Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Dodge Caliber Already Cute; Fairy's Efforts Redundant

I can't stand Dodge's TV spot for its new Caliber model, but not for the same reason as Ad Age's Bob Garfield. The ad in question features a fairy who flits about changing subway trains and skyscrapers into toys and pastries until she is thwarted by the potent new Caliber which proves impervious to her magic wand. This car, in spite of being compact, is so un-cute that even a fairy whose wand makes normal things cute, can't make it so.

What bugs me about the ad? First, the name Caliber. It's a description, a measure, like quality. May as well call it the Dodge Diameter. To use it to imply that the car is of a high caliber (or what -- large caliber?) is like saying something is quality when you mean high quality. Yes, yes, you may dismiss this as the mumblings of an English major (which they are), but ... well I have no defense. It just annoys me. Quality has come to mean high quality, and I've got to get used to it.

The other thing I don't like about the Dodge commercial is the notion that the car can't be changed by the fairy's magic wand. Come on. Have you seen this car? You can't convince me that this car is going to sell to Middle American men. You can't just install a beefy grill on it and think that this tortoise-shaped hatchback will look potent. Dodge hasn't fooled me. I know that in real life the fairy could easily change that car into a some kind of a, I don't know, a ... wait! I get it. The fairy can't change the Caliber into something cute, because it already is cute. She can't make it cuter. Take that Dodge.

Anyway, Bob Garfield, a columnist for Advertising Age and a co-host for NPR's weekly show On the Media covered the new Dodge ad in an article called Is This Dodge 'Fairy' Commercial Actually Hate Speech in Disguise? You can watch the ad there and judge for yourself.

Garfield divides the article into a list of facts -- I'll put them here:

  • One: the word 'fairy,' a synonym for 'faggot' and 'queer,' is an insult used to describe homosexuals or un-masculine men.
  • Two: Dodge is marketing the car as tough.
  • Three: the ad agency, BBDO of Detroit juxtaposes a tough guy/tough dog with an effeminate man/four tiny dogs.
  • Four: the only words spoken in the ad are the tough guy's 'silly little fairy.'
  • Five: Daimler Chrysler says the aforementioned points were not intended as a sexual insult.

So you can see Garfield's stance is that the ad is hate speech. Garfield figures putting the actual fairy in there was covering for the homophobic slur 'fairy'. Garfield writes:

"Look, there's nothing wrong with positioning an economy car as a car with truck values. In fact, "the manly subcompact" is a very good idea. You can even suggest that everything else in the category looks effeminate. Though political correctness is out of control in this society, you're still allowed to choose your own sexual demeanor.

"But what no advertiser has any business doing is calling people fairies, because it is cheap, because it is gratuitous, because it is hateful."

Apparently Daimler Chrysler's excuse is that the effeminate man with the dogs -- which is what the fairy turned the tough guy/tough dog into -- is actually a preppy man. He is, after all, wearing a tennis sweater.

Is it wrong that I'm not offended by this commercial? I think it's in poor taste, but hate speech sounds a little strong. Yes, I think the subtext is that the car is manly enough that it cannot be emascualted by the 'silly little fairy.' However, I stand by my earlier point: the car is cute. The commercial is illogical. It doesn't turn into something cute because it already is something cute.

And that leaves the fairy's transforming the tough guy in black into a tennis sweatered guy in pastels. Is the problem in the ad or in the interpretation? In other words, is the homophobia actually built into it or is Garfield more concerned that the reception in red state America will be fairy+pastels=god hates homosexuals? Does he think this ad reinforces steroetypes?

Yes it's a jumble of ingredients that can be found in homophobic epithets. But there is an actual fairy.

I checked the 63 and counting comments to Garfiled's article, and a surprising number of them looked like this one from a reader in Las Vegas:

"I'm gay and it never occurred to me that the spot might be hate speech. Could it be? Well, sure, but I'm not offended by it. I think people are being overly PC. Even if it IS hate speech, I was never and never will be a Chrysler customer. Their product is crap."

I found very few that agreed with Garfield. Most thought he was over-reacting. This one did not:

"I was shocked by this "stupid little fairy" commercial the first time I saw it and I'm amazed that it's still on the air. Not only is it mean and homophobic (I don't care what the manufacturer says), it's hardly a move that an industry in a severe economic slump should undertake if it wants to maintain what customer base it still has."

Many readers asked if Garfield was bothered by fairy tales -- Peter Pan and Cinderella among them.

The Advocate, a gay lifestyle magazine, polled its readers online and of the 1171 voters, 44.6% found it funny and 45.9% found it offensive. 9.6% didn't care.

What do you think?

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