Carl’s Jr. vs. Jell-O

In this essay, I will compare and contrast two advertisements. The first being a Jell-O commercial made in the 1950’s that is incredibly racist towards Chinese people. It shows a Chinese baby failing to eat Jell-O with chopsticks and being incredibly upset about it, but what is so incredibly racist about it is the way the baby looks. It is an exact stereotype of what Chinese people look like. On top of that the narrator is doing an incredibly offensive impression of a Chinese accent. The second is a modern Carl’s Jr.’s commercial that dehumanizes and exploits women. It features “sexy” women using their bodies and sexuality in order to sell Carl’s Jr.’s products by showing them eating in very sexual ways. These commercials stereotype what a woman should look and act like. Both of these commercials exploit and dehumanize their subjects, but if the Jell-O commercial were to air today it would create an outrage and would be deemed unacceptable while the Carl’s Jr. commercial airs ever day without anyone batting an eye. Advertisements like the one created by Carl’s Jr. are seem by the general public are mostly seen as harmless fun, but there are several sources that say otherwise. Jean Kilbourne and Tamara R. Piety are both experts in their fields and have written about the harmful effects that these advertisements have on our society. These two advertisements are similar in many ways, but the way they would be seen in our modern society is very different.

In the 1950’s, Jell-O created a commercial that was extremely racist towards Chinese people. It featured a Chinese baby struggling to eat Jell-O with chopsticks. The baby is referred to as “Chinese Baby” and even contains stereotypical appearances like squinted eyes.  Also, the narrator is using an incredibly offensive “Chinese” accent. The commercial is made more offensive by the fact that it makes Chinese culture look a bit stupid and inferior to our own culture where we do not use chop sticks. There is nothing that is socially acceptable about this commercial. It does nothing except for objectify this race and break them down into a handful of stereotypical features rather than as actual people.

If this commercial were to air today, the general public would be outraged. The media would be all over it talking about the exploitation and dehumanization of this race. Our country has a long history of inequality, especially between races, but many proud and strong people worked for years to create a more equal America. This Civil Rights Movement of the 1960’s was a major turning point in the United States. It ultimately led to the end of segregation and set a standard of equality for all races. Ever since that time, it has become socially unacceptable to exploit or stereotype a race.  It does still happen, but when it does, it is called out and people understand why it is not acceptable.  Things are not perfect, but racism is endangered and on its way to becoming extinct.

That form of inequality is being called out, while there are still other inequality problems facing our society today. One of the largest inequality issues we face today is gender inequality. Women have unreasonable expectations for example: how they should look, act, and talk. When it comes to race, the idea that a person must act or look a certain way is unacceptable and racist, but when it comes to women the same idea is known as a standard. Worst of all is that when someone tries to break what is considered the norm for their gender, they are looked down upon. This is an obvious inequality that affects each one of us every day and is blatantly in our faces, but so many cannot seem to see it.

Carl’s Jr. has been airing an ad campaign that features “sexy” women eating their products in extremely sexual ways and positions. These commercials exploit and dehumanize women. It shows them more as sexual objects than as actual people. These commercials stereotype what a woman should look and act like, but no one seems to care. These commercials are aired every day and are seen by all demographics. Advertisements like these have a real effect on our society, but people seem to look at it as harmless fun.

Jean Kilbourne is an author and expert on how media images and messages affect young people. In her essay “Two Way A Woman Can Hurt”, Kilbourne writes “Sex in advertising is pornographic because it dehumanizes and objectifies women, especially women” (459). Advertisements are not portraying real women, but they do create unrealistic expectations for how women should act and look and act which can be a very dangerous thing. By portraying women as only body parts, some people may not even look at them as people, including some of these women.

Advertisements, like the ones created by Carl’s Jr. can have a very negative effect on the psyche of women of all ages. Tamara R. Piety wrote Merchants of Discontent which talks about the effects that these advertisements have on women. She writes “They didn’t wish they were thinner, they thought they should be thinner, as if being thin were a kind of cultural law” (448). This quote is describing some of the stress that these unrealistic expectations put on women.

Advertisements clearly have a large effect on our actions and beliefs, whether or not people want to acknowledge that fact is a different story.  Businesses understand it, our government understands it, and even dictators understand it. Governments have used ads to manipulate its people using propaganda to move them in the direction of their cause. The Nazis created stereotyped images of the Jews to dehumanize them and make them the enemy. The south did the same thing with Blacks. Now businesses are doing it with women. You may think that this is a stretch, but look at the effect that these advertisements are having. Our society looks down on women who do not fit the unrealistic mold that our society has created for them and these advertisements only help to reinforce these terrible molds. Worse than just men looking down on women is the fact that women look down on each other and themselves because of these advertisements. The worse part of these advertisements is that people look at them as if they are a standard when they aren’t even human.

Today if that Jell-O commercial were to air, the general public would understand what they were seeing were greatly exaggerated and not true, but sadly that isn’t true of gender. Both commercials exploit and dehumanize the subjects in them. We call this the land of the free, but that idea of freedom can sometimes be the thing that is stopping us from actually being free. We have this idea that America is this perfect place where everyone is equal so often we fail to see the inequalities right in front of us. We are not truly free because people are afraid to be who they are. They are afraid of not passing a certain standard even if that standard is unattainable. When that racist Jell-O commercial was created races were not equally free. Races were the victims of ignorance and stereotypes. Today the same thing is being done to women.

The Jell-O commercial created in the 1950’s is incredibly racist towards Chinese people, and if it were to air today it be the cause of outrage across the country, but today when Carl’s Jr. creates an equally terrible commercial towards women no one seems to care. Women are being highly affected by the standards that advertisements, like the ones created by Carl’s Jr., are reinforcing. Both commercials are completely untrue, but both say a lot about the cultures that they came from. Kids today are taught about the ignorance of generations past and how poorly and unfairly races were treated. What will they say of us? Sixty years from now will there be a college student sitting in his dorm writing about the ignorance of our generation towards gender? In the land of the free, we have become close minded. We have defined an unfair set of standards to compare women too and although many are trying to change that their voices are often drowned out. It took well over a hundred years before we had even come close to creating equality between races in America and we are still working on it. I can only hope we come to our senses sooner this time. We are not free until we are equal and until we are able to be who we want to be without worrying about the unreasonable standards society sets for us.



Works Cited

Piety, Tamara R. Merchants of Discontent: An Exploration of the Psychology of Advertising, Addiction, and the Implications for Commercial Speech. Seattle University Law Review, Volume 25, pp 377-895, October 2001


Kilbourne, Jean. “Two Ways a Woman Can Get Hurt.” Rereading America: Cultural Contexts for Critical Thinking and Writing edited by Gary Colombo, Robert Cullen, Bonnie Lisle. Bedford/St. Martins. (2007) 457-480