Sometimes I see advertisements that force me to really work at understanding the desires they seek to arouse. More pointedly, I find myself straining to make sense of what I’m supposed to want. The narratives of the ads aren’t always apparent. So while I understand that I’m supposed to want to wear the clothing that Kimora Lee Simmons and her daughters are wearing since Baby Phat makes that their business, I’m not sure why this image makes these goods attractive. While I really enjoy eating, there is no food here. There is nothing that makes my mouth water…but I guess all of my salivating is supposed to occur over all of the expensive stuff on display in the ostensibly sumptuous red room. I guess. But now I don’t understand why one’s children would be a part of the sale of those goods. Am I supposed to want her children? In what way?

John Ficara, Black Farmers in America. The University Press of Kentucky, 2006.

While not an advertisement, John Ficara’s photograph of a family meal in his book Black Farmers in America makes sense. Arranged around their kitchen table, Belinda, Jonathan, Roger, and Kendra Lamar bow their heads in prayer over what appears to be a delicious meal of rolls, onion rings, fried fish (or maybe chicken), beans (maybe pinto) and a green salad. While their glasses are empty I imagine they will soon be filled with the “house wine” of Putnam County, Georgia, sweet tea–as it is the choice spirit of the South in general. In the background, I spy the silhouette of what I believe to be a delicious white cake with butter cream icing. Have mercy. The direction of my desires are clear.

Reminiscent of Henry Ossawa Tanner’s painting “The Thankful Poor,” humility and reverence makes this an attractive scene.

"The Thankful Poor," Tanner.

This family expresses gratitude for their bounty. I can almost hear them giving thanks for the hands that lovingly prepared the food that will nourish their bodies; for their family who have all been brought together in love. The bounty here is intelligible.

I prefer this grace to the ostensible glamour of the other scene. As there are boundaries here, I can imagine an adult conversation. Such an exchange is predicated on instructing the children, and this begins with the prayer of gratitude. Despite Kimora Lee Simmons’s status as a business “mogul,” the photograph showing her daughter spread across the dinner table does not suggest that she is adequately in control of her home. Again, I am still unclear about why I should want to buy what Baby Phat is selling.
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