In “America,” Anita sings, “Life is all right in America,” to which Bernardo and the Sharks reply, “If you’re a white in America.” I chose to post this ad because I believe it speaks to the racism raised in West Side Story as it directly illustrates several of the lyrics in America.

The ad depicts a black woman presumably employed as a domestic worker. Her job is easy now, she claims, with General Electric’s recently released sink. In its imagery, the ad demonstrates the sorts of jobs blacks (and racial minorities such as Puerto Ricans) were relegated to in the 1950s (alluded to in the lyric, “Free to wait tables and shine shoes”). At the same time, the ad—promoting an appliance—exemplifies the commercial, industry driven nature of America (aptly highlighted in Anita’s lyric, “I have my own washing machine.”)

I was not able to find where this ad was originally published.

One Reply to “Advertisements and “America””

  1. Upon first glance, I found it interesting that the advertisement features a black woman, presumably the maid based on her clothing, because I could just as easily imagine this advertisement with a white woman standing in the same place. While searching for my own ad, I found plenty of advertisements similar to this one with white women standing near sinks or stoves or laundry machines, doing the same kind of housekeeping tasks that this woman is doing.

    However, after looking at the ad a bit more closely, I realized that this ad doesn’t just depict a black woman standing next to a sink. There are other key details that accompany her race: her speech is grammatically incorrect, she is heavier set, wears loose fitting clothing, only part of her body is shown, and her smile is only partially visible. A white woman in her place would likely be saying something without any grammatical mistakes; she would be slim, shown in full from head to toe, placed more centrally in the ad, wearing a fitted dress, and she would have a bright, full smile on her face. These kinds of small differences indicate to the viewer that this black woman does not quite fully belong. She doesn’t command quite as much power over the space as a white woman would in the same position.

    I think a similar parallel can be drawn between the Jets and the Sharks in West Side Story in the sense that both groups can be seen in the same school, hanging out on the same streets, in the same fights. A Jet hanging out on the street can just as easily be replaced with a Shark. However, similar to the advertisement, it is not quite a 1:1 swap. There are small details that indicate to the viewer that the Shark is inhabiting a distinctly “Jet” space whether that is the way they are dressed, the color of their clothing, or most blatantly, the word “Jets” sprawled on the sidewalk. Both the advertisement and West Side Story suggest that non-white individuals could inhabit those spaces and appear to take on similar roles to whites, but with major caveats and vastly different connotations.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *