Cartoons shilling products and ideas isn’t anything new. McGruff tried to keep us off crime and Smokey the Bear tried to keep us off forest fires. Dig’em Frog sold us Sugar Smacks before it occurred to anyone that a morning food with “sugar” in the name might not be “part of this balanced breakfast,” but that didn’t stop Tony from telling us that Frosted Flakes are grrrrrrr-eat. Lysol’s scrubbing bubbles ran germ-eradicating formations up and down shower walls; the Noid cavorted and threatened boring meals if you didn’t order Domino’s pizza; the Keebler elves baked cookies in trees.
If you stop to think about it, even traditional cartoon spokepersons can be a little disturbing. Charlie the Tuna pushed people to buy and eat tuna … shouldn’t a fish take a page out of the Chick-fil-A cows’ playbook instead of pimping out his own kind? I considered Jessica Rabbit a little creepy after two friends in college confirmed having abused themselves to Who Framed Roger Rabbit. I didn’t need to know that. That hussy was bad, not just drawn that way. I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that Scooby Doo was full of marijuana humor (not judging) and I have a personal theory that the Smurfs were all a communist allegory. More on that last one in another post. I’m trying to learn to resist tangents.
Am I the only one who feels like recently some cartoons have gone a different direction, though? It looks like Danny Elfman and Tim Burton are collaborating on some of these commercials. Take the Lamisil fungi, one of whose mugs is above. Have you seen these commercials? Some advertising agency named him “Digger” and he introduces himself that way in at least one of the ads, as if he were a Fun Guy instead of a Fun Gus. He gives us the con-man routine that he’s just looking for a place to live, then he invites his friends to descend like locusts on our sensitive tissue and pollute their world yellow. Sneaky little shit. Thank goodness for Lamisil, which might start making a difference after only three months of daily use.
Another head-scratcher for me is the Muccinex commercial where phlegm (mercifully unencumbered by some punnerific name) sets up to live inside us, and we’re treated to the little bugger building up walls until Muccinex shows up and shakes everything loose. Truthfully, the ad raises a little more issues than it answers for me. I get why the “Home Sweet Home” decoration on the wall, but I’m not sure why my little booger needs suspenders, or such detailed carpenter’s tools in his chest, or a ladder. What is the ladder for? If he’s like an amoeba, he should be able to send out a pseudopod to reach things. What’s the picture of his mom doing there, anyway? If he’s so dirty and gross, why the doily on the chair? To impress the picture of his mother in the corner. Why is there a chain around the brick wall he just built — what good does that do? Do you think he enjoys the placement of that stray spring on the seat of his recliner? Clearly, I get completely distracted from the ultimate product, by the detail of the commercial.
The latest is the Goodyear spot about a “sad stretch of road” where cars couldn’t stop. Sorry I couldn’t get a better screenshot, but if it seems that you’re looking at a bunny rabbit nearly bisected by being run over … but playing a harmonica to express his depression over that fact … well, yeah. The rest of the critters lying around on the roadway like victims of an IED were doing similar things. Tire tracks are everywhere. That is, until the Goodyear Man shows up and with his characteristic sidearm hurl, puts new tires on the car coming screeching around the corner, and suddenly the whole thing turns into Mardi Gras meets Southpark’s Woodland Critter Christmas. The first time the ad came on and I saw the critters start celebrating that the cars won’t run them over anymore, it felt like the Goodyear dude had just killed the mountain lion, and I almost heard the squirrel put down his harmonica, jump up and exclaim, “Hail, Satan!”
Hollywood used to make movies glorifying the good guys, while today it’s more popular to connect with the dark or the violent. Are commercials coming to reflect our love of the bad guy? Have advertisers decided that creating memorable characters really has nothing to do with whether we like those characters? Or are they operating under some misguided notion that personifying boogers and toenail fungus and roadkill is still loveable?
Come to think of it, scratch the Danny Elfman bit. I wish the thing that stayed with me about some of these ads was a jingle that got stuck in my waking brain, rather than psychadelic monsters that won’t leave me alone at night.