Author Archives: Whitney Gent

What Were They Thinking?: Selling Rocket Mortgage in a Post-2008 Economy

“Push button. Get Mortgage.” That’s the tagline of Quicken Loans’ new product, Rocket Mortgage. The company introduced Rocket Mortgage to the massive television audience watching Super Bowl 50 in a one-minute commercial. The ad describes a simple push button app that allows people to get mortgages on their phones, which would lead to a “tidal wave of ownership [that] floods the country with new homeowners who now must own other things.”

After it aired, there was an eruption of criticism for the piece, titled “What We Were Thinking.” Here is a sampling of the next day’s headlines: Rocket Mortgage Super Bowl Ad Criticized for Encouraging Another Housing Crisis, Is that Quicken Loans Super Bowl Ad an Omen of Another Housing Crash?, Quicken’s Rocket Mortgage Super Bowl Ad Sparks Backlash, and Everything That’s Wrong With the Super Bowl’s Worst Ad. Tweeters, bloggers, journalists, and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau noted the parallels of the promise of quick mortgages to the flurry of irresponsible mortgage-selling activity that caused the 2008 housing and financial crisis. Meanwhile, Quicken defended its product as one that ensures “full transparency.”


Quicken Loans Twitter

The advertisement for Rocket Mortgage is visually compelling and calls upon tried and true cultural tropes. Why then, was it not persuasive? Let’s take a closer look:

“What We Were Thinking” has a strong, consistent cadence throughout. The guitar in the background music is a driving beat. Even when other sounds are laid on top, the underlying sound remains the same – and it’s one that creates a feeling of both urgency and forward motion.

The ad’s narrator does the same thing with her words. She strings together a chain of questions, each beginning with the word “and.” Each question appears to follow from the previous, and together they build a progress narrative:

And if it could be that easy, wouldn’t more people buy homes? And wouldn’t those buyers need to fill their homes with lamps and blenders and sectional couches with hand-lathed wooden legs? And wouldn’t that mean all sorts of wooden leg making opportunities for wooden leg makers? And wouldn’t those new leg makers own phones from which they could quickly and easily secure mortgages of their own, further stoking demand for necessary household goods as our tidal wave of ownership floods the country with new homeowners who now must own other things. And isn’t that the power of America itself?

It’s possible for someone to argue with the premises of any of these questions or with the conclusions they imply, but the narrator does not pause between them to allow this. Instead, her cadence paired with the linked questions fosters a sense of inevitability.

It could seem strange to end this series with “And isn’t that the power of America itself?,” but the progress narrative is so key to the American mythos, and so reliant on notions of inevitability, that it makes sense here. In response to criticism of the ad, Quicken’s chief marketing officer said, “I think that everyone is realizing it’s time for the housing industry to advance.” Quicken Loans is not just selling houses, it’s selling a very particular understanding of progress, one rooted in consumption, accumulation, ownership. Indeed, the American Dream, our leading progress narrative in the U.S., is often defined first in terms of ownership, via “a house with a white picket fence.”

All of this is accompanied by a sense of “no big deal.” The ad’s narrator begins with, “Here’s what we were thinking,” and ends with, “anyway, that’s what we were thinking.” It feels nonchalant, makes it sound like the narrative is just common sense. The mundanity of the activities depicted in the commercial contribute to this feeling: people at a movie, people doing their jobs, people at an exercise class, a woman carrying her baby in the kitchen. These are everyday activities for everyday folks. They are common. In the Quicken ad, progress is common sense. Ownership is common sense.

Given these well worn tropes, one would expect the viewing public to be on board with Rocket Mortgages. But here’s the thing: the message doesn’t match the audience’s experience.

Early in the commercial, as the app promises to “turn an intimidating process into an easy one,” a magician appears on the screen with fireworks and a woman sawed in half. This visual misstep serves as a reminder that what appears to be easy, what is advertised as common sense, is often an illusion. There is not a single scene in which people look at each other during the ad, apart from the one containing the magician, who looks directly at the viewer. It is as though he is trying to hypnotize the audience into buying what Quicken is selling.


In all of the other scenes, people only look at their phones. The household goods that mark progress throughout the piece spin around in the air, but people do not interact with them. This tells us a lot about how Quicken sees its audience – as consumers, but not as community.

