Ad Hominem Attack

Friday, July 25, 2008


Is it too PC to be upset by a commercial? Bob comments on a violent and homophobic message in a Snickers commercial that prompted him to write a letter to the offending ad agency. The ad has since been pulled.
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Comments [25]

khalil from San Francisco, CA || Pittsburgh, PA

[I'll start w/ demographics, since everyone else on this thread is doing it: male, black, gay, Muslim (formerly).]

Maybe I'm daft, but the "get some nuts" double entendre of the ad first hit me as an allusion to Mr T having obviously lost his goddamn mind. But, I guess machismo and stupidity often appear similar... particularly in many other commercials I see.

Lots of men I might snicker at (get it?) as boorish especially took it on the chin in the ad world during the metrosexual trendsetting earlier this decade -- if someone wants to make a buck off them being happy the way they are, it could just be fair and balanced marketing. :P

Aug. 03 2008 03:36 PM
Daniel Axelson from Nabari-Shi, Mie-Ken, Japan

Any comments on Mr. T's recent appearance on the Australian NRL (National Rugby League) "Footy Show"?

Jul. 30 2008 11:00 PM
Grodon Walters from Plano Il

I found the skits to be quite funny, but am not surprised that the PC thugs (like Bob) rather selective sense of outrage had their panties all up in a bunch over this.

In short, Bob, stop being such a fairy.

Jul. 30 2008 11:07 AM
Kenneth M. Diesenhof from Greater Boston, MA area

I agree the commercial was tasteless, but wake up virtually all commercials are tasteless. You should not compare a commercial which is privately produced and is fiction to something that was produced by a so-called advanced industrial nation and presented as fact. The commercial was attacking society's ridiculous notion or notions of what it means to be a real man. Could it have been done allot better, hell yes but at least they got the conversation started. I do not remember anyone complaining when the Govenator of California attack critics of the Republican economic plan as being "economic girlie men". Where was your outrage then or do you only pick on people who can not fight back.

Jul. 29 2008 02:20 PM
Buckland from L'ville, KY

Godwin's law is in effect. If you can't muster a coherent argument against Mr. T shooting Snickers bars at a speed walker without invoking Nazi's then you lose automatically. If your ability to intellectually attack relies on screaming Nazis then your screed doesn't deserve intelligent response.

Jul. 29 2008 12:15 PM
Matthew C. Scallon from Chula Vista, CA

First: two words. Godwin's Law.

Now, Bob, you're getting what we Catholics get when we complain about characteratures (sp?) of our religion from the media. And that's when we don't invoke Godwin's Law.

And, although I don't know if you've ever commented on media characteratures (ditto?) of the Catholic Church or any other religion for that matter, I don't imagine you'd come out on the side of sensitivity toward those faith communities. I would imagine you'd be on the "lighten up" side of the argument. Then again, I could be wrong.

Jul. 28 2008 07:00 PM

"Full disclosure: 15 years ago, I myself made a great deal of noise about things that were not "politically correct" ... After many years ... I realized that the efforts to constrain ... advertisers were largely misguided. ... largely misdirected....."

Eva @ 15, to the extent you were in the media then, or still are now, I'd love for On The Media to contact you and discuss your change and similar changes.

Wendy Kaminer for instance, went from being an anti-porn advocate to becoming a zealous free speech advocate. It doesn't mean she likes porn in society, it means she realizes the fight she was waging was misdirected and had unintended consequences.

There's an activist for divorced fathers trying to parent their children that I enjoy and appreciate, Glenn Sacks. Glenn frequently points out the commercials that do little more than bash men and fathers. I appreciate his efforts -- to me it's what is left to advertisers since groups have formed to make sure they can't bash anyone else. But on more than one occasion, I've found the targeted commercial pretty funny, or not terribly funny and not effective either and failing as a commercial.

I think that while we can have better commercials, I'd prefer to see the stupid ones and the stupid advertisers just fail than to see us join with Bob Garfield and make wrongheaded and gratuitous Nazi comparisons and get the torches and lawsuits out.

Jul. 28 2008 01:44 PM
Jack from Chicago

Bob, you've got to be kidding.
This is the guy who through his website "Comcast must die" is inciting violence against defenseless Comcast employees. Like the Nazis, you are calling for genocide of a group of individuals. The website title dehumanizes these people and glorifies violence directed at these victims. All so Bob can watch cable and get broadband internet access. I haven't seen the Snickers ad but firing candy bars at a guy is obviously an attempt at humor. It's certainly more humorous than calling for the death of thousands because you have a gripe with customer service.
Think about it before you tell me to lighten up and it's only a website.

