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Myth America A reporter tests an ad campaign against reality and finds the lights are on, but no one's home.

Myth America

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Posted: Thursday, October 18, 2001 12:00 am | Updated: 10:46 pm, Fri May 17, 2013.

831--tales of the area code Meandering down what has become North Salinas'' residential development main street, drivers can catch a glimpse of what was and what is yet to be. On the two-lane stretch of Boronda heading east from the mall, fields stretch forth on one hand and communities spread out on the other, packed with homes priced significantly upward of half a million dollars.

Reaching the corner of Boronda and El Dorado, it would be easy to be catapulted deeply into the heart of the American Dream: owning one of those 3,532-square-foot Harrod homes erected on one of its 5,300-square-foot lots, having a gardener tend to your perfectly manicured grass patch. Laying eyes on the 10-foot-high cutouts in front of the intersection''s Harrod Homes billboard could easily complete the process of landing viewers firmly back in the Eisenhower era.

There stands blond-headed Junior, foot propped up on a soccer ball. Next to him, his flaxen-haired sister cuddles her black-and-white puppy. Then there''s golden-tressed Mom, clad in tennis shorts and matching Keds, arm extended Vanna White-like toward the Harrod Homes billboard as she looks hopefully at her very serious-looking husband, as if to say, with that perfect white smile of hers, "Honey, look what I found!" Dad, in his Friday casual business attire, newspaper tucked firmly under his arm (proving to the world that he can, in fact, read), ponders the little woman''s choice with uncertainty: "I don''t know, dear, but I''ll think about it," he seems to say. After all, he has quite a big decision to make for his family--unless, of course, his wife is one of the 64 percent of women who make up today''s workforce.

It''s been years since June and Ward Cleaver were serious models for behavior and not just characters in off-color jokes. But this tease of a marketing campaign brings their image to the forefront once again. How many of the buyers in the Harrod community are really like that image on the murals--the male the sole breadwinner and decisionmaker, the female donning tennis shorts on a random Tuesday, far from a paying job and yet still able to afford the half-million-dollar-plus digs? I went in search of women who would be home at 10:30am on a weekday, eager to answer my questions as scones baked nearby.

Resisting the temptation to take advantage of Harrod homes'' exceedingly close proximity to one another by leaping from roof to roof, I took to the streets and rang doorbells instead. Nineteen homes later, I was unable to find any women at home--or any residents, for that matter. I couldn''t help but wonder if, perhaps, the women of this community were out doing what the AFL-CIO says that 99 out of 100 women will be doing at some point in their lives: working.

The murals, brain child of Harrod Homes exec Brad Smith and renowned local artist John Cerney, are perched within easy viewing distance of impressionable girls at the nearby school. But Smith says he isn''t concerned that the murals may be sexist. Instead, he insists, he''s had plenty of "positive feedback" about them.

Admittedly, the lifelike statues are a remarkable piece of artwork. And that comes as no surprise considering their artist. John Cerney, best known for his large cut-outs of farmworkers, says he considers himself Norman Rockwell-like in his art and apolitical at best. "We tried to inject a sense of humor to it," he says. He also says he considers it a "playful enough collaboration." Cerney insists there was "absolutely no hidden subtext" to the project, and Smith concurs. "It was meant to be a depiction of a typical family," Smith says.

But on a subsequent Saturday afternoon, a time when many families might be expected to be at home, I found no such "typical family" among the Harrod community. Instead, I found people of all colors, all shapes, all sizes, all ages and certainly many different family dynamics.

The Harrod tradition of quality homes will no doubt continue in the Salinas community as it has since Everett Harrod and his son Glen brought their Southern California business to the Salinas Valley in 1957. But perhaps just as the homes and their amenities have evolved to fit the ever-changing landscape of modernization, so will its ad campaigns. Put them both in shorts or both in pants. Make the weight of the decision as visible on her face as it is on his. Give the girl a soccer ball, too, and put that mutt on the ground. And as for the newspaper tucked securely under Dad''s arm? Well, that can stay. But it should be obvious that Mom wrote its only visible article.

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