Hell is other peoples frame of reference.
I had a phone conversation this evening about that Twix commercial, with a woman who has known me for two decades and who knows my frame of reference on the subject matter under discussion backward and forward. Yet, she could not detect the flawed assumption in that commercial and would not accept my argument when I explained it. This clearly demonstrates that coherent communication between men and women across different frames of reference is impossible, even when they are intimately familiar with one another's frame of reference.
I'm tempted to reproduce the conversation verbatim, but . . . let's just say it revolved about a particular part of the female anatomy, in relation to my frame of reference and that of every male she has ever known matching the description of the husband in that commercial, in the course of more than five decades. She's not a member of [our philosophy group], but if she were, the conversation would have ended thusly:
She: But that's a justificationist argument.
Me: No, it's my best-tested theory, and it survived all your tests!
Instead, this is how the conversation ended:
She: Call me back later. 'Bye.
OK, you asked for it, so don't blame me.
BTW, I did call her back later this evening, and the discussion ended in the same standoff as all the discussions I've ever had with women on this subject over the course of several decades. Since long before you were born, I have never been able to convince a woman to change her stand on this issue.
This is the commercial as best as I remember it.
Twix, of course, is a very chewy candy bar. The commercial features a black couple, situated in their living room. The husband is sitting on the couch, opening up a Twix. The wife is modelling a bright red pair of slacks. She asks her husband: Honey, does this make me look fat? The camera then moves to a close-up, showing her bending over, at an angle that greatly exaggerates the size and curvature of her buttocks. The husband pops the Twix into his mouth, and, fortuitously unable to speak, smiles noncommittally and mumbles unintelligibly. The wife then says: Thanks, honey!, throws her arms around him, gives him a kiss, and skips happily out of the room. The commercial then ends with the husband popping the second half of the Twix into his mouth, with a voice-over: Twix, for when you need a moment.
Now, here is a series of questions to answer, based on your life experience:
(1) Are there any flawed assumptions in this scenario?
(2) In a comparable real-life situation, what do you think that husband would really be thinking about all that behind staring him in the face?
(3) If the husband had a reason to hesitate formulating a response, what exactly would he want to tell her that she didn't want to hear?
(4) What are the likely demographic characteristics of the person(s) who wrote that commercial?
(5) How did the writer of that commercial assume his/her audience would interpret the husband's reaction? Was this commercial pitched toward a particular audience? Did the author anticipate differential audience interpretations of this scenario?
(6) What are the likely interpretations of the husband's reaction among various demographic segments of the viewing audience?
In conclusion, I will say only that I have been a participant in or third-party observer of such scenarios for over thirty years, and the answers to (2) and (3) are always the same. The woman's opinion (see question 2) is invariably the opposite of the man's. My theory has thus survived all tests to date. Given a perfect track record, I therefore claim it as objective knowledge.
Here is the response from the young PhD candidate, a beautiful, tall, very thin black woman:
Thanks for synopsis.
Also, in addition to all you implied about intended demographics, cultural norms of desirability, and gendered frames of reference, even members of what I imagine is the intended demographic audience find the ad unrealistic.
This is what one male member of that demographic had to say:
I disagree vehemently with the author of the Twix commercial.... This shoving of a candy bar into the doomed man's mouth would NOT enable him to escape his fate. This type of maneuver can only be successfully accomplished with something along the lines of a well-timed slip and open skull fracture, a sudden massive tremor at least 6.8 on the Richter scale, or a full-blown plague of flaming locusts. A candy bar in the mouth would only increase the length and intensity of the glare from the fat ho in question.
Then, a response from another fellow:
I suspect that twix is a shortening of twixt (which is a shortening of betwixt, meaning between), as in twixt land and sea or twixt a rock and a hard place, and that precisely describes the, uh, gentleman's position in said commercial: no escape, so enjoy whatever simple luxuries or distractions are to be had while you await your fate.
What a great marketing slogan: Twix... for when there is no escape or Twix... for when rescue is not an option.
Is atheism merely the Twix of thinking people within a sea of religion? Does it do any good, or is it merely a futile declaration of independence?
Here is my response:
I've seen the commercial a few more times since I wrote it up, and I see that my memory was faulty. I'll have to attempt a better transcription when I can.
I also had a couple more conversations with my female interlocutor, who was similarly blessed by nature, and I still have not been able to get her to see things my way. Which is to say, she thinks it's too big. That's just the way things are. Let it go, Ralph, let it go. But I can't let it go.
Fat ho? I'm very disappointed in your friend. That is no way to talk about a beautiful black goddess. What is wrong with him? How old is he? 99% of my male bonding experiences with black men have consisted of lengthy, explicit conversations in homage to those glorious hemispheres. Sure, the woman always thinks hers are too big. I've been trying to talk some sense into their heads for 30 years, but they won't listen.