Jul. 28 2008 11:38 AM

"no matter how many fit gay men there are or are not in Chelsea gyms, the connection of homosexuality with non-normative (and thus "wimpy", non-physical) standards of masculinity still exists."

Uh, I gotta be honest and respond, "not where I'm from." In fact, I think it's the very virile nature of gay men today, and even of female athletes today, that has created a mild crisis of masculine identity among straight males. Aint nothing wrong with that so much, and, I'd claim, nothing wrong with making a commercial making fun of that. Which is the theme of the Snickers commercials.

Also, I have a sneaking suspicion that a background in gender studies might be harming your sense of humor? It's okay to play... it's healthy.

Jul. 28 2008 01:03 AM

Sorry, just read your third comment - where is the snippy ad hominem attack? That I referred to straight men in Western Europe wearing Speedos? (It's true, they do!) Or that I asked if you'd visited a gym in Chelsea in the last 15 years?
The first is an observation. The second was a serious question. (Thanks for the answer, by the way.)
And if commenting that gay men and female soccer players are both now, on average, far more prototypically male than most of the straight men is an ad hominem attack, I think we need to review the definition of ad hominem attacks.
Although I'm sure the urban landscape I live in is slightly different from yours, so the males I run into are also a little different.

Jul. 28 2008 12:58 AM

Full disclosure: 15 years ago, I myself made a great deal of noise about things that were not "politically correct" - and at that time we did not use the term ironically. Seriously. After many years working in a variety of environments, I realized that the efforts to constrain even the mediocre output of advertisers were largely misguided. And sometimes, as with this ad, I think they are largely misdirected.
A younger Madonna once urged us, only semi-ironically, to "fight the real enemy." Truth is, while we are arguing about "gender norms", which, actually, have always been in flux depending on societal needs, the planet gets sicker and sicker. As a mixed-race female, I think it's time to stop sweating the little stuff, and focus our attention on the real problems. Most of our prisons here are filled with a disproportionate number of black men - perhaps gender roles play a role in that, but, as I've grown older (if not matured) it's clear to me that the more serious issue isn't gender but cash. I'm not saying your interest in gender roles is superfluous or frivolous - in fact, I think it's an interesting topic. But in terms of priorities? I don't think getting hyper about Snickers commercials serves the cause of protecting our mutual freedoms. (It's like crying wolf... who will listen when the real wolf gets here?)
Take care,

Jul. 28 2008 12:36 AM

Hi Tarah,
Thanks for your thoughtful response, which included this:
"Do you think most people would see this commercial and think "ah, what a joke, Mr. T is clearly an ironic figure of hyper-masculinized violence who is ridiculous as he has to resort to candy-violence to attack anyone who challenges gender-norms"? I don't know."
Good point. I'm pretty sure most people watching this commercial would not say EXACTLY that, but I do believe that most people, post 1986-ish, have believed Mr. T to be a joke, and only a joke. Therefore, the image of him as some arbiter of masculinity is, in effect, to make a joke about masculinity.
That is, I don't believe that irony, or a sense of the ridiculousness of macho behavior, ends at the borders of Madison Avenue (or gay bars or college campuses.)
The truth is that there are plenty of homophobes who would never have raised a hand against Matthew Shepard, just as I have known many racists who would never have raised a fist to Vincent Chin. But both men are dead, and both have served to galvanize their communities. (Small silver linings for unjust deaths.) But I see no direct line between violent behavior toward minorities or anyone else and the lame efforts of an advertiser to make fun of violent characters like Mr. T.

Jul. 28 2008 12:23 AM
Tarah from St. Louis, MO

Finally, while I haven't had the pleasure of visiting gyms in Chelsea, I have certainly been exposed to gym culture and the hyper fit men therein, both hetero-and-homosexual. But that the runner here is or is not actually homosexual, or that homosexual men in culture are or are not more/less athletic is hardly the point. The connection made between American masculinity (including the normative assumption of male strength, physique, and physical-ness) and heterosexuality has been well-documented, and thus, no matter how many fit gay men there are or are not in Chelsea gyms, the connection of homosexuality with non-normative (and thus "wimpy", non-physical) standards of masculinity still exists.

Also, I don't think snippy ad hominem attacks are particularly necessary in this dialogue, which has otherwise mostly been mature and engaging... though it does add a nice level of irony to commentary on this story of the same name.