The trouble for Quicken is that most of the Super Bowl viewers watched their communities crumble over the course of the 2008 housing crisis, and beyond. They watched as banks were bailed out while their friends, family members, or even themselves, were left jobless, houseless. History is wont to repeat itself, but the backlash to “What We Were Thinking” shows us our collective memories last at least eight years. It may also suggest that “the people” and the banking industry may have now very different ideas about what it means to progress.

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States of Emergency

In New York City on any given night, there are more than 59,000 people experiencing homelessness. That’s nearly three times the number of people who can fit into a sold out Madison Square Garden.

Madison Square Garden, NYC ©Diana Robinson 2014

Madison Square Garden, NYC ©Diana Robinson 2014

In Los Angeles, there are approximately 26,000 homeless people each day, larger than many small towns around the country.

Homelessness – as we know it now – emerged as a “crisis” in the United States in the 1980s when, for the first time, cities were beginning to see large quantities of people sleeping on street grates and park benches. Despite myriad approaches to address the situation, the number of people experiencing homelessness in the U.S. each year remains in the millions.

Now, communities are trying a new approach, declaring homelessness a “state of emergency.”

This all started in late September, when Mayor Eric Garcetti made Los Angeles the first city in the nation to make such a declaration.  In early October, Portland, Oregon followed suit. Two days later, the governor of Hawaii declared a state-wide state of emergency over homelessness. Then, on November 2, the mayor of Seattle and the county executive of the surrounding King County joined together to declare a civil emergency regarding homelessness there.

Declaring a state of emergency, an act generally reserved for natural disasters, has at least two important functions. First, it is an instrumental move. As Portland Mayor Charlie Hales explained, “We’ve tried slow-and-steady. We’ve tried by-the-book. It’s time to add to the tools we currently lack.” These “tools” include opening up access to additional funding streams, both local and federal. In Los Angeles, the emergency declaration appears to have freed up $113 million to help address homelessness. Another “tool” provided by the declaration is the ability to suspend zoning codes that prevent communities from building or converting properties into homeless shelters.

Secondly, and most relevant to this blog’s readers, is the symbolic function of an emergency declaration. Labeling homelessness an “emergency” marks it as a pressing need, an urgent concern. It also, in the sense of the root “emergent,” helps to bring homelessness out from concealment and into greater public visibility.

© Garry Knight 2014

© Garry Knight 2014

Seattle Mayor Ed Murray explained it this way: “We must get this issue back on the national agenda. The reality is, we are in a moment in our history where decades of service cuts, growing income inequality, and many untreated issues of mental health and drug addiction have finally resulted in a human crisis seldom seen in the history of our city.”

Homelessness is, indeed, urgent. Living without consistent shelter is life-threatening. It reduces one’s life expectancy and increases one’s vulnerability to violence, illness, and injury. But what’s interesting to me about the timing of these declarations of emergency is their tardiness.

The Oxford English Dictionary defines an emergency as “the arising, sudden, or unexpected occurrence (of a state of things, an event, etc.).” Similarly, it says an emergency is “a juncture that arises or ‘turns up’; esp. a state of things unexpectedly arising, and urgently demanding immediate action.”

At this point, homelessness is neither sudden, nor unexpected. It arose in shocking numbers starting in 1980, now 35 years ago. What, then, is the juncture that has prompted communities, just now, to seek additional resources for its amelioration? Why is it newly urgent? Murray says this has “finally resulted in a human crisis seldom seen” [emphasis mine], but it’s unclear what exactly has caused these community leaders to have reached a tipping point (or, in rhetorical parlance, a “kairotic moment”) for pursuing emergency measures.

Certainly homelessness is rising in these communities – Hawaii’s homeless population has risen 23% since 2013 – but the numbers of people living on the streets, in hotels, and in shelters in all of these communities was already in the thousands.

Maybe it’s rising death tolls. In King County, Washington, 66 people have died while homeless just this year.

Maybe it’s the elections. Increasingly, I’m seeing homelessness as a much-discussed voting issue in local politics. And with a national election on the horizon, there may be a hope that homelessness could become a more significant part of Congress and the president’s agendas.

Maybe it’s a cascade effect. Governments frequently look to other examples of what to do to address social and political problems. It certainly looks like that’s happening in this case.

