Saturday, May 10, 2008

Deconstructing Hillary NC "Jewel" ad

I don't watch Senator Clinton's ads as a rule. I certainly wouldn't get a chance to see those constructed for North Carolina viewers were it not for today's easy access to YouTube.

I did get a chance to take a look at one of her newer ads, featuring an elderly black woman named Jewel Hodges, which was added to Clinton's web pages on April 14th.

The script:

Jewel Hodges: Now, why did I decide to vote for her? She didn't know it, but I have followed her all of these years and I prayed with her when she didn't know I was praying, but the spirit was there. And she had to climb up the rough side of the mountain in life. I saw her take her faith, courage, strength, dignity, and climb that mountain with determination and with the God given strength she got to the top polished like gold. And America, our country, is down at the foot of the mountain and we need someone that is ready, willing, and able to bring America back up to be polished like gold. Hillary Clinton: I'm Hillary Clinton and I approved this message.

Interesting to me that Mrs. Hodges is from Bastrop Texas:

Hodges, though voting for Clinton had nothing bad to say about Obama:

Though she doesn't plan to vote for Sen. Barack Obama, Hodges is equally proud to see an African-American in the presidential race.

"I take a pride and joy that he's receiving that kind of reception, but again, I know what price was paid for him to even be received," Hodges said.

What is disturbing to me about the ad is the stiff awkward but paternalistically (not maternally) smiling Clinton who at the end bends down to awkwardly "hug" the elderly, and much shorter Hodges. See also the beaming faces of white audience members sharing such a "touching" moment.

Importing elderly AA women from TX into the NC race, to attempt to gain the votes of NC's large black electorate is a nifty campaign strategy, from the Clinton perspective.

I showed this ad to some of my Women's Studies majors; several of whom are also majoring in Black Studies.

The first thing they honed in on was the head wrap. Not the Afro-centric gelee head wrap worn by many of today's AA's proud of their African roots; this is the head-covering traditionally portrayed for evoking "Mammy", or "Auntie", used in Hollywood films, on pancake boxes (Aunt Jemima) and cookie jars.

We had just finished a class discussion the week before on media images of black women - in the past and in contemporary images as well, many of these images which evokeg fond memories for white Americans have been raised on "Gone With the Wind" and Butterfly McQueen:
Mammy & the New Black Female Representation

This critique covered both white Hollywood, and today's Hollywood that now has AA filmmakers who use the same memes.

There has been much discussion here in the last two days on "code". Codes being used to paint Senator Obama as "boy", or "elitist" (read uppity black n****r). But there has been little discussion of how Senator Clinton's campaign plans to retain some of the black female vote, without alienating white support in the South.

Here is their answer, including allusions to the "mountaintop" (read Martin Luther King) and a "wise old black woman" whose words can be trusted, cherished and not threaten anyone.

The name of the ad is simply "Jewel". Not "Mrs. Hodges". I was never allowed to call older people by their first names as a child. My mother taught me that we had been robbed of our respect in slavery days and afterwards, by never being called "Mister" or "Missus". We were "girl" or "boy" and even young white children could address the help by their first names. So she is "Jewel". If really old, and well-behaved (read not militant) we were "Auntie" or "Uncle". If female and employed to raise the young of the elite, we were simply "Mammy".

Wouldn't it just be wonderful if we could go back to the past when black women knew their place and weren't "uppity" and "unpatriotic" like Michelle Obama?


I don't know Mrs. Hodges. She is probably a wonderful woman. She has a right to vote for Senator Clinton, or for whomever she chooses. But this diary is really not about her at all. It's about the message of this ad.

It disturbed me, and disturbed my students. Would like to hear your thoughts.