Maybe I’m Losing My Mind, But I Think Geico’s “Maxwell The Pig” Ads Are Racist

Well, not racist, exactly, since there is no such human race (yet) as “Pig Men.” If there were such a race, however, there is no question that Geico’s humorous ads would be regarded as racist and offensive. And in Geico Universe, where Maxwell the Talking Pig resides, there is such a race. Therefore the ads are racist. Right? No?

Hear me out.

This has been bothering me for a while, and I don’t think I am imagining it. If we had, living among us, anthropomorphic swine like Maxwell (first discovered being driven home by a friend’s mother and yelling “Wee wee wee!” all the way), would making not so subtle, demeaning pig references (“when pigs fly” in one commercial, “pig in a blanket” in another) be considered acceptable or civil? Clearly not. Obviously Maxwell is a minority, and obviously sensitive about being a pig. Using “when pigs fly” around him is like intentionally inviting an obese friend to “chew the fat,” or accusing a Native American of being an “Indian giver.” Maxwell gets the intent of the insult in both ads, too: “I can’t believe she said that,” he says after one swine-slur, and “I walked right into that one,” after another.

Geico laid the foundation for Maxwell to be a “harmless” stand-in for harassed minorities that the commercials couldn’t mock without serious consequences in an earlier ad, where his car is stopped by a policeman. The cop asks, “Do you know why I stopped you?” Maxwell suggests profiling. “Because I’m a pig driving a convertible?” Yes, it’s strange. The more I think about it, the stranger and more subversive it seems…

This is ridiculous, I know, but also, I think, sinister. The ads model the technique of racial mockery, and they appeal to kids. What is being done to Maxwell in the commercials is per se cruel and rude—emphasizing a quality or characteristic of an individual that sets him apart for the amusement of the majority, to marginalize and stigmatize him, and his group. Geico ads celebrate and validate the techniques of racism, by applying them to a talking pig.

I think that is irresponsible, mean-spirited, and wrong. I really do.

Or, in the words of Stephen Sondheim, am I losing my mind?

45 thoughts on “Maybe I’m Losing My Mind, But I Think Geico’s “Maxwell The Pig” Ads Are Racist

  1. Guess I can see why you’d say that – but no, I don’t think they’re racist. Hear ME out.

    The original spot featuring Maxwell was part of an earlier series of spots, in which a stern-faced announcer would pose a question about the value (or cost, or whatever) of the product, posed such that the answer was clearly affirmative, and then answer it himself – in this case, “did the little pig go ‘whee-whee-whee all the way home?”

    There was no racism – or any other form of prejudice – in that spot at all. Frankly, I thought it was absolutely hilarious (it would not have been so without pitch-perfect acting on the part of the “mom” and “kid” in the spot, to say nothing of the brilliant camera work and post production). We’ve all been trapped in a car with a terrible bore, which is why the gag worked.

    Obviously, I’m not the only person that found that spot effective; when marketers/agencies realize that something about a spot resonates in a big way, they try to capitalize on that by making followups. Much like Hollywood (though one could argue that better ideas are coming out of ad-land these days). Having created a successful character in Maxwell – much as with his fellow spokescritter the gecko – it remains for the character to be put into a variety of different situations. The “pig driving a convertible” is obviously a sendup of pop-culture (and in some cases, justifiable) views on exceptional police interest in minorities, but the majority of the spots really aren’t. What’s prejudicial about Maxwell being on the Jumbotron in a football stadium, or riding off on a jet ski with a gorgeous babe (unless you’ve got something against white guys who don’t have Geico apps on their smart phones, that is)?

    Worth noting that Geico has trod upon this ground before, with its long-lived “Caveman” series. I suppose an argument could be made that those spots were racist, and it’s possible that a handful might have even found at least one of them homophobic. But those people are thinking too hard, IMO.

    Besides, I’ll take Maxwell over that annoying dame pitching Progressive insurance any day.

  2. There is a line between clever and offensive that varies with individuals, but at some point a cumulative campaign will jump over that line (or shark) and never recover. The caveman series did that, and with similar ads that weren’t just mocking prejudice and profiling but acting like that was the Only way the caveman could be seen. It reenforced the problem instead of mocking the offenders, as if Maxwell wasn’t allowed to expect or ask for respect as a person or customer. If Maxwell is treated like this and is suggested to be a customer, would I as a customer be treated any better? It just leaves a bad taste in my mouth, not the feeling you want to have associated with your product.

  3. Jack, to answer your question, you are losing your mind.

    My reading of these ads (some of them I find amusing, others annoying) is that they are harmless, as the party engaging in the unethical conduct is not being set as the role model – which was your conclusion on why the Tide ads were unethical, something I completely agree with. The unethical party does not necessarily get their comeuppance, but it is at least implied that they are in the wrong.