Of course, it may matter little why these declarations are being made now if they succeed in persuading people that homelessness must be urgently addressed. As is typical of critics of rhetoric, some worry that “this is all simply words,” and advocates say they’re in a “wait-and-see mode” until “after the initial press coverage fades.” These folks’ emphasis on the instrumental function of states of emergency misses the opportunity of the symbolic.

Most of the measures these declarations make possible are temporary. For example, Seattle’s civil emergency opens up a one-time burst of $5.3 million, but offers no further guarantee of elevated funding levels. Even suspending zoning requirements is just that: a temporary suspension of a community’s typical approach to managing its space. But reminding people that homelessness is urgent and “demanding immediate action” has the potential to shift public attitudes about homeless people. If homelessness is an emergency, like a natural disaster, it may be harder to blame (and disregard) people who are experiencing it for their poverty. And even if it does not shift these attitudes, making homelessness an immediate priority may reduce the number of people subject to the demonization that often accompanies the condition.

Homelessness has long been an emergency for people experiencing it. Perhaps these new declarations from our governments will help more people perceive it at such.

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Rhetoric and Sense-making in the Death of Tony Robinson

Madison, WI, progressive bastion of the Midwest (or so its residents like to think) saw itself become the next city to kill a black, unarmed teenager post-Ferguson last Friday night (March 6). The teen, Tony Robinson, was shot five times by a police officer in a house on “Willy Street” on Madison’s East Side. In the days following, protests have grown in size, and with them, media coverage has grown in frequency and scope.

As a white Madison resident concerned with the city’s disproportionate arrest of black men (they’re 8 times more likely to be arrested than white men here), and the spatial and economic segregation of the community, I have so many thoughts and so very many feelings.

As a scholar, I am overwhelmed by all there is to see and hear. Speeches. Gestures. Blog posts. Newspaper articles. Videos. Still images. Some coalitional. Some divisive. Some purporting to be descriptive. Some honest about offering interpretation. All rhetorical.

While I continue to process what I might have to say about these events, today my aim is curatorial. Here, I share with you some select moments from the last few days which bolster my belief that rhetoric is no ancient art, but very much alive and well in these United States:

  • Actively working to combat the common representation of fallen black men as “thugs,” Tony’s mother requested that this photo of him at his high school graduation be the one circulated in the media:

Tony Robinson

  • Media representations of Tony have tended to align with common tropes used to explain why black men are killed by police. Despite his family and friends’ efforts to talk about him as fun-loving, helpful, smart, and kind, this one clip from CNN, for example, represents Tony as mentally troubled, a criminal, and a troubled teen who had fallen in with the “wrong crowd.”
  • Madison’s police chief demonstrated the Platonic tradition of denigrating rhetoric even as he employed it to apologize to the community. In a March 9 “Message to the Community” blog post, Chief Koval points to Sir Robert Peel, the “founder of modern policing,” to explain that “POLICE ARE THE PUBLIC AND THE PUBLIC ARE THE POLICE” (Koval’s emphasis). He then employs a number of metaphors: putting on “armor” each day, thinking about the police as “guardians” of “the vulnerable, the voiceless, the victims.” Then, as he concludes, he writes, “Let us continue to demonstrate to you that our commitment transcends mere rhetoric” (emphasis mine).
  • A Milwaukee science fiction and fantasy author took on the role of argumentation scholar that same day, analyzing common arguments made in the wake of events like Robinson’s killing. His piece, “4 Reasons Not to Get Upset About Tony Robinson and Why They’re All Bullshit” responded to 1) calls to “wait for the facts,” 2) arguments that “officers have to protect themselves,” 3) questions about why protestors aren’t “protesting criminals” instead of police, and 4) colorblind assertions that “people shouldn’t make it all about race.”
Paul Soglin addresses crowd

Image source: The Isthmus, a Madison, WI newspaper.

  • Scholars of traditional public address often hear that their work matters little in a digital world, but the above image of Madison Mayor Paul Soglin addressing more than 1,500 young protestors on Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard suggests otherwise. As the street name reminds us of one of the great orators of last century’s civil rights movements, Soglin’s bullhorn before this group of protestors demonstrates the continued expectation that political leaders speak in times of social and/or political upheaval.
  • “Indict. Convict. Send those killer cops to jail. The whole damn system is guilty as hell.” “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot!” – As the crowd marched across the city, these collective chants demonstrated a belief that shared words and shared experience (the aural, the embodied, and the visual) were important to communicate their response to the deaths of unarmed black youth and adults in Madison, and beyond.


