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Darlene M Caban

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The head of the table: Not just an accident of seating
by Darlene M Caban   

Last edited: Tuesday, January 06, 2004
Posted: Tuesday, January 06, 2004

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A recent tv commercial riled me up

I watched a tv commercial presented by a local grocery chain. In it, the nervous newlywed woman was freaking out about her in-laws coming to dinner for the first time. This obviously cooking-impaired bride was given menu-planning guidance from the store butcher, who saved the day by recommending a spoon roast. The woman serves it to the beaming in-laws and hubby-- a seemingly happy domestic scene. But I was a little disturbed by the seating arrangement: Her father-in-law was sitting at the head of the table, the woman and mother-in-law were on the left side of the table, and the husband was sitting across from his wife on the right side of the table.

Uh, excuse me, it's the HUSBAND'S house! Why isn't HE sitting at the head of the table? It seems as if the husband is saying that Dad is still the boss, even in his son's home. The husband has his wife sitting opposite him instead of next to him-- does that mean he still considers her to be an outsider? The voice-over continues and we learn that the mother-in-law has been going to the same butcher for years, so apparently the jig is up on where the spoon roast came from and the mother-in-law now knows that her new daughter-in-law is as clueless as she is about meal planning. Besides the irritating seating plan, another message in this commercial is that women only feel secure when a man tells them what to do. This is sure to alienate anyone whose mother would have reacted sarcastically, if not violently, had the neighborhood butcher suggested anything for dinner.(If I owned a grocery store, I'd put a large sign over the butcher's counter reading: Our Butchers Mind Their Own Business!)

I'm sure this commercial was an attempt at building store loyalty among new married customers-- customers who will someday produce children who will clamor for the overpriced cereals sold in their stores. A warm and fuzzy commercial often has hidden messages... once you start looking for them, you'll have broken the advertising spell and be free to draw your own conclusions about whether or not to purchase that item. Emotional responses generate millions of impulse purchases each year-- wouldn't you like to be the one in control?

If I had been in charge of producing this commercial, I'd have had the butcher showing off an already-cooked spoon roast-- and that's it! No social commentary, just shots of the food. If people want advice on how to conduct their private lives, they can call Dr. Laura after dinner.

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Reviewed by Debra Conklin
I know what you mean. I've been put off by many commercials that portray people doing mean things to others, as funny. One that immediately comes to mind is the guy who shaves his friend's eyebrow off and then displays photos of it at a party. This was a payback for something he had done to his friend, earlier. Why? It was a commercial for a camera, I think there could of been better ways to sell the camera. JMO Great article, though.
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