1950s rap

Toyota has a viral youtube campaign for their minivan that they think is ever so clever.

I think it’s painfully backward.

In the lengthy ads, a very white middle class heterosexual family expounds on how cool they are in their minivan, which Dad has dubbed the Swagger Wagon. In the most recent ad, the family sings a rap about said vehicle.

How delightful, no?

No.

In the song, Dad boasts how he participates and subverts gender stereotypes by having tea parties with his daughter and her dolls. Mom sings about how facile she is with jello and cupcakes, how she tends the kids’ wounds. While Dad mugs and poses in the van, Mom handles the lunch, the school play, and the song’s bridge—a potty break for their eldest.

Is this rap written for a 1950s audience? (The black and white images are a clue.) Why is Dad helping only with the tea party and nothing else? Why is Mom defined by her baking skills, her cheerleading costume, and her self definition as a former “college chick”?

One of the most difficult transitions for progressive couples who become parents is the reality of how even 50/50 marriages become 90/10 marriages when kids are thrown into the mix. The sheer volume of work mothers do, and the fact that it tends to be time sensitive, repetitive work (meals, tidying, errands, school) contrasts with the paucity of work inside the home most fathers do (and the fact that it tends to be ‘get to it when you can’ weekend, one-time, big project work). And the new division of labor causes marital strife.

Is that what you celebrate in your silly minivan ads? That families can fight in the front seat while the wee ones sit with headphones and DVD players in the back, oblivious to the real work of being a family…the day to day bickering over details, like the fact that I’ll be damned if I’m ever defined by how my baked goods perform at the school bake sale or refer to any of the years I busted my ass in higher ed as the days when I was a college chick.

Thanks for the stereotypes, Toyota. Sure makes me think less about your cars driving unintentionally into oncoming traffic.

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21 thoughts on “1950s rap

  1. Well, looking on the very limited stereotyping bright side…at least they didn’t say that the reason she’s in charge of the bills is because she’s Jewish.

  2. “One of the most difficult transitions for progressive couples who become parents is the reality of how even 50/50 marriages become 90/10 marriages when kids are thrown into the mix. The sheer volume of work mothers do, and the fact that it tends to be time sensitive, repetitive work (meals, tidying, errands, school) contrasts with the paucity of work inside the home most fathers do (and the fact that it tends to be ‘get to it when you can’ weekend, one-time, big project work). And the new division of labor causes marital strife.”

    THIS has been on my mind for the longest time. You put it down so eloquently and with such force and brevity. I am going to quote this. I am so in love with this. And you of course.

  3. I think there is also the unspoken joke that this is an upscale white family using black urban culture to promote their hipness. It is cute, and I’ve seen this joke before, on SNL, etc. but it seems a little crass when it it is used to sell a car.

    • Hi, Neil! Sorry your comment was in the queue so long…sure, there’s clearly a cultural joke here, and when the parents are done posing with “where my kids at?” they revert to SAE and say, “seriously, where are the kid?” This suggests they put on rap culture like a mask, and is actually pretty self aware as ads go. As Organic notes, there is a self mocking in this that makes the “I can’t maintain this stylistic speech because my default is standardized grammar” both funny and realistic. But the insinuation that posing is the point of some American cultures is a little insulting. I think. But clearly, I have way too much room on my high horse to have much of a sense of humor. Maybe, too, it’s the format. As you say, SNL and South Park could do this better than a minivan sales team.

  4. pander, good point.
    subWOW, read Mask of Motherhood by Susan Maushart. Well researched with stats on how and why the marriage workload balance shifts. Depressing as hell but really gratifying to read because it makes me feel less insane.

  5. Her reference to “college chick” reminded me of my college days when guys called all of us *gals* in the Education Dept. “chicks getting your MRS. degrees.” So sad when an educated mom is dumbing herself down.

  6. Seriously? This is the best the ad company came up with?

    Who is this speaking to? People will be jealous of a MINIVAN and having to take a toddler to the potty?

    And the whole college chick thing? That ship has sailed…

  7. jc, that dude deserves lemon curd from the jar, yo.
    tkw, she’d have to cut the crusts off, and probably would.
    Jane, I’ve always hated that MRS. degree joke. What does that mean the frat guys are getting? Their ASS degrees?
    Maria, you’re right…not going to get any new minivan buyers from this, and not really going to make the minivan crowd proud of their ride.
    Good beat, though. You can dance to it. I’ll give it a…that’s right…a Dick Clark Bandstand reference. Because only people that old would think this commercial was edgy.

