The Uncola’s untasteful Grammy commercials

Feb 26, 2001  •  Post A Comment

When I was a little boy and had a tummy ache, my mom sometimes gave me 7-Up to make me puke.
I had about the same reaction to it the other night when I saw a new commercial for the soft drink on the Grammy Awards show. Now if there’s any show that doesn’t need additional stimulus to make you heave, the Grammys is it. It may not be unimaginably bad, but you’d have a hard time imagining it getting any worse.
That’s the challenge CBS and bloated producer Pierre Cosette face each year: how to make the Grammys an even more irrefutable statement on the degenerative pollution of pop culture.
Three different 7-Up commercials aired during the telecast, all starring the likably funny comic Orlando Jones. He began appearing in spots for the company last year. Jones played an inept pitchman whose ideas on how to hawk soda all seemed to backfire, such as his habit of putting the pause in the new company slogan in the wrong place-hence “Make 7,” pause, “Up yours.” They nudged the envelope with that one, but gently.
Going too far
The most offensive of the new spots had Mr. Jones telling the audience that cute little dogs always do well in selling products and out trotted a cute little dog, some sort of terrier, to assist him. The dog ran as if going out for a Frisbee catch, but instead, Mr. Jones threw a can of 7-Up. From the cry of pain we heard from off-screen, we knew the can had hit the dog on the head. In the next scene, Mr. Jones knelt next to the dog, which was lying on its back, unconscious. He dropped the can on the dog’s stomach. It winced again in pain.
Mom, I’m gonna barf again. Can you see the satisfied account executives at whatever agency has the 7-Up account watching this in the screening room and roaring with self-congratulatory laughter? Sorry, injuring a dog to the point of possible brain damage or death is not funny. It’s vicious and vile. Oh, edgy, probably-gotta have that edge, you know. I’d like to take the edge and, metaphorically speaking, slice off a few heads at 7-Up and its advertising department. Actually, a man getting hit in the head with a can of 7-Up has far more potential to be funny than beaning a cute little dog.
I’m not a PETA kook. I don’t see any higher purpose for the mink, an ugly and untrainable rodent, than to be made into a beautiful coat. Much of what the animal activists do seems wrongheaded and self-glorifying. But like most good Americans, I do love dogs. Good dogs. As much of my life is lived vicariously, I don’t have a dog but am a kind of godfather to my best friend’s black Lab. Indeed, the Lab is one of my best friends too.
Rather suddenly, it’s perfectly acceptable to use cruelty to animals to get laughs. Sometimes it can be done if not tastefully then at least justifiably; the laugh is so huge it justifies the meanness. That vicious horse in “Animal House,” for example, deserved to die and died hilariously. Much more recently, the dog in “There’s Something About Mary” kind of asked for violent retribution by being mean and vicious itself.
Even so, using shots of the dog in a full body cast as a rollicking way to advertise the film seemed excessively beastly. I really think that the people who perpetrate this kind of malicious violence to animals are encouraging imitative behavior in kids watching at home. And I also really think they will go to hell, where puppies and kitty cats will gnaw their rotting flesh.
What’ll this sell?
Apparently, it was decided that the hawkster played by Mr. Jones in the commercials was edge-deficient. Instead of being a bumbler whose grand schemes tend to backfire on himself, he is now a sadistic SOB who delights in harming others. In one spot, he makes a man drink dishwashing detergent and then smiles with glee at the man’s discomfort. In another, he outfits a little boy with a new 7-Up backpack but, oops, he forgot to tell the little boy that the backpack contains an entire case of Pepsi. The little boy pitches backward out of the frame. For all we know he could have struck his head on the pavement and died.
But that’s the thinking in television these days: If you can’t pick on a little dog, then look into maiming a little boy. We never saw the once-obligatory shot of the boy safe and sound or the dog returned to consciousness, either. Such civility is now considered-what, sissified? Insufficiently crass?
Maybe nobody noticed the cruelty of the 7-Up spots because of the context-the spectacularly degenerate tastelessness of the Grammy show, where the more loutish, punkish and primitive your shtick, the more likely you are to be declared a sensation and lavished with a trophy.
All about breasts
The Grammys typified one current trend in awards-show comportment that may be pleasing to the eye but seems a pretty persuasive argument that feminism is dead, or at least that exploiting the female body for commercial purposes isn’t in any way deplorable. Women seem to be competing just as much for who can show the most breast as for the actual music awards. It isn’t even a matter of cleavage anymore; the word cleavage is irrelevant because they go so far beyond cleaving.
Perhaps this change in the cultural climate has come about because male bodies are now exploited to the same degree. Or even more so. The Grammys now look like the kind of debauched orgiastic shindigs Cecil B. De Mille would put into his movies if he had lived to make movies in this century.
Of course in De Mille’s movies and those of other directors who worked in that genre, the naughty shenanigans always resulted in retribution from above-a flood, a volcano, an earthquake (OK, from below as well as from above). Remember Charlton Heston wielding the stone tablets as he was about to take out the golden calf crew in “The Ten Commandments”? “Those who will not live by the law-will die by the law!”
Geez, what a square. You won’t hear that kinda stuff no more. Even those who are politically incorrect get forgiven in short order, as long as they make heaps of money from their incorrectness. Thus did Elton John embrace-though not, as some had hoped, smooch on the lips-the allegedly homophobic rapster Eminem after the two of them did a number together. It was, in fact, one of the most beautiful musical pieces of the evening and one of the few not smothered in Cosette’s corny idea of overproduction.
A note ought to be offered concerning the host of the show, Jon Stewart. Actually a note ought to be sent to Jon Stewart: You’re not funny. Stewart’s success as a comic mystifies me. He works so hard at looking as though he doesn’t give a damn whether the audience laughs or not. Aha, so there’s a new way to succeed in show business: Proclaim yourself indifferent to the reaction of the audience, which is another way of saying, “It doesn’t really matter if I stink. I know it, I just don’t care.”
Who will ever forget his drop-dead funny opening line as the show began: “How ya doin’ everybody?!” Wow. You don’t get much more quotable. Maybe it was his way of saluting all those third-rate comics working in all those fourth-rate comedy clubs all over the country. They all say essentially the same thing when they come out on the little stage and stand in front of the brick, or faux brick, wall.
Jon Stewart may be a very nice man, but he’s like a really pale third-generation carbon copy of a comedian. He figures if he looks as though he doesn’t care whether he succeeds, then by definition he cannot fail.
But never mind Stewart. He’ll survive. Why, he’s got his own show on Comedy Central, an honor that comes but to almost everybody (eventually). I’m still thinking not about the Grammy show, nor even its impressive parade of bosomry (I would call it something that rhymes with “Your Hit Parade” but the editors wouldn’t like it), but about that poor little doggy. A poor little doggy who had his head bashed with a can of 7-Up so as to somehow encourage consumers to buy it. It makes me want to you-know-what.