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