Of all the chants that I’ve heard at this week’s protests, my favorite one is this: “This is what democracy looks like! This is what democracy looks like!” From a community grappling with principles of fairness, equality, and justice this week, I offer these examples to illustrate the critical role rhetoric plays in these negotiations. As rhetorical scholars, we are trained to notice, think through, and make sense of these symbolic representations. However, as I hope the above illustrates, and as this blog hopes to communicate, everyone is always both a rhetor and a rhetorician.


by | March 10, 2015 · 9:52 pm

Seeking “Compassionate Disruption” on Oahu

On the island of Oahu, Hawaii, approximately 4,700 people are experiencing homelessness. More than a third of them are unsheltered. The city of Honolulu, along its deep blue ocean waves and bright, sandy beaches, has one of the nation’s highest homeless populations per capita.

© Joe Philipson 2012

For a community that relies so heavily upon tourism revenues, this doesn’t bode well. People don’t like to vacation alongside homelessness. In the state’s largest newspaper, Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell wrote, “We can’t let the homeless ruin our economy and take over our city” (June 2014). “It’s time,” he said, “to declare a war on homelessness.”

In the intervening months, Caldwell has developed an approach he calls “compassionate disruption” to address this “crisis.” “If we let it be convenient to sleep, for example, on these sidewalks in Waikiki or parks around the island, it just means that those activities continue, and we don’t get people into permanent housing to be treated and made better,” Caldwell said.

This is the “disruption” part of the strategy: Police have stepped up enforcement of laws that already exist that restrict homeless people’s access to public space. They’re giving out tickets and arresting people for sleeping in parks at night and for being “sidewalk nuisances,” and they are seizing people’s unattended personal property. At the same time, Caldwell’s administration has passed new legislation (October 2014) that would make it illegal to sit down/lie down on public property, and that would attach a $1000 fine to public urination/defecation (a frequent problem for homeless people without 24-hour public restroom facilities).

This kind of lawmaking/law enforcement is not unique to Honolulu. Indeed, advocates have documented a trend toward “criminalizing” homelessness in the United States for some time. A similar trend has impacted people trying to alleviate homelessness. Just this week, several people were charged in Florida for serving food to homeless people in a public park.

It’s hard for me to think of these kinds of actions as “compassionate.”

To disrupt is “to break apart, to rupture, to throw into disorder.” The idea behind Caldwell’s strategy appears to be to make it so uncomfortable to be homeless that one would have to be “crazy” to not seek help. What Caldwell seems to be missing is that that’s already true of homelessness. It has never really been terribly convenient to sleep on sidewalks or in parks. It is also not as easy as one might think to find effective help. Homelessness is already often a state of disorder; it is itself a state of disruption. These efforts work to make already undesirable, chaotic conditions even more undesirable.

How, then, might it be “compassionate” to seize people’s personal property and make life on the streets even harder? How does Caldwell frame disruption as a positive strategy?

 Mayor Kirk Caldwell, Honolulu, HI.  © Ed Morita 2012

Mayor Kirk Caldwell, Honolulu, HI. © Ed Morita 2012

First, Caldwell’s rhetoric surrounding his “compassionate disruption” policies frame homeless people as pitiable, and in need of guidance. “I think it is incredibly cruel to just drive by homeless folks and ignore them as if they don’t exist – those who have mental challenges and addictions – and say let them fend for themselves,” Caldwell said.

Here, he reduces a highly diverse homeless population to people with “mental challenges and addictions,” calling into question their decision-making abilities. The problem, Caldwell continually implies, is not that there aren’t enough services (there aren’t), but that people aren’t choosing to use them. It is compassionate to help people get the services they need. It is compassionate to force people to do “what’s best for them.”

Secondly, the rhetoric of “compassionate disruption” portrays housed people who “help” homeless people as good citizens. It is what “civilized people do and it is what Americans do.” This, of course, implies that Caldwell’s policies are “help,” and that one should feel both civilized and patriotic for supporting these policies. As “compassionate disruption” makes the audience feel pity for homeless people, it makes them feel good about not “just driv[ing] by homeless folks.” Conversely, people who don’t support these policies (i.e., advocates working for alternatives), and homeless people themselves, are represented as less “American,” less civilized.

