Sunday, June 23, 2024

Opinion | M&M’s accept Tucker Carlson’s invite to the culture wars



Here’s one for human resources: A number of female employees of a multibillion dollar company just got fired for being insufficiently sexy. The catch is, they’re M&Ms.

Mars Inc., has long relied on anthropomorphic versions of its flagship confection for promotion: its yellow, blue, orange and red candies, as well as notably more feminine green and brown characters recently joined by a purple peanut-filled addition to the gang. Yet as of this week, the colorful cast is apparently kaput. This melodrama — real or performed — offers a lesson in cancel culture and corporate culture all at once.

“America, let’s talk,” M&M’s began on social media on Monday. Later, “We have decided to take an indefinite pause from the spokescandies.” They will be replaced by … actress Maya Rudolph.

What happened? And what is a spokescandy?

The former is easy to answer: Tucker Carlson. The Fox News host embarked on a crusade against the M&Ms the moment the treatmakers disgusted him last year by removing the green M&M’s much beloved go-go boots in favor of sensible sneakers: “M&M’s will not be satisfied until every last cartoon character is deeply unappealing and totally androgynous,” he groused. “Until the moment you wouldn’t want to have a drink with any one of them.”

Alexandra Petri: The final hours of the M&M’s spokescandies

Leave aside the unsettling idea that Americans everywhere ought to be turned on by cartoon chocolate ladies with expertly rendered eyelashes. This vigorous rebuttal to the wokefication of sweets didn’t end there — in a 2015 promotional image she was depicted with her hand on the brown M&M’s knee, Carlson worried that she “is now a lesbian, maybe?” And he decried the introduction of Purple, whom he described as “plus-sized” and “obese.” (She’s just a peanut M&M.)

“So we’re gonna cover that, of course,” Carlson noted of this abomination. “Because that’s what we do.”

The issue is, this right-wing defender of all things hot is fighting against himself. His candy-coated crackup reveals the horseshoe shape of modern-day cancel culture: The same people so concerned that wokeness has created too many taboos are basically treating wokeness as taboo in itself. Fox News was a breath away from canceling A&W Restaurants’ Rooty the Great Root Bear for covering up with jeans until the brand admitted the change was a joke.

More seriously, this phenomenon shows up when conservatives cry out against campus activists who protest speakers they disagree with — sure, those speakers should be allowed to speak. But the protesters should be allowed to speak against the speakers, too.

Now, it appears in another flavor. How dare M&M’s fashion a slightly less seductive, not to mention maybe lesbian, mascot? Get that green candy all dolled up! Or, as it turns out, put her out of a job. Because that’s what we do.

Unless, that is, neither Green nor Purple nor any of the M&Ms are actually workless for long. Now speculation abounds that spokescandies’ misfortune is all a ploy to culminate during corporate America’s favorite event of the year: the Super Bowl. Rudolph has confirmed she’ll appear in an ad that evening — and what better time to re-welcome the gone but not forgotten brand ambassadors? Remember, Planters killed Mr. Peanut as part of the same trick.

And if today’s M&M’s tragicomedy turns out to be a stunt, the venue is perfect for it. The Super Bowl has in recent years become a sort of singularity — simultaneously polarizing and unifying. Especially in the age of national-anthem kneeling, with greater awareness of racism and gender violence and hypermasculinity and jingoism and everything in between, the sport provokes controversy after controversy. Yet somehow Americans of all stripes view it as quintessentially American, even when their views of what America actually means differ so dramatically.

Super Bowl Sunday invariably invites some sort of mishap — lyrics are censored, the finger is given, a nip slips. But no matter what, everyone watches it, together. Everyone talks about it, together. The commercials are the same thing, but more so — because that’s when even the football-haters and football-agnostics tune in.

Brands have been increasingly eager to insert themselves into the daily lives of individual, unincorporated humans — acting out personalities online, where they converse with each other and with their customers, hoping to become part of customers’ identities rather than merely their diets or wardrobes. There’s really no better time than now, and than the Super Bowl, for M&M’s to step onto the culture wars battlefield. After all, Carlson, fighting himself again, has practically invited them.

“We’re all about bringing people together,” M&M’s said in its social media post. And there’s nothing everyone loves more these days than a good scrimmage.


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