If you want to make a man more progressive, you adjust his personality. If you want to update a woman, evidently, you give her new shoes.
What is clear is that these hard-shell ladies who melt in your mouth, not in your hand, are but the latest victims of a misguided progressivism running through corporate America, inspiring changes as hollow as a peanut M&M missing its leguminous center.
Of course, it’s not just Green and Brown getting tweaked. The notoriously bossy Red will be kinder, and in a sentence that is all but certain to become a recurring intrusive thought, “Orange will acknowledge his anxiety.”
But while the male mascots get personality adjustments, the women (woM&Ms?) get, yes, new footwear — because as focus-grouped as these rebrands surely are, rarely are they actually thought through. These overtures at progressivism often comically fold back into the retrograde ideas they claim to eschew. It’s hard for them not to when the gestures take place amid the backdrop of wealth-hoarding, resource-guzzling corporatism.
Look at Pepsi’s failed attempt to piggyback off Black Lives Matter protests by having Kendall Jenner solve domestic unrest with a Pepsi. Or at Mars Wrigley itself, which dipped its toes in these waters before, making Skittles lose all their vibrancy for a month to honor the real rainbow: LGBTQ people. Thanks! But how is gray candy a celebration of anything?
Similarly, why is making the female M&Ms less visually feminine the path to more nuance? Why is wearing androgynous sneakers instead of fabulous thigh-highs a win for girl power? Why must Ms. Brown lose the “Ms.” for her personality to come through? And why, God, why is a candy conglomerate talking about “throwing shine and not shade”? It feels particularly like pandering to hear Mars Wrigley announce that it will embrace body positivity by portraying M&Ms in “all shapes and sizes,” despite M&Ms being, to all appearances, uniformly lenticular.
If Mars Wrigley were serious about updating its characters for a more diverse world, it would be less timid about it. The company could acknowledge the long-standing rumor that Green and Brown are in a romantic lesbian relationship. (Look it up! The evidence is all there!) It could make one of the M&Ms, perhaps Blue, announce unprompted that he is “Latinx.” “Azul,” we would henceforth call him.
At the end of the day, though, who cares? We are dealing with candy here. Of course, that’s not to say there is no value in representation, even among colorful barely-humanoids. “Sesame Street” made a welcome move this past November, introducing Ji-Young as its first Asian American muppet, which is sure to affirm many Asian American children (even if it raises questions about the racialization of the other muppets — what is the Cookie Monster’s heritage?). The show also has two Black muppets, Wes and Elijah.
But this makes a lot more sense for “Sesame Street,” which is meant to educate children and, as such, has a valid reason to expose the people who interact with it to a multitude of cultures and personalities. It would make less sense for, say, Mr. Peanut to come out as polyamorous to push more product, yet the new M&Ms suggest that’s where the cursed road we’re on is heading.
The great sin here isn’t the intent to make people feel included or seen; it’s the hypocrisy, and the ham-handedness, too. If I’m buying a pack of candy containing God-knows-what from a multinational conglomerate, I’ve likely made my peace with their whole deal and would rather them keep their pseudo-progressive piffle to themselves while they loot the planet. They’ve got a business plan to stick to, and my candy canonically struggling with anxiety won’t change that. Just let my chocolates be chocolates.
But if Mars Wrigley insists on trying to get me to identify with a freshly updated M&M, the very least the company can do is give Green her boots back — or tell me where she bought them.