It is tragically clear now that Madison Avenue has decided there is a cultural consensus that it is incredibly funny to imply vulgar words and make sexual allusions in TV commercials. Objections to this as juvenile, culturally degrading and gratuitous from this quarter have no effect, accept to attract the usual “lighten up” comments from applauding vulgarians. Well, I don’t care. Ethics Alarms will keep pointing out what wrong anyway. You want a President who boasts about the size of his penis during a debate? THIS is how you get a President who boasts about the size of his penis during a debate. You want a President who uses a menstrual reference to attack a female journalist? This is how you get that too.
The only satisfaction, I suppose, is the same uncivil vulgarians who most object to the results of this cultural pollution are also the ones sending the “lighten up” comments.
Since August of last year, the Kraft Heinz Company’s newest frozen meals brand, Devour, has been advertising its products with a TV ad in which a boss catches his employee becoming sexually aroused by his lunch, to which he applies a sexy spank with his fork. The ad’s tagline: “Food You Want to Fork.”
Kraft says the ad is aimed at men aged 25-35, so I guess that’s okay then. Everyone knows that demographic is made up of assholes—is that the theory?—and the best way to please them is to make the kind of juvenile sexual innuendo that we had in naughty songs like “Shaving Cream” about when I was 12. It’s so hilarious when people use a word that sounds like a dirty word in a context where it is obviously intentional, but don’t really say the word, because, see, its, like, not polite. Got it. My sides are splitting.
I’m too busy and too terrible a typist to keep making the same point in different words, so here is what Ethics Alarms said in response to Heineken’s gay-themed vulgar ad about “flipping another man’s meat”:
There is no justification for polluting television and the culture with such ick, and it is irresponsible and disrespectful to TV audiences to do it…the useful and natural filter we used to have on language has been shot full of holes by too many high profile boors to mention, although the fact that one Presidential candidate is one of them doesn’t help.
On the general topic of giving up any efforts to keep public discourse within civil boundaries, a January 2016 post concluded,
Does everybody want to live in a society where everyone from executives, pundits and actors to nannies, athletes and bank tellers are routinely spewing cunt, fuck, suck and motherfucker like Samuel L. Jackson on a bad day? That’s where we’re heading, That’s where we’re heading, if enough people don’t have the guts and common sense to say, and fast,”Oh, stop it. Learn to speak like an adult.”
When I teach the Six Pillars of Character, I often note that each contains one element that is the foundation of the rest. With the first pillar, “Trustworthiness,” the cornerstone, is “integrity.” The cornerstone of Respect is civility. A society that conditions its members to be civil, polite and dignified in public settings has a firm grasp on the concept of respect for others and the Golden Rule. A commitment to civility make people less likely to think that going to the theater or getting on an airplane wearing flip-flops and a tank top without having showered for a week is appropriate behavior.
It also makes them less likely to humiliate a 69-year old man who wants nothing more than to stay in the airplane seat he reserved, paid for, and is sitting in.
Television and the web are the greatest drivers of our cultural values, and those who control the content there are selling out our values for profit. Meanwhile, our alleged role models are capitulating by joining in the “fun.” President Obama signaled his approval by repeatedly using the word “bucket” in a televised event in a context where it was obvious that this was code for “fuck it.” First black President, first President to use fuck on TV.
But, heck, Kraft is saying “fuck” on TV every day, just as Heineken suggested mutual gay genital-fondling, Wonderful Pistachios uses “nuts” as a sexual innuendo, Booking.com uses “booking” to code “fucking,” and K-Mart thinks it’s funny to use “ship” to suggest “shit,” because who doesn’t want to think about shit? We make our own culture in the end, and if we want to live in a cultural pig sty, then that’s where we will live. Apparently no one cares, or not enough of us, anyway.
In 2015, a Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups commercial featured the tags “Women want like to make it last…Men are done in seconds…Typical.” I wrote,
“Who decided that gratuitous sexual innuendo is inherently hilarious and appropriate in every context, at every moment? Well, no one yet. Again, it is the boors in ad agencies and clods in corporate boardrooms who are pushing us down this uncivil, impolite, needlessly sleazy path. We can remind them that there are limits dictated by taste and decorum, or we can just shrug it off, part of the irreversible ratchet process called “defining deviancy down.”
Two years later, Volkswagen has Dean Martin crooning about “The Birds and the Bees” (Dean’s version above is better, a joy) while we see a VW bouncing up and down as the couples who own it engage in vigorous sexual intercourse.
I guess the battle is over.
I’ll still stand on this, from two years ago, when it was first deemed acceptable to use “fucking” in TV ads. I always admired those old men I’d see sitting on park benches in the Boston Common, wearing a hat, a tie and a suit on a summer day. Why did they do it? To show respect for the rest of us, our environment, our eyes, our values–that’s why they did it. They were right, too.
The manners of society appear to be heading south at an accelerating rate, with our up and coming generations being increasingly sent the message from the culture, celebrities and even elected officials, that manners and civility in public conduct and speech is for snobs, nerds, dorks, and goons. It’s cool to be vulgar! …Ethics dictates that one communicates with respect for anyone within hearing distance, and unless ugly words serve a material purpose, using them is not the mark of a good citizen, a good neighbor, or a trustworthy human being. Nor is spouting vulgarity witty, and unless you are 11, and employing obvious code words that sound like curses, epithets and obscenities isn’t especially funny either, since we pretty much exhausted the possibilities at summer camp. I have no idea why anyone would want to recast the culture as a place where professionals curse like sailors and the words “fuck” and “cocksucker” are as likely to issue from a debutante’s lips as those of a hip hop artist, but that seems to be the objective now.