Rarely does our blog venture into the world of relatively serious political or social commentary. This is a place to share recipes, food photos and anecdotes about the fun and funny things that happen in our lives. But there has been a bit of a controversy in the baking world, and it is something that affects both of us and maybe some of our readers. Last week, Duncan Hines launched its Amazing Glazes line of frostings with a commercial advertising campaign for “Hip Hop Cupcakes”. Vanilla cupcakes are placed on a table top, covered with a squeeze tube of chocolate glaze and then grow faces and begin to sing. It sounds very cute of course, but a large number of people found fault with this commercial almost immediately. We were in the bunch who felt a twinge of discomfort. The faces had large, buggy eyes and overgrown pink lips that harken back to the images of African-American blackface characterizations seen in the days of America’s minstrel show history. And this is where the controversy began. So much so that Duncan Hines pulled the commercial from its Youtube channel. Messy situations always leave crumbs, and many people across community lines are expressing how they feel about the issue.
In case you missed the Duncan Hines advertising tragedy that baked up last week, please see below. Depending on when you see this post, the media may be unavailable due to the company’s desire to remove the video following complaints that it is full of racist imagery.
Whether or not you feel that the commercial is racist is a matter of opinion. The problem is bigger than that, and it is something that falls on the shoulders of every corporation or company, not just Duncan Hines. Corporations and their advertising arms must be in tune with cultural sensitivities. This entire campaign may have been created with the intention of introducing irresistibly loveable, singing cupcakes, but there are remarkably evident traits of blackface appearance on these autotuned baked goods questionably singing “hip hop” doo wop. To think that no one on the advertising or marketing team would consider potential consumers could find fault in the commercial is interesting in itself. Of course, it can be argued that someone will find fault with anything, and that is where many on the opposing side say to leave the issue alone–it’s just a commercial with cute cupcakes. No racism at all. When Amazon touted a guide for pedophiles, an author’s right to free speech and a private company’s ability to sell a legal product were far outweighed by thousands of angry people who found it to be a dangerous ‘resource’ to sell to the public. Not to mention a bad look for Amazon’s company profile. Should the book have stayed on the online shelves? Should we all reevaluate just how free speech can be and just how politically incorrect something has to be to be racist?
Amazon felt the push back and removed the book. Duncan Hines felt the push back and dropped the commercial. The online ad was a disappointing and disheartening marketing technique to sell what could have been cute cupcakes. We can label the commercial racist or not, but it was somewhat uncouth if people are familiar with African-Americans’ portrayal in minstrel shows and consider the campaign’s title, “Hip Hop Cupcakes”. Not everybody will see it that way, but many have, and that is an important reaction to respect. Thankfully Duncan Hines has removed the commercial entirely, but many of us wish it had not been created in the first place.
It is interesting to see how even the food world–a place full of cupcakes and brownies–can be soiled by one incident. The not so fun aspects of life trickle down into even the smallest areas that bring us joy. This blog post is not to make anyone uncomfortable, but mainly to express a point of view. Duncan Hines’ commercial is actually a circumstance of the larger issue of corporate and consumer responsibility. Corporations have to be more cognizant of the messages they portray and the methods with which they portray them, and consumers have the right to accept or deny those messages and methods. At the end of the day, we all have the ability to say what will and what will not be tolerated either with our words or our crisp dollars. We are members of a growing faction of brown bloggers, specifically brown food bloggers. We have buying power. It is not good practice for any company to ruffle the feathers of a purchasing constituency.
We do not use a lot of box mixes when we bake. Most of the time, we enjoy doing it from scratch. If a time is to come that we should need a quick fix from the box, needless to say, the first (and last) choice will not be Duncan Hines. Who needs their pre-packaged powder if we can make our own brown buttered, chocolate chip-laced, toasted walnut-littered, espresso-hinted brownies? Hopefully, down the line, folks at Duncan Hines will be better informed about and considerate with their advertising methods.
If you feel comfortable sharing your opinion about the Duncan Hines “Hip Hop Cupcakes” advertisement, please feel free. If you’d prefer to just tell us about your favorite brownie, that’s perfectly fine too. This blog, like the entire web of the internet, is an open forum for opinion, but we do ask that you be respectful of others. Our friends Courtney of Coco Cooks, Bren of Flanboyant Eats, Chrysta of Kiss My Bundt , Lara of Food. Soil. Thread., Lisa of Anali’s First Amendment and Marye of Restless Chipotle have also posted their views of the situation.
Brown Butter Walnut Brownies – 2 dozen (or 4 dozen bite-sized)
1 cup unsalted butter
4 ounces 72% dark chocolate, chopped
1 cup brown sugar
1 cup sugar
1 tablespoon vanilla extract
1 cup flour
1 teaspoon espresso powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 1/2 cups walnut halves, toasted
2/3 cup semisweet chocolate chips
1. Set the butter in a small pan over medium heat and cook until it has completely melted, turned brown and the milk solids begin to raise to the top, approximately 8-10 minutes. Stir and turn down the heat to medium low to prevent burning. Remove the butter from heat and allow to cool slightly.
2. Pour the chocolate pieces into a heat-resistant metal bowl and set over a pot of simmer water. Scrape in the brown butter and stir occasionally, allowing the chocolate to mix. Place the metal bowl to the set and allow to cool, approximately 5 minutes.
3. While the chocolate and butter mixture cools, whisk together the sugar, eggs and vanilla until smooth. Stir in the slightly cooled chocolate and mix well.
4. Add the flour, espresso powder and salt to the chocolate and stir until just combined. Finally, fold in the chocolate chips and nuts. Pour the batter into a buttered and lightly floured 9″ x 11″ baking dish and slide into an oven preheated to 350 degrees. Bake for 30-35 minutes or until done. Cool for approximately 10 minutes, then slice.
Click HERE for the printable recipe.
Chrystal is in the running to present a panel discussion on food blogging at Blogging While Brown 2011. Click HERE to give her panel a ‘thumbs up’. Your support is always appreciated!