You are familiar with them, I’m sure. They have thin, fragile shells that can’t quite keep them from smearing their messy innards all over everything. I’m speaking, of course, about conservative commentators who have meltdowns over cartoon portrayals of candy.
This is the curious case of M&Ms, thrust into the crosshairs of the culture wars after parent company Mars Inc. made changes to its characters last year. The anthropomorphized M&Ms now had updated looks and “more nuanced personalities,” it announced in a press release. What was wrong with the old ones? Apparently the red one was a bit of a bully; it would now be kind. The green and brown M&Ms, both female-presenting, sometimes cut each other down; now they’d be supportive friends (maybe even more than friends?). The orange one, who had poorly concealed anxiety, would “embrace his true self, worries and all.” The brand later added a purple M&M, “designed to represent acceptance and inclusivity.” The campaign might have been well intentioned. But it was also irresistible comic material, and Twitter users of all political persuasions promptly mined it.
Then the moment might have passed, if Fox News host Tucker Carlson hadn’t sunk his teeth in. You see, the green M&M — formerly wearing high-heeled, knee-high boots — now sported sneakers. The brown one ditched her stilettos for block heels. This didn’t work at all for Carlson, who deemed the old footwear of the children’s candy “sexy” and the new “sensible”: “M&Ms will not be satisfied until every last cartoon character is deeply unappealing and totally androgynous — until the moment you wouldn’t want to have a drink with any one of them,” he said to his more than 3 million viewers without an ounce of embarrassment. “When you’re totally turned off, we’ve achieved equity.”
Tucker: M&M’s will not be satisfied until every last cartoon character is deeply unappealing and totally androgynous. Until the moment you wouldn’t want to have a drink with any one of them. That’s the goal. When you’re totally turned off, we’ve achieved equity… pic.twitter.com/rz7VtVCHWu— Acyn (@Acyn) January 22, 2022
This is a moment when I think it best to take Carlson at his word. He was simply very sad he was no longer aroused by a cartoon M&M and her sexy, sexy boots. (Aw honey, there are websites for that.)
It had nothing at all to do with Mars Inc.’s stated desire to create a more inclusive world, putting resources into diversity audits, initiatives aimed at gender balance in leadership, and so on. It had nothing at all to do with being triggered by a corporation’s “global commitment to creating a world where everyone feels they belong.” Was M&Ms being “woke,” as Carlson had it, or simply pragmatic? In the United States, the population is projected to become minority white over the next 25 years. Future consumers look increasingly less like Carlson. In 2022, M&Ms were the most popular Halloween candy, according to shopping and delivery service Shipt’s Halloween Trend Report. Let’s keep it that way, amirite M&Ms?
A message from M&M'S. pic.twitter.com/EMucEBTd9o— Ma&Ya’s (@mmschocolate) January 23, 2023
Oh, maybe. On Monday, the brand announced it would step away indefinitely from its “beloved spokescandies,” introducing an actual human spokesperson instead — comedian Maya Rudolph, daughter of a Black mother (singer-songwriter Minnie Riperton) and a white, Jewish father, who on “Saturday Night Live” has portrayed Kamala Harris, the country’s first woman vice president, also multiracial. I am honestly not sure at this point who is getting pranked, but M&Ms has gotten a heck of a lot of attention this week, and Carlson continues to tweet gleefully about “frumpy, plus-sized, and lesbian M&Ms.” (It seems he perceives Purple’s peanut shape as … obesity?) There is speculation this is all some kind of lead-up to M&Ms’ Super Bowl commercial, which would conclude the whole saga with a real end-times capitalist chef’s kiss. I for one am hoping for an ad where Rudolph and the full coterie of inclusive candies sing a show-stopping number about the beauty of diversity, wearing nothing but sexytime boots.
But is this a food story? Of course it is. “I’ll NEVER give up my gas stove,” Texas Republican and noted cook Ronny Jackson recently tweeted, stoking outrage over a ban-that-wasn’t. “If the maniacs in the White House come for my stove, they can pry it from my cold dead hands. COME AND TAKE IT!!” And Iowa House Republicans showed how much they care about hunger by sponsoring a bill that would severely restrict Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program purchases: no more fresh meat, sliced cheese, or white rice, bread, and pasta, among other staples.
Food is a human necessity, a powerful symbol, and a pawn for posturing policymakers. When the media put Carlson on blast for his M&Ms commentary, he said: “They just can’t stand the idea that candy isn’t political.” This is a moment when it’s best not to take him at his word. Food is political. In the right hands, even candy can be red meat.
Devra First can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter @devrafirst.