Being an ethicist, especially a blogging ethicist, has its disadvantages. One bad one is that your ethics alarms are tuned to be so sensitive that you see, or think you see, ethics issues in just about everything. Now I think I just may have crossed the line into ethics-hypersensitivity madness, or EHM.
That GEICO commercial above really, really bothers me, and apparently I am the only one.
What is looks like to me, and did from the very first time I saw it, is cruel bullying and office harassment. Despite the stated gag in the ad, this isn’t human beings talking “baby-talk” to a dog. The ad depicts co-workers being deliberately cruel to a colleague because of his appearance, and arguably his race. (McGruff isn’t a dog; he’s a “Goofy,” one of the strange dog-headed animated human mutants most prominently represented by Disney’s slapstick star. Pluto, as made quite clear by the kids in “Stand By Me,” is the dog..)
I find it incredible that GEICO would put out a TV ad that makes a joke about bigotry and workplace harassment now, of all times. How is that funny? Poor McGruff is trying to do his job, and his entire office refuses to take him seriously because he has a dog-face. They humiliate him. They show they don’t respect him. They gang up on him. And GEICO’s announcer just calls it “surprising,” meaning “hilarious.”
I don’t find someone being made to feel like they are being relegated to the role of an office joke as hilarious. We are watching a classic hostile work environment scenario, and GEICO is telling us that it’s funny. Doesn’t that inform children that this kind of peer bullying and denigration is OK, indeed fun? Why doesn’t it? Because McGruff is a ‘toon?” Why isn’t that tantamount to racism? Because of how he looks? If there was a comedy scene in “Who Framed Roger Rabbit?” where Jessica Rabbit was mercilessly ridiculed and hazed because of her body, would that have been all right? Why isn’t the depicted treatment of McGruff the Crime Dog the equivalent of making relentless comments about a co-worker’s unusually large breasts, or weight?
Or am I just seeing an ethics breach that isn’t there? Go ahead, you can tell me. I can take it.