This President’s day, I learned that at the time of his death, George Washington’s Mount Vernon farm had over 300 enslaved persons.
Not slaves. Enslaved persons. That little difference–the politically correct difference–makes all the difference. And that difference matters not just for so-called snowflakes but also for marketers. Marketers can’t live in their own world; they must live in the worlds of their customers.
Yes, I liked the wiener dogs. No, I didn’t think Snickers got it right with Willem DaFoe. Forget all that. Let me get at the commercial that really made me angry as hell.
What, no “Brown Sugar” for the music bed?
The revitalized New York Daily News has already picked up on one of the signature scenes in this commercial for Colonial Williamsburg (shown in some East Coast markets, but not the national broadcast), the Twin Towers building themselves back up. I found that moment shocking, but I didn’t personally take offense. I wouldn’t blame anyone for taking offense, of course, but in the context of the commercial, it appeared around other violent moments in our nation’s history, such as the WWII landings at Normandy Beach and fighting in Vietnam.
Rather, I couldn’t believe what I saw at 0:38. It showed marchers from the 1960s holding a banner labeled “We Shall Overcome” marching backwards. “We Shall Overcome,” of course, was the motto of the Civil Rights movement. Later, in a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it montage, the commercial also showed a still picture of, I believe, Martin Luther King’s 1963 speech in Washington.
In case you didn’t catch it, the commercial suggested that none of these moments, fair or foul, would have happened if America as a nation hadn’t started in Williamsburg. I’ll accept a little tourism puffery (after all, Philadelphia and Boston may have had a little to do with it as well), but I can’t accept the symbolism of our nation marching backwards to a time when the good white people of Williamburg owned black people.
As an ardent reader of history, I appreciate what Williamsburg wanted to do. They wanted to import upon a now-focused audience that the city depicted in their theme park (or whatever you want to call it) played a major role in the creation of this Republic. However, they played no small part as well in ensuring that slavery became a part of this nation, a stain we must never forget or underestimate. Naturally, I don’t think Williamsburg’s marketing people meant to suggest that they want to see the return of slavery, but I do question the sensitivities of people who don’t appreciate the power of symbols taken lightly.
We have plenty to celebrate in this country, Colonial Williamsburg. And we cannot even hint that we can roll things back to less enlightened times.