Tucker Carlson’s response to the rebrand of M&M’s candy represents the current conservative response to woke culture and the extremity of partisan culture wars.
The term “woke” received mainstream popularization around 2010 and during the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement. Its origin lies in African American Vernacular English (AAVE) meaning “alert to racial prejudice and discrimination” and was used frequently in racial justice movements. The meaning of woke has broadened slightly and has been adopted to refer to being alert to social and political issues. It is also used to describe progressive politics in general. The word is strongly associated with leftist identity-based social movements, however, the right has capitalized on the popularity of the term in a different way.
Republicans have recently weaponized “woke” as an insult to the left’s agenda. Conservatives have manipulated “wokeness” into a term that refers to modern social movements’ perceived negative effects on people. The culture behind wokeness to conservative is the sort of “gotcha” culture that surrounds it. Rather than real activism, conservatives equate wokeness to performative activism and believe that it allows the social culture to be dominated by radical leftists/liberals. Groups who share this view have gathered around the opposition to “wokeness,” coining the phrases “war on woke” or “anti-woke”. Certain conservative politicians and figures have branded themselves with these phrases and have exacerbated the political polarization on this subject. Recently, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has made himself a prominent proponent of the anti-woke ideology. He has claimed to be a politician who is a “wartime warrior,” referencing the conservative fight of liberal wokeness. He has taken this culture war and proposed legislative action such as his proposal to stop woke activism and critical race theory in schools and corporations.
Tucker Carlson, a prominent Fox News political commentator, has also participated in the anti-woke movement of the right. He often fuels conservative hatred against the woke agenda through commentary and exaggeration of how it is changing everyday life. One story of his that has gotten a lot of attention from both the right and left has been his reaction to the rebranding of M&Ms.
As of September 2022, the signature candy M&Ms has changed their packaging, adding a new character which they refer to as a “spokes candy,” to their branding. The new candy is a purple female peanut M&M who sings and wears lace-up boots. The presence of the purple spokes candy makes her the third female M&M in the branding, the others being brown and green. Minor changes were also made to the other M&Ms such as outfit changes. The Global Vice President of M&Ms, Jane Hwang, commented that the purpose of the rebrand was to have Purple and the other spokes candies “reflect the world that we are living in.” This subtle change in the candies has caused an overly dramatic reaction from conservative voices. Those who are upset with the M&M brand claim that wokeness is inherently political and therefore has no place influencing non-political spaces.
Carlson took the opportunity to comment on the change in the appearance of the spokes candies as well. He claims that the pressure from the left to conform to woke culture is the reason popular M&M’s candy has changed. On a recent show, Carlson declared “Woke M&M's have returned. The Green M&M got her boots back, but apparently is now a lesbian maybe? And there's also a plus-sized, obese Purple M&M.” It is worth noting that even though Carlson calls the new purple M&M “obese,” she is actually the same size as two of the other M&Ms: blue and yellow. All three of these M&Ms are supposed to represent peanut M&Ms and are therefore bigger than the others. However, the blue and yellow M&M are represented as male and have not been labeled as obese by Carlson. Carlson also comments on the supposed desexualization in M&M’s rebranding:“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. They've won.” To clarify, the androgenization that Carlson is referring to is the change of the green M&M shoes from boots to sneakers.
So what’s the point of making these ridiculous comments? Carlson is not even talking about humans. These are fictional characters of popular food. The brand has not changed anything about how the candy is made or tastes. It is solely a subtle change in the advertisement of the product. This is not the first time that Carlson has been critical of what he sees as the influence of woke culture. However, his intention in this commentary is to make the left’s push for inclusivity seem unnecessary and counterproductive. Comments like these are poking fun at identity-based social issues that liberals have been trying to bring awareness to by creating an entire production about the branding of candy.
The negative effects that Carlson claims arise as a result of the wokeness of the M&M candies are inconsequential. However, according to Carlson, it is detrimental that candy commercials are no longer arousing for straight white conservatives like Carlson. The intention behind the change is a positive one that will have positive effects. Wokeness in general is meant to be empathic, after all.
Without this extreme reaction from Tucker Carlson about the new M&M’s, would anyone have really noticed the change? M&M’s expressed in a tweet that they did not think so. "We weren't sure if anyone would even notice…But now we get it — even a candy's shoes can be polarizing." Life in America is so attached to the political issues surrounding culture that even candy is a contentious topic. Carlson may just be commenting on this to get a reaction from people, both on the left and right, but the situation serves as a perfect example of the extremity of the current state of the partisan culture wars in America.
The commentary of Tucker Carlson is representative of the overall conservative reaction to woke culture. Conservatives get scared when they see progressive changes within the culture because it makes their ideology less relevant and less politically correct. Instead of accepting that culture changes over time, they go to great lengths to appear as victims at the hands of wokeness.
Fionnuala Schefers is a first-year Political Science major in the School of Public Affairs. She is a staff writer for the American Agora.
Image courtesy: Gage Skidmore