    I will question their effectiveness though. Remember that when marketing a product you want the depicted customer to be the aspirational representation of your target customer; and the pig – even when used as a proxy for a minority, and I’m grasping at straws here – is not necessarily relatable, thus he’s a bad stand-in for the target customer.

  4. maybe you are actually gaining more mind…which is possibly worse. Your ability for abstract thought coupled with the associative qualities imbued by ethics alarms have so finely calibrated your machinery that you see racism here. It’s not here although it smacks of speciesism,:)

    • Ah, speciesism. One of a handful of special words that, when used seriously, send a clear message that a person doesn’t ever have to be taken seriously ever again.
      (Not you, brookingstyler, I see the smiley there.)

  5. Jack, if you are losing your mind, then I am losing mine right along with you.

    But I’m not blaming you. I will say, though, that for some reason, this post about the pig and racism got me to thinking again about modern obsessions with offensiveness-avoidance, by way of changing things like team names and mascots.

    How long will *I* have to wait to have MY paranoia soothed, and to be given the (long lacking) respect that is due to ME? I’m a PATRIOT – not some freaky sideline clown. I don’t wear weird hats, wigs, coats or boots, or tie-up my hair in a pony-tail. I VOTE.

    Be afraid for one of your favorite team names to change in your lifetime, Jack.
    Be VERY afraid.
    Same goes for all you “Angels” and “Saints” and “Devils” fans, too. BE AFRAID!

  6. I guess George Orwell was being ‘a racist’ when he wrote *Animal Farm*. Perhaps he something else in mind: “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others”.

      • Hmm. Since the animals are metaphors, the charge doesn’t stick, but there’s a strictly superficial similarity in that the story stereotypes the animals based on their species. It assumes that you can conclude someone is mindless just because they’re a sheep, for example.

        You’re not losing your mind. Even if you’re wrong, it is a matter of mistakenly seeing something that really happens. A smoke detector that goes off unnecessarily is not losing its mind.

      • Yeah, yeah I know all that. The pigs were representing communist leaders like Mark, Stalin, and Trotsky. I just hate when ‘minorities’ are over sensitive about trivial things like lame tv commercials. Anyway, the pig is white or pink. So it’s racially insensitive to caucasians, right?

  7. The Muppets have been using this exact same type of joke for decades, and the Muppets are one of my favorite things ever. Which doesn’t prove anything either way, except that I am disqualified from looking at this objectively.

    • Yes, but the Muppets (Ipresume you mean on Sesame Street) are teaching lessons about what’s wrong with racism and bigotry. The Geico ads, in contrast, suggest that bigotry is funny, and mocking someone for what he is (“Fat ass!” Pig!”) is fun.

      • Jack, I’d enjoy reading your analysis if you choose to compare and contrast the ad with Archie Bunker.

        There we were invited to laugh at someone spouting some genuinely toxic things. On the other hand the intent was unambiguously anti-racist.

  8. Jack,

    I think you are accurate in the parallel humor constructs. But I don’t think its bad. If anything it pokes fun at racism and racial jokes, not endorsing their methodology. I think its a great way to lighten up on a topic our nation should be way past.

  9. Once we fix our real world ethics problems, we can start addressing them in the alternate hypothetical universe where pigs can drive and talk.

    On another note, I didn’t know that people still watched commercials.

  10. I think you spot on with “The ads model the technique of racial mockery, and they appeal to kids.”. While this ad is not mocking a human, it is suggesting via metaphors that mocking generalizations are somehow humorous. I suspect that some of the contributors to this blog have found it because they had the same sense of foul play.

  11. YOU aren’t losing your mind Mr. Jack. I think the same thing. How many times has a person in one of the Friscocommercials made an “insensitive”‘remark about pigs in front of Maxwell, that would clearly mirror a person make an inappropriate remark about a person’s background or race or religion? Animals are metaphors and we’ve all known this since we were in kindergarten. The commercials were born to make a stiff laugh about a pig going everywhere, but now has manifested into a dull parody of racism.

    • 1. Just because you think the same thing doesn’t mean we both aren’t crazy….

      2. It’s an approving parody of racism. We’re supposed to think making a “pig in a blanket” comment around a sentient pig is clever and OK…

  12. You are not losing your mind. Geico are absolutely legitimizing racist attacks and it’s not just the pig advert. The new add using 3 black singers using the song push it good and the add where people yell at a camel that it’s hump day are all carrying an underlying racist message. Geico clearly have racists in their marketing squad and I will never use their services. TheY must beleive that by putting one group down they can lift another group up and sell more insurance. The caveman ads did exactly the same thing. It’s time this was brought to the main stream media. Geico are haters and dividers. It’s sickening that they continue this behavior.

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