  8. You’ll be surprised how many blogs have posted this and that they are excited or humored by this. You’ve just brought to light my discontent. I did not go to college to do 90% of the childcare. I did not marry to do 100% of the housework. But I do because no one else does.

    And yes, frat boys go to college to get their ASS degrees.

  9. I know, fae. I know. I was not a cheerleader in grad school. I did not do keg stands for a Masters. And I do not give a shit about jello molds and never will. And yet I still have the job of a 1950s woman. My choice to stay home, but I thought it’d be different.

  10. Oooh, the double-standardy, no-such-thing-as-equally-splitting-the-parenting-work-with-young-kids thing has been on my list to write about for some time. But I’m with SubWOW, I’m just gonna point people to you instead.

    What’s sad is that I bet the conversation never even came up when the ad team was working on this. I think they’d be surprised to hear that putting dad in a feather boa does not automatically equal shaking up gender-based parenting roles.

  11. Pingback: Men! They Just Don’t Get It! « Theycallmejane's Blog

  12. You know, I totally see your point, Nap. And I am all about raising standards and I love this paragraph so much, “One of the most difficult transitions for progressive couples who become parents is the reality of how even 50/50 marriages become 90/10 marriages when kids are thrown into the mix. The sheer volume of work mothers do, and the fact that it tends to be time sensitive, repetitive work (meals, tidying, errands, school) contrasts with the paucity of work inside the home most fathers do (and the fact that it tends to be ‘get to it when you can’ weekend, one-time, big project work). And the new division of labor causes marital strife.”

    I completely agree. But I did think the ad was funny because I thought it was making fun of itself too. These toyota ads seem to be poking fun at everything and everybody and I love the self-deprecation they use. However, I also think that 1950’s ideas are so deeply entrenched in our thinking, that we often incorporate or expect them in our own lives without even realizing it.

  13. I haven’t seen the ad, but I’m more than happy to take your word for it that it would piss me off. Blue Milk just posted about this book today:

    When Couples Become Parents: The Creation of Gender in the Transition to Parenthood by Bonnie Fox (University of Toronto Press).

    http://bluemilk.wordpress.com/2010/05/21/someone-should-write-a-book-about-that-and-they-did/

    Sounds like more fun to get pissed off *with* this book instead of *at* a maddening commercial. Too bad I’m like 5,000 miles away from an English-language bookstore…

  14. Horrific! I cannot believe that a car company would take an art form as pure as West Coast gangsta rap and turn it into something that perpetuates the gender stereotypes that have never actually existed outside of “Leave It To Beaver” or within the aspirational psyches of every last one of us whether we like it or not! The nerve.

    I mean, come on! What father has ever enjoyed the notion that fatherhood would consist only of the 10% of parenting that is building treehouses and having tea parties with his daughter(s)?

    And what mother has ever aspired to mad cupcake skillz and making jello molds with the ease her own grandmother showed… in addition to the 90% of parenting that is the difficult part of parenting? Get real.

    If Toyota is going to be relevant to today’s suburban parents when selling minivans, it is definitely going to have to go Bolano on its audience. Especially if its commercials are going to air during “Lost” – a television show which only showcases strong, individualistic women and men who have come to terms with their sexuality and their assigned gender roles and, out of disgust, have moved to an island so that they can transcend such societal constraints.

    • mpb, your sarcasm is wasted on me for I wallow too well in righteous indignation about how intelligent, creative, and thoughtful men perpetuate stereotypes and gender rigidity by pretending, sassily, that such divisions are fallacious.

  15. Well, *I* thought it was funny, and self-aware, and I don’t see it perpetuating stereotypes that aren’t absolutely true- as you yourself have pointed out. It may be nice to think that moms don’t drive minivans, or that they don’t make jello molds (or cupcakes), but the commercial makes fun of these stereotypes in a lighthearted, understandable way. Posing IS, as much as we’d perhaps dislike to admit it, part of much of American culture. Gonna have to agree to disagree, Nap, but your point is well made. :)

    • Happy to disagree politely with you, Evenshine. I totally see your argument, too. You can take the lady out of cultural textual criticism, but you can’t take the Gilbert and Gubar out of the lady’s righteous indignation, you know?

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