Shooting Our Daughters’ Boyfriends—Chevy Malibu Edition

by

J.C. Schildbach, LMHC

One of the ad industry’s favorite stereotypes is that of the overprotective father…perhaps more appropriately described as the father obsessed with his daughter’s sexual behavior. Currently, there are a number of commercials airing that—to varying degrees—make use of dear old dad’s insecurities about controlling access to his daughter’s erogenous zones as a strategy for selling cars. In today’s blog post, we look at the 2016 Chevy Malibu.

In past “Shooting” posts, the ads I’ve highlighted have typically coupled dad’s weird fixation on his daughter with the father’s tendency to threaten the daughter’s peer-age male friends. By the threat-making standard, Chevrolet’s “Car You Never Expected” commercial for the 2016 Malibu is pretty tame. It is actually absent any explicit threats, and any visible teens, as a focus group looks over an un-branded new car and wonders just what company might have made it, and how much it costs.

You can see the whole commercial here.

As the commercial’s host explains, the car comes equipped with “Teen Driver Technology,” which “lets parents view how their teens are driving.” There is no explanation offered as to what ‘viewing how teens are driving’ actually means. Is there a dashboard camera facing inward? A tracking device that spits out real-time location and traveling speed? A ‘black box’ that compiles stats?

The host goes on to promote other features of the teen-control technology, including how the car “even mutes the radio until the seatbelt is fastened,” at which point one of the focus-group women quips, “My husband could use that.” The woman’s joke is followed by an awkward edit of other group participants laughing in reaction to…well…something.

But the annoyed wife inadvertently brings up a good point. Why wouldn’t spouses (or partners, and family members of various stripes) use the Teen Driver Technology to track each other, or build a case to support their suspicions about just what is going on in that car? And what’s happening with all that information that’s being gathered under the stated goal of letting parents view how their teens are driving? But I digress…

Back on the topic of dads obsessed with their teen daughters’ sexual behavior, when the host first explains that the car allows parents to view how their teens are driving, the one identified dad says, as he settles in behind the wheel, “Will it keep track of how many boys get in the car?” We actually see the host and two women burst out laughing at dad’s witty rejoinder.

I cringed.

Teen Driver Dad

Oh, dad, it’s so hilarious that you want to spy on your daughter’s interactions with boys.  *Teen Driver Optional

Presumably the people who put the commercial together have hours of footage from these focus groups, but decided to go with the ‘creeping on my daughter’ comment—not somebody asking how the system actually works, or somebody commenting on how safe that would make them feel—but dad, cracking wise about how he can use spy-car technology to preserve his daughter’s purity.

And the phrasing of the joke—“Will it keep track of how many boys get in the car?” What do you imagine your daughter is doing when you’re not around?!? And just how many boys would it be acceptable to have in the car at one time, or in the course of a single day…or whatever you’re thinking about the numbers involved? What if no boys ever got in the car? What if there are always boys in the car with your daughter, but she’s not interested in boys in that way? What if the boys in the car aren’t interested in her (or any girls) that way? What if she’s just one of the guys? Or is capable of having male friends without there automatically being a sexual component? Or…well, the possibilities move far beyond the stupid limitations of your prurient assumptions, dad.

At base, though, it feels like an obnoxiously routine joke for a dad to make. All the people in the same frame with dad visibly laugh, like he’s said something witty and original.  Oh, how great it would have been if somebody reacted with distaste–ruining the shot.  But no, it was that laugh of familiarity–a safe laugh. It’s an old joke, with a slightly different twist—my car can support me in my societally-sanctioned, but still bizarre obsession with my teen daughter’s sexual behavior? Sign me up!!

But it’s the routine nature of the joke that makes it so disturbing. Making cracks about keeping boys away from our daughters is almost as common as complaining about the weather, or commenting on last night’s game.  It’s a topic that slides right into surface conversations we have with people we barely know.  It’s practically expected, and rarely questioned. We respond with a polite chuckle and move on, not bothering to think what’s beneath those little jokes.

What’s beneath those jokes, though, is an assertion that men need to control women at all stages of their lives, watching their every move, with the accompanying assertion that men must expend a great deal of energy to prevent one another from deflowering and despoiling the girls and women we each rightfully lay claim to.

You can take my daughter when you can pry her from my cold, dead hands.

Look, I get it that parents (not just creepy dads) want to keep their kids safe, that they want to help them avoid the pitfalls of heartbreak, and the potential for much greater relationship dangers.  And that people often make jokes to alleviate their fears. But if you just keep making the same tired jokes, and laughing about them—or even including them in commercials—without giving any thought to the jokes, then you’re really just getting bogged down in your fear—reacting to it, stuffing it down, rather than actually dealing with it. You’ll keep looking for answers that don’t actually move you forward, or better prepare your teens for anything.

So, with that in mind, I offer this new, if rather convoluted, slogan:

Chevy Malibu with Teen Driver Technology: because you’re incapable of having an honest and rational discussion with your teen about anything of a sexual nature and are praying that a car’s computer system can make up for that fact.

Or perhaps:

Chevy Malibu with Teen Driver Technology: a chastity belt for the 21st century.

Stay Tuned.

