a hot day at work, each of the station’s employees zones out in a daydream. Here, Catherine (the station’s and the program’s token African American member) dreams of a workplace with a few more people of color. I find the scene provides a useful commentary on two of the more noticeable and certainly interrelated trends of 1990s network television: the increasing segregation of prime-time programming (especially sitcoms) and the segregated viewing patterns of black and white America. But the kicker is the immediate cut to the L’Oreal ad. The extreme close-up of MacDowell’s extremely white face and her assertion/appropriation of the line "Not all skin is created equal" reveals just where the ideological flow of commercial television’s underlying current is really carrying the viewer. After I show this clip in class, I usually struggle to find something analytically insightful to say about it. For me it’s one of those examples that seems to speak for itself. Yet I think there is more to say to my students and would love to hear if people have ideas about how to get students to unpack this televisual moment.