Hoodwinked by Pandora

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Just in time for Mother’s Day, Pandora jewelry has released a video ad entitled “The Unique Connection” featuring a group of children who, when blindfolded, are able to single out their mothers from a crowd using scent and touch. Set to Joshua Radin’s folky “Celebrate Her,” the moms watch anxiously as the children hesitatingly stumble toward them, discreetly wiping away tears as they worry that maybe they won’t be recognized. But the ad dispels their anxieties as each mother-child pair is reunited. “All women are unique,” it soothes, suggesting that these women should never have doubted their own maternal bond.

Pandora’s ad has been repeatedly reposted on Facebook and has received laudatory reviews from various media outlets, including The Huffington Post, which describes it as a “heartwarming ad … to all the moms who ever doubted themselves.” But am I the only one troubled by this corporate depiction of maternal vulnerability?

Setting aside the fact that allowing perfect strangers to blindfold your child and forcing them to participate in a bizarre test of their devotion may not, in fact, be the best parenting (the visuals have a Shirley Jackson feel), I would argue that this ad is performing the same sleight of hand we’ve seen so often lately by campaigns like Similac’s “The Mother ’Hood” ad, where women are told to stop being insecure by the very corporate media that has visited those anxieties upon them in the first place. It is, quite literally, a hoodwinking.

Our culture is saturated with advertising that encourages the constant scrutiny and evaluation of mothers, who are told they must work ever harder to provide idyllic childhoods full of perfect safety, balanced nutrition, and intellectual, emotional and social enrichment. Pandora’s past ad campaigns relentlessly promoted idealized maternal imagery with their many photoshopped mothers embracing sweet, cuddly, clean children wearing complementary outfits, and the company has explicitly sent the message that a mother’s job is to preserve “those moments” of maternal bliss through individual bracelet charms that essentially function as public badges of their virtue.

In other words, Pandora’s ad history is part of the corporate media culture that contributes to maternal insecurity, making women feel as if they must live up to unrealistic standards of parental perfection. Such ads trump the reality of individual women’s lives with fake domesticity that actually works against the very uniqueness the ad promises, whitewashing the self-doubt it has been instrumental in creating. Indeed, since virtually all of the “unique” mothers featured in the ad are white, it seems obvious that a celebration of singularity is anything but the goal.

As the Pandora mothers weep with gratitude as their children find them one by one, I can’t help but think that their tears represent not only happiness at being reunited but also relief that they haven’t failed to measure up. The ad doesn’t say if any children picked the wrong mom, but, if they did, the mothers would be the ones who flunked the test. Pandora is getting a lot of mileage out of blindfolds, but I prefer to keep my eyes open.

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Melissa Valiska Gregory is an associate professor of English at the University of Toledo specializing in 19th-century British literature. She has published essays on both Victorian poetry and the novel, and her most recent essay explores original nursery rhyme written by women. Her current book project focuses on the way nineteenth-century women writers used the subject of motherhood as an opportunity to experiment with and develop new literary genres.