Third, Caldwell’s repeated turn to “compassionate disruption” is paired with policies that appear to reward homeless people for seeking help. Honolulu has begun to allocate millions of dollars to a Housing First plan that aims to house a fraction of the city’s homeless population (estimates vary). It certainly appears compassionate to provide housing to homeless people, especially housing with “no strings attached,” as the Housing First model demands.

But these apparent rewards work to mask other troubling policies. The number of tickets issued on behalf of “compassionate disruption” in just the first six months of 2014 is more than three times the largest estimate of Housing First apartments projected to be created in Honolulu over the next several years. Caldwell is also currently considering a plan to “relocate” a portion of the city’s homeless population to a camp on Sand Island, the site of a former Japanese internment camp, and former home to ash and solid waste dumps as part of his strategy.

The rhetoric of “compassionate disruption” serves as a reminder that rhetoric has very real material consequences. How we talk about homelessness, and about helping, influences the policies we establish to address these issues and the ways we respond to people living in states of disruption. Caldwell’s policies have been gaining steam in the public and in the legislature, even as advocates resist. As they do so, they help to define what “compassion” looks like on Oahu, and maybe even beyond.


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Making People Count: Thoughts on Homelessness, Statistics, and Communication Ethics

"Homeless Man in Snow" by flickr user Paulo Ordoveza

“Homeless Man in Snow” by Flickr user Paulo Ordoveza

Even as a qualitative scholar, I frequently work with statistics. I do not gather many numbers myself, but I rely heavily on the data collection efforts of others. Because I am most often writing about homelessness, I regularly consult documents like the Annual Homelessness Assessment Report to Congress or the State of Homelessness in America Reports to help describe the scope of the issue.

Earlier this month, for the first time, I participated in the process through which these statistics are compiled – the national Homeless Point-In-Time (PIT) Count. This count is conducted annually* and functions as a one night census for homeless people. My participation led me to some valuable reflection on some of the ethical questions associated with the gathering of this kind of data.

Teams of volunteers are dispatched across our nation’s cities on count night to determine how many people are sleeping in emergency shelters and how many are sleeping in places considered unfit for human habitation. Demographic information is also gathered as part of the count, and all of this information is sent from local communities to the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

On the night of this year’s count, perhaps serendipitously, I attended a seminar in which we discussed the relationship of rhetoric to communication ethics. Much of this discussion revolved around Emmanuel Levinas’s concept of the “trace,” the distance we cannot ever fully bridge between people in a communicative encounter. Spoma Jovanovic and Roy V. Wood describe the trace as a place where we “feel the indescribable depth of the difference between the self and the other.” Seyla Benhabib has similarly described the encounter as facing “the ‘otherness of the other’ . . . to face their ‘alterity,’ their irreducible distinctness and difference from the self.”

It is in the trace, in how we choose to address the difference of others from our selves, that an ethics of communication is established. To believe that we can ever fully know another person, or to believe that we can fully know what is best for that person, opens up possibilities for all kinds of communicative violence (e.g., verbal abuse, invasions of privacy, control, silencing). Compassion and kindness and understanding emerge when we acknowledge the unreachable, the unknowable, in the people we encounter.

Every time I encounter someone other than myself, I face the trace. This is true as I speak, as I write, and as I am silent.

With my head full of these ideas, that night I trekked through snow banks, looking under bridges, in tunnels, in parking lots, in wide open spaces, and in abandoned buildings for people who do not have homes of their own. As I walked, I wondered: What does an ethical encounter with a homeless person look like in the middle of the night? How could I acknowledge the trace, to respect the distance between us, even as I invade the space he/she/they had turned into a place of rest and respite?

When a PIT team encounters homeless people on count night, we are under instructions to awaken them. We must then conduct a brief interview, asking for demographic information like age, race, gender, etc. Some of the questions are quite intrusive, asking about sexual orientation, histories of mental illness, military service, and more. We enter people’s resting spaces, we wake them up, and we ask them personal questions in the middle of the night. For reasons I hope are obvious, this can feel threatening (and frightening) to the people the teams encounter.

"They count, will you" by Flickr user Neon Tommy

“They count, will you” by Flickr user Neon Tommy

The statistics we gathered on count night are essential for so many reasons. Federal funding decisions are tied to these numbers, as are policy proposals and decisions at all levels of government. The count also helps establish how widespread is the problem of homelessness. In fact, in the 1980s, homeless advocates fought to establish a homeless count because, they argued, no one would believe it was an issue of national concern without one. Journalists, politicians, advocates, scholars, and homeless people alike depend on the information gleaned from the PIT Count process.