Jul. 28 2008 12:19 AM
Tarah from St. Louis, MO

I agree completely that masculinity as an idea imposed on people (in our culture biological men, or people perceived to be biological men) is the problem here, and that masculinity is not somehow intrinsically linked to heterosexual males- though in this commercial, it clearly is. I don't actually think that my comments suggest otherwise, but it's hard to be very thorough in a small e-space. I also wonder how this type of "irony" plays for most watchers. Do you think most people would see this commercial and think "ah, what a joke, Mr. T is clearly an ironic figure of hyper-masculinized violence who is ridiculous as he has to resort to candy-violence to attack anyone who challenges gender-norms"? I don't know.

I don't know that such a linkage as others have made to Matthew Shepard insult his memory or not, but I do think that this commercial, no matter how trivial and the tragic violence against Matthew Shepard and other people who are targeted and even murdered because of their gender or sexual identity (real or perceived) are intrinsically linked. That it's somehow acceptable for gender norms to be imposed on people and that these people should be punished for falling outside these norms is the fundamental problem. And that it is further linked with violence, albeit here comedic, only further links to the real problem of gender norms and the consequences for those who fall outside them.

Jul. 28 2008 12:05 AM
Rich from Seattle

THANK YOU to Bob Garfield for your online editorial. This prompted me to come to the On the Media site to write this comment. Then I ran into the link to Garfield's letter to Ad Age. THANK YOU for that, too. Then I saw the other comments here. As a gay man (and a Jew), I wonder if the #1 poster would like to trade places with a gay man in this society (especially Tennessee) and tell us then whether the analogy he finds offensive is apt or not. I also recoil at the cheapening of the language when Holocaust analogies are overused, but walk in the shoes of a gay man for a while, and maybe you can talk about what it feels like to be vilified in the mass media (and I'm well aware of the growing number of positive portrayals of LGBT persons and of homosexuality in the mass media). As for poster #6, puh-leeze.

Jul. 27 2008 09:53 PM
Chris Stone from New York

After this piece by Bob Garfield I stopped streaming this week's on the media and do not plan to listen again until he is off the show (speaking of ad hominem). I found this and the smugness he exhibits in the piece on outrageous comments to be a kind of last straw. To equate a lack of conventional masculinity with homosexuality is absurd, to pull out the holocaust to shame a letter writer is heinous. In "comments on comments" he chastises those who write comments without listening in full. I have sinned the other way; I have listened to on the media way too much. I'm done.

Jul. 27 2008 08:46 PM

I guess one of the reasons I find Garfield's criticism so ridiculous is that anyone who lives in a major metropolitan area would never identify a wimpy speedwalker with a gay man. I mean, has Tarah Demant visited an urban gym in Chelsea in the last 15 years?
These days, the only guys pursuing "unattainable masculinity" are body-fat-obsessed gay men and, separately, female pro soccer players. (And I say that as someone who survived hyper-masculinized women's sports and loved every minute of it.) Nothing wrong with that! But to draw humor out of the changing gender landscape, and the resulting focus on defining masculinity by a stupified straight male public.... that is the humor of the advertisement, such as it is. Nothing wrong with that, either.
The only thing wrong is comparing this to the Nazis. Maybe next time Garfield should one-up his last comparison, and bring in Mao Zedong, whose casualty toll of 70 million people one-ups Hitler. Or maybe - just maybe - it's totally inappropriate to talk about genocide in the context of a snickers bar commercial. Sigh...

Jul. 27 2008 07:54 PM

#7, Tarah,
That's an interesting point, but it falsely links masculinity and heterosexual males (and, conversely, swiveling hips/tight shorts and gay men.) Which is the problem with Bob Garfield's criticism.
The ad wasn't endorsing "often unattainable masculinity." It was mocking the idea of "often unattainable masculinity."
I have to admit that I'm stumped that this appears to have gone right over your head.
It may also be an insult to the death of someone like Matthew Shepard to bring up his killing in the context of a candy bar commercial that mocks hypermasculine males.

Jul. 27 2008 07:04 PM
Tarah Demant from St. Louis, MO

Good for On the Media for calling out this ad for its homophobia and its insistence on un-healthy (often unatainable) hypermasculinity. I think we should "lighten up" about calling out this type of homophobia when people aren't targeted for emotional and even physical violence because of their sexuality, or even because they fall somehow outside a certain code of "acceptable" masculinity. So, until "sissies" aren't beat up on the playground and as adults, and until men and women aren't assaulted and discriminated against beacuse of their sexual identity, I think we should probably take this issue seriously, no matter if it's trying to sell candy-bars or not.

