There's no question that Old Spice's current marketing campaign has transformed Isaiah Mustafa, the award-winning ads' hypnotically charismatic black spokesperson, into a pop-culture icon. Nearly 100 million viewers have watched him chastise unmanly men and straddle horses on YouTube. The ads have also earned Mustafa, a former NFL player who'd had bit parts on shows like "Ugly Betty," a lead role in a Tyler Perry movie and a talent deal with NBC. But will the prominence of a black Old Spice Guy have spin-off benefits for other African-American men? (Watch the Old Spice Guy's farewell)
Yes, the campaign is a big step forward: Not long ago, black men had two possible roles in advertising: "Violent savage or passive, simple-minded gofers," says Cord Jefferson in The Root. "A muscular black man addressing America's 'ladies'—not just black ladies, but all ladies—in a sexualized tone could have gotten him killed." This sophisticated, intelligent Old Spice Guy throws such notions out the window.
"Why the Old Spice Guy is good for Black America"
Mustafa is good for America, period: There is something affirmatively "post-racial" about the casting of a black man (with a Muslim name, no less) as a mainstream sex symbol, says Tricia Romano in The Daily Beast. "One could argue that having a handsome black president has softened a lot of people’s ideas... Obama’s shaky polls notwithstanding." Let's hope Mustafa paves the way for greater diversity in pop culture.
"The Old Spice Man's internet triumph"
But is his race really such a big deal, at this point? Mustafa wasn't chosen "because we have a black president," says Dodai Stewart in Jezebel. "We have a black president because we're living in a time when Isaiah Mustafa can be cast as the Old Spice Guy." With diverse representations of black men in TV shows from "The Wire" to "30 Rock" to "Lost," African-Americans are no longer conspicuously invisible.
"Did Obama prepare America for the Old Spice Guy?"
THE WEEK'S AUDIOPHILE PODCASTS: LISTEN SMARTER
- Is it now OK to have sex with animals?
- 43 TV shows to watch in 2014
- In Ferguson, Michael Brown lost his life — and America's police lost the benefit of the doubt
- Republicans love this new health care plan. Too bad it's basically a tax cut for the rich.
- In defense of Gwyneth Paltrow
- How to be the most productive person in your office — and still get home by 5:30 p.m.
- 17 old proverbs we should use more often
- Chuck Hagel wasn't the problem. It's America's addiction to endless war.
- 8 tricks to surviving the holidays without gaining weight or being grouchy
- 10 classic Sesame Street moments we wouldn't show today's kids
Subscribe to the Week