I engaged in this process as an advocate and a scholar, as a person who cares deeply about the power these numbers have and about the circumstances of the individual people these numbers represent. My team did not, this night, encounter any people sleeping outside in our assigned geographic area. I’m grateful for this, because it meant people had found shelter from the -15 degree cold of that night. It also meant that I didn’t have to resolve the ethical questions that were swirling around in my head. I did not have an encounter in which I was asked to ignore or disrespect the unknowable distance between me and the people experiencing homelessness in my city that night.

As usual, I still have more questions than answers. I maintain that the PIT Count is critically important and I wonder how it might be changed to prevent the intrusion of volunteers into the space and lives of people sleeping outdoors. I believe advocates need to continue to have conversations about how to respect the trace amidst these institutionalized processes. In the academy, I believe we must recognize the trace even in the statistics we use to represent collective “others.” And as responsible communicators, I believe we need to understand not just what our numbers represent, but the means by which they are gathered.


* HUD requires the count every other year for communities receiving federal funding to address homelessness. Many communities, like mine, conduct the counts every year.

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“Flipping the Script” on Panhandling

This summer, Vitamin Water and CollegeHumor released the above video, “Subway Bragger,” as a part of the water brand’s new #makeboringbrilliant advertising campaign. The idea, of course, is that water on its own is boring, but Vitamin Water has made it “brilliant” through the addition of tasty flavors and vitamin supplements. “Subway Bragger” is part of a series of online videos in which panhandling joins waiting rooms, airplane delays, a natural history museum tour, and more, as the “boring” to which Vitamin Water adds flair.

Online response to this panhandling “prank” on a Philadelphia subway train has been mostly positive. GOOD magazine and call the video “hilarious,” Policy Mic touts it as an “awesome performance,” and inspirational website Upworthy says that while being “pretty hilarious,” the video “teaches a little lesson on not being so quick to judge people.” The Huffington Post featured the clip in its comedy section, and explained that the people on this train were “delighted” when this panhandler “flipped the script.” Interestingly, the only negative responses I have found to the piece have come from the advertising community. AdWeek’s David Kiefaber wrote, “maybe a sugar-water brand’s energy would be better spent actually helping the homeless [rather] than making fun of them,” and the AdRANTS blog questions the marketing value of a video that “makes light” of homelessness.

To call panhandling — and by implication, poverty — “boring” isn’t just to minimize the struggle of millions of people who experience homelessness in the United States each year. It also speaks to the ease with which so many Americans allow visible poverty to become an (effectively) invisible part of the urban background, as natural as the honking of horns, the smell of the subway station, or the changing of traffic lights. To pass someone in need has become mundane, and that is what allows Vitamin Water to place it in the same campaign as the boring waiting room ad.

What I find even more interesting than the campaign slogan is the response to the video. The scenario is “hilarious” because the black man speaking on the subway train isn’t poor. If this is a “flipped script,” the poverty of a black man is normal, but his ability to speak eloquently and succeed economically is unusual. And, in the words of Vitamin Water, it’s not just funny, it’s “brilliant.”

I would argue, however, that the script hasn’t actually been flipped. Instead, I think the presumed panhandler simply moves from one stereotype of black masculinity to another. Rather than serving as the poor black man, as the audience anticipates, he serves as the black comedian. A number of scholars (including for example, Patricia Hill Collins and Donald Bogle) have explained that black men who wish to avoid being freighted with images of poverty and criminality in the media have few options, but an ability to entertain is one of them. Humorous black characters like those played by Chris Rock, Tyler Perry, or Bill Cosby are “acceptable” black men who appear “safe” (i.e., not criminal, not poor) so long as they don’t challenge existing race norms. As the man in this video moves from presumed panhandler to subway car entertainer, he does not escape the social categories that guide the ways that Americans (white Americans, in particular) interpret black male identities. The script isn’t flipped; it just shifts.

Vitamin Water is not just selling water with the “Subway Bragger.” It is also marketing narratives of race and class. Rather than challenging viewers’ perceptions, the video’s humor reinforces their beliefs about both poverty and black men in America.

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