Jul. 27 2008 06:45 PM

With all due respect, I think the automatic assumption on the part of Bob (Garfield?) that the speedwalker is gay simply because speedwalking requires that one swivels one's hips in an "effete" manner, is actually more offensive to both manly gay men and serious speedwalkers than was the actual commercial. Let's not even get into the issue of tight shorts - favored, for reasons that are still unclear but which likely have little to do with sexual preference, by straight men all over Western Europe.
The hoary "joke" of the commercial was more about the mandate for masculinity among a certain class of obviously very insecure men - rather than about who qualifies as heterosexual.
And when I heard your solemn intonation of the Nazis, I thought, "he's kidding, right?"
Heaven help gay men, or even effete speedwalkers in tight shorts, if they require Bob Garfield to defend them at all - but especially by invoking Nazi propaganda. And heaven help the gay community if a Snickers commercial mandates an automatic reference to Matthew Shepard by concerned posters.
"On The Media" usually provides some interesting coverage of the industry. This did not qualify.

Jul. 27 2008 05:24 PM

I think you godwinned yourself Bob, and failed.

I may not like the Snickers commercial, but it ain't the Nazis. And worse still, for "On the Media", you don't even discuss the impacts of the self-censorship you seek or the condemnation you give.

Has on the Media discussed: "Boys are stupid throw rocks at them?" Has on the Media discussed how men and husbands are often and usually terribly portrayed in commercials? Or do you ignore that?

Did you discuss the New Yorker cover?

What are the limits on speech, what happens when everyone self-censors for risk of offending, and of course, who is supposed to be the judge?

Fahrenheit 451 is NOT government censorship. Fahrenheit 451 is about a censorship demanded by the public because books and intellectual activities offend people.

Snickers' commercial may be stupid. It might be offensive. It might be dehumanizing. It wasn't a call to action. It was a call to laughter.

Thank God we can have stupid, offensive, dehumanizing messages coupled with laughter!

P.S. Javascript is not needed to have comment forms. Get a website already.

Jul. 27 2008 05:03 PM
fred from ca

making fun of an affectation is not the same thing as attacking a whole race.

Jul. 26 2008 07:44 PM
geo8rge from Brooklyn!

I agree 100%, but speedwalking is pretty stupid as a sport, the real point of the commercial, and would not exist if it were not sanctioned by the Olympics. Maybe it should only be in the senoir Olympics. I actually like the get some nuts concept. At the end of the commercial the victim starts running properly (without one foot being planted on the ground at all times) and Mr T stops firing. He is not converted to heterosexuality. The victim was not wearing pink or gay in any way. His only offense was speedwalking (which many ignorant people regard as stupid along with syncro swimming).

Syncro Swimming! I pitty you fool, you a disgrace to the woman race. It's time to swim like a real woman. Take that. tok tok tok tok tok.

I agree the get some nuts theme does not work so well with a female protagonist.

Snickers Speedwalker Ad is still on video sharing sites.

Jul. 26 2008 05:45 PM
Quin from New York, America

Painful to hear that people still think these attitudes are OK to fire on society as if commonly held and perfectly acceptable.

I try to live my life fairly, treating all with respect, and live honestly, which includes wanting to live as an out lesbian –not hurting anyone and based on reactions I get, not offending anyone. I would like this to be a non-issue.

But the ad makes me realize that there are those who want to VIOLENTLY hurt me simply because I am a lesbian. And that they will think that that is funny.

Stonewall happened what, 39 years ago? Or was it only 39 years ago?

Matthew Shephard died quite horribly not so long ago because of the acceptance of homophobia and the belief that it is OK to hunt down and assault people who live their lives differently from what one chooses for oneself. And tie them to a fence and leave them to die.

Accepting an “innocuous” ad as funny is accepting homophobia. And accepting homophobia to whatever degree is accepting that the violence done to those who are seen as “other” is acceptable. How can this be funny?

I’m glad for your coverage of this - that it still needs to be a subject makes me just sick and literally shaking, feeling safer by hiding and not being who I really am.

Why do straight people get to live their lives unquestioned, completely safely and completely openly about their lives for everyone to see whether we choose to join them in their lifestyle or not?

Jul. 26 2008 10:33 AM
Richard Schoepke from Halls, TN

Likening the emotional abuse of homophobia to the physical genocide of the Holocaust under the Nazis is not a reasonable comparison. The violence of candy bar assault is in no way comprable to the murder of thousands of Jews. All parties involved in this story should be ashamed of cheapening the lives of Jews and those homosexuals who have been the object of actual hate crimes.

Jul. 26 2008 07:53 AM

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