She: He's stalling for time to think of how to get out of it.
Me: But what does he think about what he's looking at?
She: He thinks it's too big, but doesn't want to tell her.
Me: You don't think he likes what he sees?
She: I don't know.
Me: You don't know? When I look at an ass like thatyours, for examplehow do I react?
She: I know what you think!
Me: You damn well know what I think. Now think back on all the black men you've ever knownthink back 50 years and then some. How many have you known that didn't like all that?
Me: So how do you think that man with the Twix in his mouth feels about it?
She: I don't know.
Me: What do you mean you don't know? You just answered my question.
She: But it's too big.
Me: You think it's too big.
She: It's too big. The woman always thinks it's too big.
Me: Who cares what you think? What about the men?
She: It doesn't matter. A woman always thinks hers is too big. There's nothing you can do about it. That's the way things are.
Me: What's wrong with you people, anyway?
A response from me to the other fellow in the discussion:
I don't know what you are talking about, but I was worried about being called a justificationist. Being skinny is of course a modern value, the product of the modern industrial world, the advertising industry, and I think driven by an association with social class, not to mention, in this case, the dominant value system of the gluteally challenged.
I did, however, neglect to mention a practical aspect of this problem. I had yet another conversation on the topic this morning. My interlocutor reminded me of the difficulty of buying clothes that fit properly.
Me: Well maybe I could make big money by manufacturing a special line of clothing.
She: Why can't you let this go?
Me: I can't get that woman out of my mind.
She: You're a strange man, Ralph Dumain.
Me: So you think you're better than me?
She: Of course I'm better than you.
This is how I always wriggle out of trouble. Come to think of it, that woman in the commercial did look potentially dangerous.
At 03:23 PM 1/26/2005 -0500, J[__] wrote:
Perception versus reality. . . which will win in the long run? Don't underestimate the power of modern media technology and programming to bias perception. Try to imagine the commercial for the context of a primitive society unpoisoned by modern media technology.
A response from another white man, middle-aged, balding, skinny and bony as a rail:
Date: Wed, 26 Jan 2005 23:39:38 -0500
Hell, I think MINE is too big.
Atheism as Twix! Hilarious! That's it!
Now D[____]'s going to be bold, spit the Twix out his mouth, and answer the question. If he tries answering back on religion with the woman in that commercial, chances are he won't live to tell us about it. Sure bet.
I had yet another conversation with my interlocutor. She thinks I have an unhealthy obsession with the woman in the red pants. She didn't think fat ho was an appropriate description of someone's wife. Then she launched into a discussion of Star Jones, who nevertheless fits the description. She also talked about women asking men for their opinions of their clothing.
So I asked: How many men have you known who care at all what a woman is wearing?
She replied: Gee . . . I don't know.
I continued: They're only thinking about what's underneath the clothing, and how they can get to remove the clothing.
She: I never thought about that.
Me: You should.
She: Some day looking at women's behinds is going to get you in big trouble.
Me: Already has.
Anyway, I wrote a poem on the subject. Well, the subject is part of the poem, which contrary to appearances has a larger message: Shopping Mall Blues.
Have you kicked a Republican in the nuts today?
The following dialogue, which occurred much later than the preceding, transpired between me and a former neighbor, a very intelligent black man who also loves 'em big. He had an insight I had overlooked.
When I saw the Twix commercial, I noticed the man watching the white woman slap the white man on the TV screen, but the possible significance of the racial coding involved never dawned on me. Very very interesting. You might well be right.
I have been unable to elicit more thoughtful responses from the women I know. . . . (E[__] tells me that A[__] thinks hers is too big. Where do these females get this idea?) I tried this out on a long distance call to a friend now in California. At first she didn't get it either. I tried walking her through it. She managed to advance the logic a bit. I don't remember the exact dialogue any more, but she got to something like this:
Well, the husband likes the butt because it's big, but he doesn't want to tell her 'it's big and I like it!', because she's still worried that the red pants are making it look bigger and she still won't take it as a compliment.
This was a step forward, but she didn't pursue the contradictions in this situation any further. Instead, she insisted that there is something wrong with me because I am obsessed with sex, and I should start a blog dedicated to erotica. But I protested: but this isn't erotica, it's about people's minds.
The further irony is that I went on and on describing a number of encounters with black women in Washington in familiar circles that she'd been missing out on since she left. I described not only my sexual obsessions but more importantly my characterizations of these women's mentalities, which strike me as confused in many ways, especially in the case of highly educated professionals in high places who still have the basic assumptions they started out with in Anacostia. Now the interesting thing is that I can bond with these women based on certain common psychological associations around food, music, and other things. For example, I was really depressed the day before Thanksgiving, but when J[___] sent [. . . ] those bags of food the morning of Turkey Day, I was so elated, I was happy all day. It made me feel so good, and brought back more than three decades of memories of being fed by black women [. . . .]
