So obsessed was I with the Tebow Super Bowl ad that I temporarily forgot that there usually are one or more product ads that inflame the culture wars. Sure enough, this time there were two: Audi’s “Green Police” commercial, which has political implications but no ethical ones that I can see, and the Doritos ad, chosen by post-game polls as one of the best and most popular. That one did raise some ethical issues, recently collected by conservative columnist and radio host Dennis Prager.
The spot begins with an attractive woman greeting a date at the door, and asking him inside as she gets ready to leave. She has a young son, four or five years of age, who is snacking on a bowl of Doritos. We ( and the child) see the male date’s face express some combination of excitement, lust and pleasure at the sight of the woman’s comely derriere as she walks into her bedroom. He then sits on the sofa, smiles at the boy, attempts to make pleasantries, and starts to munch on a Dorito. The child sternly slaps the man across the face, and says to him, menacingly, “Put it back,” referring to afore-mentioned Dorito chip. “Keep your hands off my mama…keep your hands off my Doritos,” he continues to the shocked date, getting nose to nose with him in the process. All the actors in the spot are African Americans.
Television commercials can be culturally damaging and irresponsible if they appear to approve, encourage, or endorse wrongful behavior and attitudes. Was this such an ad? Prager thinks so. Let’s examine his objections individually:
- The ad tacitly accepts and endorses the “social pathology” of fatherless black households. Oh, balderdash, piffle and pshaw. I have no idea why the woman in the ad is a single mother, and I see no reason to assume that she isn’t a recent widow, a divorcee, or a military wife whose husband was lost in combat. Maybe the boy’s parents had been killed in an avalanche, and she is a generous aunt who has adopted the boy. None of this has anything to do with the commercial, Doritos or the set-up, so we don’t know, and shouldn’t care. The fact is, there are a lot of single parent households with responsible, hardworking adults heading them, and depicting one such family in a 30 second commercial has no larger significance whatsoever. In the Fifties and Sixties, there were numerous sitcoms like “Bachelor Father,” “The Courtship of Eddie’s Father,” and “Family Affair” about single white fathers trying to raise one or more children, and nobody sane asserted that these shows undermined the American family. Verdict: Prager is way off-base.
- Prager writes: “The two adults in this ad act, to say the least, very irresponsibly. The man acts and speaks like a lecher and moron. And the woman should not have exuded sexuality for a date in front of her little boy.” Men often act like morons in ads, especially Super Bowl ads, but Prager is being hyper-critical. I have been far, far more inarticulate and moronic on some of my first dates; I guess that may be why there seldom was a second. Actually, I thought the guy seems pretty nice and polite. He also doesn’t say much, except to the kid, and if that speech is what Prager thinks talking like a moron sounds like, he needs to get out more, and talk to some morons.The man in the ad just talks like normal people who aren’t conservative pundits talk.
Does the man “act like a lecher”? No, he acts like a guy in a comic commercial. Yes, he leers a bit at an attractive woman as she retreats. Almost every heterosexual man other than Dennis Prager has done that, and every woman over the age of 15 knows it. Was it a mistake for the date to do this in the presence of the child? Sure…and the date gets his comeuppance for it, doesn’t he? In the old days of the Hays Code, what Hollywood Puritans called “immoral conduct” was acceptable as long as the miscreant was punished for it. Well, what offended Prager would have met the standards of the Hays Code, and those standards read like they had been devised by Rodgers and Hammerstein.
Prager goes even farther off his trolley by arguing that the mother in the ad irresponsibly “exuded sexuality” in front of her child. Watch the ad. She is hardly dressed like a Victoria’s Secret model. If she exudes sexuality, that’s because she’s a fit, attractive young woman, dressed up and made up for a date the way most women would prepare for a first date, who apparently turned dirty old man Dennis Prager on. What is she supposed to do, dress in a burkha around the house? Verdict: Prager is imagining things, or came here in a time machine from 1765.
- The child slapping the adult is offensive. I actually agree with Prager here. A kid slapping a visiting adult under these circumstances would be grounds for serious punishment. I know that the comic device is having a very young child act beyond his years and intimidate a much larger adult, but Prager has a point: the lack of respect for adults by children in school and other settings is a serious social pathology, as is violent conduct by children. Such conduct is not cute, and shouldn’t be portrayed as cute. As is his wont, Prager goes over the top, arguing that the proper response to a real world slap would be for the date to immediately physically punish the child. Wrong, wrong, wrong. No adult has the right to cause pain to my child, no matter what he may have done. Advocating that an adult should respond physically in response to an assault by a young child is not only irresponsible, it is dangerous. Verdict: Prager has a valid point, but doesn’t know what to do with it.
• Finally, Prager says the ad isn’t funny, and to the extent that it is funny to others, the ad demonstrates increasingly warped values in America and contributes to them.
I didn’t find the ad especially funny, and I share some consternation with Prager that it scored so highly on popularity surveys. Then again, this wasn’t a banner year for Super Bowl ads. The commercial was funny, because plenty of people found it so…that’s the definition, not “did it make Dennis Prager and Jack Marshall laugh.” I agree with Prager that juvenile disrespect and violence toward adults shouldn’t be treated casually in the media and popular culture, but really: it was a thirty-second TV commercial obviously designed as a gag. Jokes often do not accurately reflect reality, and there is nothing wrong with that. And just as I don’t think many parents would tolerate their 5-year-old slapping a visitor, leering moron or not, I also don’t think laughing at a fictional child who does will plant the seeds of the next Columbine massacre.
Final ethics verdict: It was just a commercial, not a cultural warning sign.
Dennis Prager needs to chill.