SHOPPING FOR IDENTITY by Marilyn Halter

SHOPPING FOR IDENTITY

The Marketing of Ethnicity
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KIRKUS REVIEW

A lucid examination of the recent trend in ethnic marketing that has become “an industry in its own right.”

Halter (History/Boston Univ.) begins by observing that, of all the social legislation in the 1960s, the “most transformative measure of all” was the 1965 Immigration Reform Bill that ended “preferential quotas for Europeans.” As a result, Asians, Hispanics, and others flooded into the country in unprecedented numbers—so many, says Halter, that our country, never really a melting pot, is now more accurately a “tossed salad.” This influx has occasioned a major shift in marketing. Consumerism, she argues, is so “completely woven into American life” that people “look to the marketplace to revive and reidentify with ethnic values.” She proceeds to describe the ethnic focus of numerous manufacturers and retailers and service industries, showing how items as varied as foods, toys, music, clothing, greeting cards, cookbooks, investments, magazines, and weddings have been affected by the new consumers. She notes how sponsorship of ethnic festivals has become a “corporate strategy” and how companies like AT&T have invested heavily in a variety of multicultural projects. The author’s impressive knowledge of popular culture enlivens what could have been, in less capable hands, a sluggish text. Her allusions and examples range from Malcolm X (whose visage appears on a needlepoint pillow) to Riverdance to Ricky Martin, Selena, Tiger Woods, Barbie, and Betty Crocker. She moves easily from culture to culture, writing with confidence and competence on Yiddish literature, Kwanzaa, Latino cuisine, and cosmetics (companies now offer a myriad of products to “accommodate every possible skin tone”). She also discusses the recent “silent explosion” in mixed-race people, observing that many Americans are “self-identifying with more than one ethnic group.” Her belief is that the “real trend” in advertising and marketing is toward such “homogenization that racial distinctiveness actually disappears.” Curiously, she waits until the appendix before defining “ethnicity.”

Clear, convincing, well-crafted. (22 b&w illustrations)

Pub Date: Sept. 12th, 2000
ISBN: 0-8052-4156-6
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Schocken
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 1st, 2000




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