I was having a chat with someone about this Amazon advert yesterday on Twitter, and a cursory look on Google reveals that it has upset quite a few people, including my husband. His argument was quite simple: if this had been a woman, with a guy wanting to buy a meat thermometer, this 30 seconds of film would probably never have made it to air. Somehow making this a bloke allows this to be socially acceptable? That’s not true either, as that article by Ragen Chastain points out. Using shortcomings as humour might have been how silent films made the world laugh a century ago, but a lot has changed. Certain forms of humour have always been a dangerous game, especially now as social media allows the visually viral to sweep around the planet in days.
Then I went to my own reaction to this, when I first saw it in the Gym, to understand where I now exist in Western society when it comes to humour. Yes, it made me laugh the first time I saw it, but it wasn’t in surprise that this happened, but in shock. It’s that moment when you’re in a conversation with somebody else and you realise they have no idea that their joke just offended you, or their attitude is making you feel uncomfortable. It is the sad truth that sometimes, trying to be funny just makes things worse, and not better. No more so is this true with jokes that attack weight, disability and sexuality, although many people will tell you they really don’t care whether your routine is in good taste or not, it is if you laugh or not that matters. I think the best humour make you think, or can be told without the need to use the physical at all.
Eddie Izzard is a brilliant comedian for many reasons, but that sequence isn’t funny because of the humour, I’m laughing mostly in embarrassment at the way my country used to turn up and appropriate territory without a thought for hundreds of years. He was front and centre last week on Question Time when told to ‘shut up’ over his argument with Nigel Farage. There’s another blog post in that subject too, and that again focuses on the power of imagery to make a point (and often to be altered in able to do so.) But I digress: Izzard’s done stand up in three languages, and I listened to him explain how this works: you have to remove the specifics from your comedy. You can’t make a joke about Curly Wurly’s in Germany, because they won’t know what that is, you need to use the phrase ‘chocolate bar’ and base your humour around that. That’s what using the fat bloke does, it allows this humour to be ‘relevant’ across Europe for Amazon. Except as time goes on, that’s not good enough.
We need better metaphors than laughing at each other’s failings to sell shit.
We need people like Dove. Oh, and Always:
It is incredible to think that the same company who can take the piss out of a lone guy having the balls to do yoga in a class full of women also made this:
Times are changing. One can only hope advertisers keep getting the memos about how it’s not about the stupid any more, but the truth. You can’t lie any more to people, not with the way the World now operates, because in the end they’ll see right through you. The irony is, of course, however good you think you are, there’s always room for improvement, and no more is that true than when you talk to someone else.