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Jewish World Review
June 6, 2008
/ 3 Sivan, 5768
The Name of the Game Vulgarity
What could be nicer than sitting down to the breakfast table, turning on the morning radio and listening to a commercial about vaginal discharge? Or watching a little TV in the evening with the kids when the erectile dysfunction ad comes on. Welcome to American radio and television commercials in the year 2008, where truly, anything goes and everything is said out loud in the basest, most explicit and crudest ways.
Regular readers of this column have heard my rant on this before. I've written about the ever expanding vulgarity of our culture many times, but just when I think there's nothing more to say about it, it gets worse. It really does. The downward spiral in civility hasn't reached bottom yet not by a long shot. We're living smack dab in the middle of the era of ugly, and things are only going to get uglier. You can't turn on a television without getting ugly pictures, ugly words, and ugly music it's been going in that direction for a long time.
Like wild dogs rolling in their own dirt, the creative advertising geniuses are rolling in bodily function terms that not all that long ago were considered déclassé and vulgar. It seems to work like this one company will try a word, and if no tsunami wave of moral outrage by the public is detected, then all the other companies jump right in and use the term too.
One of their current favorites is the word mucus. It started with those commercials which showed ugly animated monsters doing the cha-cha in your chest and now all the decongestant products are happily using the word in their advertising. Robitussin actually uses the word four or five times in a single 30 second spot. They really enjoy saying it.
Used to be a time, however, when advertisers went out of their way not to offend their audience. They looked for words to convey the general idea without being crude about it. For instance, you don't have to say "mucus," the word "congestion" will work nicely without conjuring up repulsive images. The only reason to use words like "mucus" and "pus" and "phlegm" is to shock.
Another word that once was avoided in commercials but is now commonplace is "diarrhea." Of course it is used all the time now, as is the word, "constipation." Remember when the common euphemism for "constipation" in ads was "irregularity?" When they told us that Ex-lax, or whatever the product happened to be, would treat our irregularity we all got the idea just fine. We didn't need the 8x10 picture in living color.
Deodorant commercials would never have used the word "sweat" years ago, preferring the kinder, gentler approach, the word of choice back then was "perspiration."
But it isn't only the words that have become more vivid, it's the images. We are shown a woman bouncing up and down, biting her lip, rolling her eyes, and crossing her legs in that all too familiar "Oooo…I gotta go, but I'm trying to hold it in" pose. Funny stuff, eh? Boy, it must have been a riot in the agency meeting room.
TV Ads not only show it all, they rub your face in it. So not only are we told a certain product will prevent "smelly feet," we actually get see the smelly feet up close and personal, right in the camera. Lucky us.
I'm not even going to get into all the feminine personal products which are advertised so descriptively on TV. Personal is the key word here. These things USED TO BE considered personal and private, but no more. Not the way they're hawked on TV. Twelve year-old kids watching TV today know more about women's internal workings than the average gynecologist knew 25 years ago.
Every now and then you get a commercial which is not only offensive, but incomprehensible. Like the following: There's an ad for a men's sexual enhancement drug that is run on TV all the time where the last scene shows a guy sitting in a claw foot bathtub with his back to the camera. Next to him is another claw foot bathtub with a woman in it, also with her back to the camera. Both of these tubs are freestanding outside overlooking the setting sun. Get it? Me either.
The only thing I can say is thank goodness TV remote controls have mute buttons. As soon as the show goes to commercial we mute it. And turn our heads away.
Oh, what I wouldn't give to go back to the time of those innocent, insipid, dumb commercials that used to drive us nuts. "Brylcreem, a little dab'll do ya." "Mama mia! That's a spicy meat-a ball!" "Please don't squeeze the Charmin." "You'll wonder where the yellow went, when you brush your teeth with Pepsodent." "Good 'til the last drop." "Helps build strong bodies twelve ways." "Sugar Pops are tops!" "Let Hertz put you in the driver's seat." "See the USA in your Chevrolet." "Betcha can't eat just one!" "I'd rather fight than switch!"
Once upon a time commercial ads were annoying. Now they're insulting, rude, vulgar, low, and repulsive. And oh yes, they're still annoying.
However, there may be a way for them to actually have a positive effect on our society …if our governmental interrogators are looking for something to replace waterboarding with. Just strap down all the Khalid Sheik Mohammeds to chairs, crank up "Viva Viagra" and they'll get more information than they'll know what to do with.
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JWR contributor Greg Crosby, former creative head for Walt Disney publications, has written thousands of comics, hundreds of children's books, dozens of essays, and a letter to his congressman. A freelance writer in Southern California, you may contact him by clicking here.
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© 2006, Greg Crosby