To the extent that the subway-riding population is representative of the citizenry of New York, I feel privileged to live in a diverse metropolis. The subway’s signs and ads, in turn, reflect this diversity: I’ve learned more Spanish during my commute to and from work than I did during the week I spent in Mexico last year. For example, mala practica medica means medical malpractice. I learned that on the way to dinner today. Notwithstanding that my father, a doctor, hates medical malpractice lawsuits, I thought that was pretty cool.
It’s also impressive that the subway’sÂ publicÂ service ads, as well as others, make an effort to have diverse models as well. Gone are the times, I thought, when we were all supposed to fit into the white-bred melting pot that is the United States. Whether or not it’s tokenism, it seems at least like an effort at progress.
That’s why I was confused, and a bit taken aback, when I saw Halls Cough Drops’ new ad campaign, plastered across yourÂ morningÂ train from the east side to the west. It’s relatively innocent at first glance: there are people with inflamed noses staring out into the distance with optimistic expressions, wearing conservative dress with bold color contrasts in a style that evokes the 1950s. Beneath each stuffed-up hero or heroine are phrases such as “SOLDIER ON, PARTNER” or “PUSH FORTH, FAIR LADY,” and then beneath that, “GET THROUGH THE SEASON.” All of this in shadowed big block letters. Very inspiring. I will get through the season.
What weirded me out at first, though, was that all of the people in the ads were white. My liberal politically-correct siren was out of control. Not only white people get colds! I resolved to view the ads with the proper indignation and to not buy Halls, though I did accept a citrus-flavored one from my friend one night, but citrus is so tasty.
I couldn’t boycott the 1 train, though, so I kept seeing the ads, and they didn’t stop weirding me out, which in turn began to weird me out even more. Fine, it may be wrong that the ads were stuck in the pre-civil rights era, but white people still control these industries and so this shouldn’t have been so surprising. I kept looking, hoping to find a clue to my discomfort. Then I saw it. It wasn’t that all of the Halls people were white.
They all look Jewish.
Is this racist? Stereotypical? Maybe. But maybe I find it strange that the woman in the ad facing me was also the one that served me punch at synagogue growing up. Maybe I’m cognizant enough to realize that a set of models who all have big noses, brown eyes, pronounced cheekbones and wavy/curly dark hair aren’t representative of the general population.
It could just be that their noses are inflamed and that I’m inventing all of this because I live on the Upper West Side and my Jewdar never sleeps. It could be that because I live with Jews, work with Jews and have a largely Jewish social life I’m predisposed to finding MOTs in subway ads where they don’t actually exist.
But I don’t think so. I went to Jewish day school, camp and high school and it wasn’t for nothing. I know a Jew when I see one. As it is I see too many. I don’t need them invading my subway ads.
And by the way, cough drop in Spanish is caramelo para la tos. So there.