#2. Jokes Need Idiots
If we just ignore the genders from the commercials, these are simply short, 30-second stories about idiots. Which isn't an unreasonable thing to do; ads work a lot better when there's an element of humor in them, and idiots and their antics are an excellent source of humor. During the laff-preparation stage of many of my columns, I've regularly thrown an idiot into the mix, often portraying myself, my co-workers, celebrities and even minor deities as idiots.
I took a lot of flak from Saturnites for calling Saturnus an idiot, but seriously, look at him. Even his knife's embarrassed to be seen near him.
But why then are men always the idiots? If we were to flip the scenario around, and were advertising a product that was primarily bought by men, could we get away with making a lady idiot? Why don't we have an ad for, say, a new type of screwdriver, which features a wife who keeps confusing a screwdriver with a band saw while her husband looks on, a stunned expression on his face as she accidentally saws a fucking car in half? Turnabout's fair play, right?
Or maybe we can't do that, because ...
#1. Men Are the Only People Who Can Be Mocked Any More
I ended up stumbling upon a number of very angry, very man-oriented, slightly foaming-at-the-mouth blogs and message boards while researching this column, where this was far and away the most popular theory explaining the existence of "dumb dad" ads. The way this goes is that due to "political correctness," advertisers will only depict men in an unflattering light. If a company ever made an ad depicting a woman as unintelligent, the militant feminists who control the media would go completely mental (femental?) and ruin that company forever.
Which isn't a bad theory -- there are significant differences in how often stupidity is portrayed among men and women in the modern media -- but it misses a bit of the bigger picture. Although there isn't a large number of "dumb wife" commercials, there are still plenty of ads that are otherwise unflattering to women. Like the Axe body spray ads that imply that women will charge directly at your junk as soon as you start smelling like a chemical toilet. Or the beer or pickup truck ads with their subtle mockery of anyone participating in "female" activities like book clubs or shampooing or listening. Also consider anything that GoDaddy.com has ever made. Then, consider the ads that GoDaddy.com didn't make. The ones someone had to talk them out of.
Stepping back even further, to the biggerer picture, we can see that men, even dumb ones, still have a pretty easy time of it, having many advantages in our society. Basically all of them, really:
- Higher salaries
- Less pressure to maintain a certain body image
- More streamlined role in baby-making
- People don't flip out if they have a career and not a family
- People don't flip out if they have a family and not a career
- People don't flip out if they have a family and a career
- Easier presidential candidacies
There's no escaping the fact that these "dumb dad" ads are sexist, and some of the worst, like that Huggies ad, are truly vile. But this isn't a sign of an overarching feminist conspiracy or of the looming collapse of masculinity. There's too much sexism still flying back at women for that claim to be credible. No, it's just lazy, stupid marketers, running with a lazy, stupid formula. If the ads offend you, don't buy the products. Write angry letters. Fill a diaper to the brim with your leavings and mail it to Huggies. Or just bitch on the Internet. Those are all acceptable responses to a stupid ad.
And if you happen to work for a marketing company? Maybe come up with a new, less lazy formula.
And also maybe don't open any mail that feels squishy.
For more from Bucholz, check out 6 Reasons Cross-Dressing Comedies Should Be Retired and The 5 Stages of Online Dating.