They were inciting a communist takeover. They were promoting radical wokeness. Worst of all, they weren’t hot any more.
A year after it first began, one of the most ridiculous back-and-forths between a large corporation and the media I’ve witnessed in my lifetime is finally over. The M&M’s have pulled their beloved spokescandies.
It all started early last year when Mars Wrigley, the company that owns M&M’s, began making a number of changes to their colorful signature characters. In January, the green M&M traded in her signature go-go boots for more comfortable-looking pumps with lower, block heels, as did the brown one.
Unfortunately for Fox News pundit Tucker Carlson, this new version of the lady M&M’s without heels simply weren’t hot enough. The woke mob wouldn’t be satisfied until all cartoon characters were completely unattractive, he moaned to an audience of millions of other adults.
“When you’re totally turned off, we’ve achieved equity,” Carlson said. And, as if picturing yourself on a date with a button-shaped chocolate isn’t bad enough, the pundit Kat Timpf added that Ms Green was “an opportunistic, evil bitch” and warned that people “run from women like the green M&M”.
And so it continued. M&M’s made some kind of symbolic stand on a pressing social issue, and conservative pundits twisted it into a devious agenda.
In December, the company released a new all-female packaging to commemorate International Women’s Day. In response, Fox News personality Martha MacCallum suggested that the all-girl packaging was a distraction that left the US vulnerable to its communist enemies.
No, actually. Here’s the quote if you don’t believe me: “I think this is the kind of thing that makes China say, ‘Oh good, keep focusing on that, keep focusing on giving people their own color M&M’s while we take over all the mineral deposits in the entire world.’”
You can probably imagine what happened next – M&M’s completely ignored the naysayers, doubled down on their efforts and will now be releasing a new line of genderfluid spokescandies who reject societal convention and actually don’t wear shoes at all.
Just kidding. That would require creativity and some actual guts.
In reality, after months of this very legitimate, completely serious, totally-needed-a-response pressure from the right, M&M’s announced this week that the brand has decided to take “an indefinite pause from the spokescandies”.
If you think this kind of outrage over anthropomorphized sweets is an aberration, then you clearly haven’t been paying attention. The M&M’s debacle is both a clear sign of our political times, and an elaborate distraction.
Conservatives are carefully picking away at seemingly irrelevant parts of our everyday culture while they wreak havoc on the civil liberties of marginalized people. Teachers in Florida’s Manatee county are being forced to remove or cover up books in their classrooms unless approved by a librarian or “certified media specialist”. Mass shootings continue unabated, and drag queen book readings across the country are now regularly besieged by gun-toting bigots.
Why M&M’s, in the midst of real problems in America, conceded to this conservative foolishness we’ll probably never know. And the brand’s statement doesn’t clarify matters much, either.
“In [the spokescandies’] place,” the statement said, “we are proud to introduce a spokesperson America can agree on: the beloved Maya Rudolph. We are confident Ms Rudolph will champion the power of fun to create a world where everyone feels they belong.”
Give me a break. Are we still talking about candy here? And what is it about a woman in sneakers, or campaigning for women’s rights, that is hard to relate to? Why are we giving legitimacy to this nonsensical posturing?
Don’t get me wrong, Ms Green, Ms Blue and Ms Purple were never the answer to female oppression. And in the grand scheme of things, gestures like this can feel flat and meaningless.
But still: so what if M&M’s was engaging in mindless corporate virtue signalling? Their unnecessary reaction to the pushback has shown that even their meaningless show of “inclusivity” apparently wasn’t worth fighting for – even when the fight is simply ignoring conservative trolls who are worried about losing their attraction to a sassy chocolate.
Tayo Bero is a Guardian US columnist