Tuesday, August 17, 2004

At Miller Brewing, rockers gotta have the complexion to make the connection

The Miller Brewing Company is currently running a promotion celebrating the 50th anniversary of rock 'n' roll, with a series of eight commemorative beer cans featuring covers from Rolling Stone magazine.

Here's the odd part: all of the musicians featured on the Miller cans are of the Causasian persuasion.

That's so bizarre it almost defies description. How do you design a retrospective about an art form that originated in the African American subculture, without including any African Americans? As Robert Thompson, a popular culture historian from Syracuse University, put it, "It would be like doing a set of cans of six great Impressionist painters, and not including any French people."

Or, to use a more directly parallel example, it would be like issuing a set honoring the history of the National Basketball Association, and featuring only Larry Bird, Rick Barry, George Mikan, Jerry West, Gail Goodrich, and Pistol Pete Maravich. Nothing wrong with any of those guys, but wouldn't that look a little peculiar?

Has no one at Miller ever heard of Chuck Berry? Ray Charles? James Brown? Little Richard? Sam Cooke? Jimi Hendrix? Tina Turner? Smokey Robinson? Aretha Franklin? The artist formerly known as the Artist Formerly Known as Prince? Earth, Wind & Fire? Or how about Lenny Kravitz, or Run-DMC? Apparently not. They have, however, heard of Bon Jovi, Def Leppard, Alice Cooper, Willie Nelson, and Blondie, all of whom are showcased on the commemorative cans as hallmarks of rock history.

Bon Jovi? You've got to be kidding. Def Leppard? Their chief claims to fame are a drummer with one arm, and a blatant ripoff of another, far superior band's name. Alice Cooper? Please. He's better known as a commercial pitchman these days than as a rock 'n' roll heavyweight.

And Willie Nelson? What in the name of McKinley Morganfield does Willie Nelson have to do with rock 'n' roll? Perhaps they intended to feature Ricky Nelson, and someone in the art department got a mite confused.

This reminds me of that scene in Spike Lee's Do the Right Thing, in which the character Buggin' Out, played by Giancarlo Esposito, complains to pizzeria owner Sal (Danny Aiello), "How come there's no brothers on the wall?" referring to a wall at Sal's that's decorated with photos of celebrities including Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin. Sal replies, "You want brothers on the wall? Get your own place, you can do what you want to do. But this is my pizzeria. American Italians on the wall only."

Maybe the message from Miller Beer is, "Get your own beer, and you can put whomever you want on the can. This is our beer, and it's white rockers (and Willie Nelson) on the can only." I don't who the Miller people think is buying all those forties of Olde English and Mickey's malt liquor they churn out, but here's a hint: they're the people not pictured on the Miller cans.

I don't drink, so I'm sure the Miller Brewing Company couldn't care less for my opinion. But here's a suggestion for a new tagline for Miller High Life: "Miller: It's not just the foam that's white."

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