Seminal: How Jamie Lee Curtis’ #Activism Commercials Created a [Regular Bowel] Movement


At Flavorwire, we often pay attention to the new, but we make sure to do so not at the expense of what’s come before it. In “Seminal,” a bi-weekly column, we examine earlier, under-acknowledged exemplars of dramatic mastery from revered actors’ careers — moments that should be described as, dare I say, seminal. This week, we’re focusing on the inspiring #Activism of Jamie Lee Curtis’ series of potent PSAs advocating for a certain #movement-catalyzing substance.

You may have thought she was sassy in A Fish Called Wanda. You may have thought she was saucy in Freaky Friday. But Jamie Lee Curtis is at her strongest when she’s acting for a cause. Over the years, she’s made a series of Public Service Announcements for Activia — an inspiring yogurt from Danon containing a socially conscious genus of “gram-positive” (because haven’t we had enough gram-negativity?), “nonmotile” (because we’ve certainly had enough motility), “often branched anaerobic bacteria,” named Bifidus. (Note that he’s not named Bifidon’ts — take that, patriarchy!)

Not only were these PSAs tremendously well-acted, but they spurred revolutionary conversations about probiotics, conversations that Hollywood had ignored for far too long, allowing cis hetero white male producers to perpetuate narratives about it being okay to sit on the toilet for hours without any results. (Um, hi, Harvey Weinstein. Hope you’re listening.)

Curtis has been such a heroic, vocal activi[a]ist, performing, urgently, in so many of these PSAs that it’s hard to count. So I’d like to focus on her work in two particularly immediate calls to action:

The above video is multifaceted, so bear with me while I pick it apart as probiotic-enhanced intestinal flora might a meal. The PSA starts with a message that somehow still needs repeating. Not all Greek yogurts are the same. (Again, are you even fucking listening, Harvey Weinstein?) There’s a reason “yogurt” sounds like “yog-hurt,” and it’s called history.

The radical statement about Greek yogurt still hits like a ton of bricks when you think of how hard it is for a yogurt like Activia to be acknowledged for its unique properties — predominantly, its “thick, creamy texture” and its “exclusive probiotic bifidus regularis” that “helps regulate your digestive system.” And then comes an image that had people Tweeting about it for days — six women, all named Jamie, all shopping at a supermarket, but all possessing their own, unique, powerful, crucial gastrointestinal microbiota, but who, despite their differences, can still eat the same yogurt.

This sparked such a vocal social movement that, when asked what one thing she carried in her bag, Hillary Clinton replied, “Probiotic Yogurt,” while Donald Trump, who was alleged to have a hefty sum invested in a large hemorrhoid cream brand, attempted to stifle the movement as quickly as possible, Tweeting that not-being-constipatied was a myth “created by the Chinese in order to make U.S. manufacturing non-competitive.”

The next video is a little harder to take in, as it features a devastating meditation on the passage of time, with Curtis first appearing at a diner in roller blades and a youthful windbreaker, next to an unnamed best friend who looks like Patricia Heaton but isn’t Patricia Heaton — and then, poof, there they are years later, no longer in roller blades, because that, friends, is aging. And then a truth bomb: “Sometimes, if I eat as I used to, my digestive system gets out of whack,” confesses the friend.

The proclamation should, as it would anyone else, leave Curtis harrowed and helpless, but let’s not forget who we’re talking about here. “It’s easy if you enjoy an Activia everyday,” she replies, unfazed, before once again delivering those famous, but no less potent for it, words: “With exclusive probiotic bifidus regularis, Activia helps regulate your digestive system.”

Herein lies a teachable moment — when your friend complains about not being able to pass a BM, don’t sit there stewing in your privilege. Activate yourself to become an activist, the PSA suggests. Give them a small package of Activia, while repeating the empowering slogan, “With exclusive probiotic bifidus regularis, Activia helps regulate your digestive system.”

Hollywood has, for far too long, been dominated by powerful men who sell fantasies about regularity not being important. When have the people who control our cultural world ever been pressed to show a faecalibacterium prausnitzii collaborating with a protozoa to break down a tilapia steak in a your favorite TV character? How many times have you seen a character in film or in TV use that flora to its fullest and let the sacred movements flow forth? Yeah. Not often.

Mic/bowel drop.