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Supercharged Sex Pets: The Kia Soul EV Commercial, and Weird Sexist Hamster Science

by J.C. Schildbach, MA, LMHC, ASOTP

In the commercial for the Kia Soul EV (Electric Vehicle), these hamsters…

Hamster scientist

…have just created some kind of electric-beam-shooting machine that transforms cars with combustion engines into electric cars, but which also inadvertently transforms this hamster…

Hamster ball

…into this hamster…

hamster hottie

…which leads the scientists to run out and get these hamsters…

Hamster cage

…in order to turn them into these hamsters:

Hamster sorority

You can watch the whole commercial here:

Now, I don’t know much about the normal behavior of the average anthropomorphic male hamster scientist, but the ones in this commercial are impulsive and reckless, and just plain engaging in bad scientific practices. It’s bad enough that they leave the newly-created anthropomorphic female porn-hamster alone in the lab, apparently irritating her, and leaving her to do God-knows-what with billions of dollars worth of barely-tested, super-high-tech equipment.

But they also, with complete disregard for their own safety, jump into an untested vehicle and race out of the lab with the intention of creating more female porn-hamsters. They don’t do any kind of systems check on the car, or even wait 30 seconds to, for instance, see if the porn-hamster they just created might have significant problems. Perhaps it suffers from severe physical or mental abnormalities. It could be hyper-aggressive or violent. One of its first actions, after all, was to blow a kiss across the room at one of the scientists, which actually had the electrified power to knock him to the floor. Guys, I don’t think you should be taking this so lightly.

Thankfully, the male hamster scientists make it to the pet store and back, nobody gets hurt, and the porn-hamsters only want to have a dance party.

Still, one has to wonder why these male hamster scientists are so enthralled by what they’ve created. I’ve not paid enough attention to the whole series of hamster commercials to know if the other female hamsters (are there other female hamsters?) in this Kia-commercial world have similar physical attributes to the male hamsters, as in looking like ‘real’ hamsters wearing clothing, or if all the female hamsters have the bodies of (human) Playboy playmates.

It bears asking, would the male hamsters really be attracted to some hideous abomination with the head of a hamster and the body of a human? After all, the female porn-hamsters seem to be attracted to the hamster-bodied males—or else they’re just tolerating them until they can escape. They would have to escape, right? The hamster scientists wouldn’t be so irresponsible as to just unleash these monstrosities on the world without knowing what they might do, right?

In any sci-fi/horror scenario, everything always seems great up front, and then rapidly goes to hell. First it’s a dance party, and then the killin’ starts. Just what can we expect from the porn-hamsters’ Frankenstein/Brundlefly/Jurassic Park moment? Or perhaps the better parallel is with Vincenzo Natali’s “Splice”—wherein genetic experiments lead to the creation of a hybrid human/insect thing that has sex with Adrien Brody and then kills him, and several others.

But, hey, for the Kia Soul EV, it’s still a dance party. We don’t have to worry about sex and murder. They even carefully edited the Maroon Five song that plays throughout the commercial to eliminate the lines “we get along when I’m inside you…I get so high when I’m inside you,” despite leaving in the lines about ‘hunting you down’ and ‘eating you alive.’ So, really, what happens if the porn-hamsters have some sort of melt-down, or revert back to their pre-porn-hamster selves?

Maybe I’m just taking this in the wrong direction. I mean, really, the ad is just a wacky homage to “Weird Science”—right? It’s light and fluffy, and titillating in a bestiality-inspiring way. And having a commercial that’s based on a film where two teens create a woman to satisfy their creepy urges, then turn Bill Paxton into a talking pile of turd, and accidentally end up with a nuclear weapon in their living room in the middle of a house party with uninvited bikers is all just in good fun. No harm done.

Yet, underlying the whole Kia Soul EV commercial is a bunch of disturbing assumptions about gender stereotypes, the ideal woman, and sex in general.

If you break it down we have 1) scientists who are all male;  2) a female who is, at first, kept as a pet locked up in a plastic ball, and then turned into a an anthropomorphic human-Playboy-playmate-bodied porn-hamster; 3) the all-male scientist group racing out to buy more pets that they can turn into a whole roomful of porn-hamsters; and 4) the female porn-hamsters instantly falling in love with the anthropomorphic, male, hamster-bodied hamster scientists.

So, the “men” in this commercial have jobs and are intelligent and seeking to advance science (I mean, holy shit!!–they invented a big ray-gun that can transform the power system of a car, when they could have just worked on engineering a better battery). The “women” in this commercial are initially tiny pets who are kept locked up, and can be sold at any time. Eventually, the pet-women are transformed into sex objects who instantly fall in love with the men, despite nothing happening to inspire love aside from being shot with some mysterious ray-gun that also turns gas-powered cars into electric cars.

And, again, maybe I’m just looking at this the wrong way. Personally, though, I was really creeped out the first time I saw it, and that had nothing to do with the use of a Maroon Five song. I just couldn’t help but think that the underlying story of buying pets to turn them into potential sex partners was just wrong and disturbing.

If you don’t see that, then let me ask you what would be the equivalent if this commercial involved humans instead of hamsters? Would the “pets” be chimps? Monkeys of some sort? Human babies? Tiny little humans that are sold in pet stores? If they weren’t human to begin with, would they retain their monkey/ape faces? If they were human… Well, whatever the angle, it’s pretty damn creepy.

And maybe you don’t see the supercharged sexism because they’re just hamsters, after all, and it’s basically just a cartoon. But cartoons still carry messages, and plenty of them carry messages involving and reinforcing gender stereotypes—most commonly that boys/men are action-oriented and assertive, while girls/women are passive and interested in socializing and being cute.

At base, this Kia Soul EV ‘cartoon’ relays the message that men act on the world, even as they are controlled by their sexual urges, while women (and pets?) exist to be the focus of men’s sexual urges.

Take it into your lab, dissect it, throw it under a microscope, zap it with whatever you want—if you take the time to study it, even a little, it’s far from a cute little ad with fun intentions.  Rather, it’s an ugly, dangerous Frankenstein’s monster of a message to send.