So I met this highly placed lawyer in a local establishment, who grew up in Anacostia. In previous encounters, she had been complaining to her compatriots about not being able to find a man. She exclaimed: Is it the men, or is it me? Another acquaintance of mine, who was tanked up on dozens of margaritas, got off her stool and shouted back: Look in the mirrorit's you!
I'm not making up a single word.
So this lawyer, who has a grueling hard-nosed job, happened to come into my local one day and none of the other women were there. She sat down at the bar, and her disposition was totally different. So I started up a conversation with her. You should have seen the look in her eyes: she was melting. I didn't quite know what to do with that, but it got me started. So the next time I saw her, which was around Christmastime, we got into even more detail about our backgrounds. So I told her the story about J[___] sending [. . . ] the food (which she did again on New Year's), and how it reminded me of all the black women in my life who have stuffed me to the gills with food. You should have seen this woman beaming. Her eyes were completely liquid. She said softly: That's how we show love. And I started telling stories. And then I threw up my hands and exclaimed: Where would I be without black women in my life? You should have seen the ecstatic look on her face. She said: That's the most beautiful thing I've ever heard! You know, we don't always get that kind of appreciation.
All this emotionally charged interchange notwithstanding, I couldn't help but notice how traditional she was in every way. She goes to church regularly, has very old fashioned ideas about everything, couldn't understand why I find the ritual of dating excruciating, and in spite of the fact that she has travelled the world, seems rather naive. So I always kept this in the back of my mind, lest I get carried away.
So I'm telling the story to my woman friend in California on the phone, and what does she say? You should ask this woman out. I said, A few minutes ago you accused me of being a sex maniac, now you're goading me into a date. She replied: You don't have to have sex with her, but since you hit it off so well, you should spend time with her. And I replied: But don't you get it? I make no bones about being a sex fiend, but the truth is I always have the mentalities of the people I deal with in mind, and I have to make my decisions based on my reaction to the mentality. Just because I'm honest about the sex monkey on my back, don't you understand by now that I have a brain on top of that?
But I don't think she got it.
I spent a great deal of time arguing the past two days via e-mail with that feminist PhD student (the one I quoted) who got mad at me over some sarcastic remarks I made about a female bonding situation with some very questionable women in which she participated that really creeped me out.
The upshot of all this: it's hopeless, completely hopeless.
At 04:38 PM 2/17/2005 -0500, [he] wrote:
Thanks for forwarding me the discussion. Very interesting. . .
When I first saw the TWIX commercial, it took me about two seconds to realize that members of different demographics would interpret the scenario very differently. I know that the black, urban demographic views having the thickness in a very different manner than white urban (or suburban) professionals. If we assume that brothaman on the couch holds views typical of most black men (who aren't trying to appear as someone they're not), we can be fairly sure he's probably thinking, Hell yeah, you look phat as a . . ., and I wanna hit that right now!!
But there's something else; You could also read something into the fact the guy on the couch is watching television when the question is posed to him. Maybe we're supposed to recognize that by watching TV, he is in the process of being indoctrinated with the values/perspective of the mainstream (that is, white people). Thus, his hesitation would be the result of not knowing which perspective he should use to determine the correct response in this situation. Maybe THAT's the reason he needs to buy some time by stuffing the TWIX bar into his mouth; he's trying to decide whether the young lady wants him to acknowledge that she's definitely thick (a good thing to many blacks), or whether she wants him to say that her butt is NOT fat and she conforms to the typical media-approved standard of beauty.
[My initial take on the commercial was that the woman DOES think that her butt is big, and she appreciates that her man thinks so too. She's still got it. . . lots of it.]
Any woman who thinks that ALL women feel that having a big butt is a negative is not being realistic. Many young black women are very aware of the power conferred upon them by having a large rear end. In fact, in some cases this awareness degenerates into an arrogance that's so all-encompassing that they neglect every other aspect of their appearance. They feel that if they've got a big booty, that's all black men want anyway. Sadly, a lot of black men reinforce this belief by ardently pursuing creatures who are barely recognizable as females except for their huge butts and hips. If you see one of these females in a nightclub setting, you can witness for yourself loads of men being dissed by a steatopygous 3 who has been convinced that she's a 10 by constant male attention.
I'm sure the creators of the TWIX commercial had a lot of fun making something that could be intepreted in so many ways, depending on the observers' perspectives.
©2005 Ralph Dumain. All rights reserved.
Edited & re-edited for public consumption.
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