I’m sure almost anyone who owns a television has seen Geico Insurance’s now ever-present commercials with the theme of “Happier Than…” The series follows musclebound bodybuilders who flex while guiding traffic, Paul Revere with a cell phone, et cetera. They range from mildly amusing to clever (as with the Paul Revere spot). However, the most recent addition is one that I find to be incredibly distressing – a commercial featuring the Pillsbury DoughBoy (PBD) going through a TSA checkpoint, where he is repeatedly fondled while giggling happily.
Some may read this and think that this is an absurd thing to worry over, but I assure you it is not. And here is why: Once we, as a public, start to joke about something, that something has achieved a level of distinct acceptance in our society.
There is an always-present consciousness behind humor and when it is appropriate to joke about a topic. South Park famously announced that the amount of time that must pass for something tragic to become funny is 22.3 years. Their example was AIDS, which has been around long enough for it to become accepted as a part of the society we live in, and thus lose it’s stigma. Jokes are constantly labeled as “too soon,” when they violate what is commonly held to be a topic that is still taboo – this can range across a wide variety of topics, from disease to terrorist attacks to religious ideology to rape.
When it is no longer “too soon” to joke about something in the broader swath of society, it means that something has been accepted as fact and the strongest emotional reactions to that topic have been more or less stripped away. I say this as a man who actually does stand up comedy regularly (something I typically don’t discuss on this site), so I am in no way adverse to humor touching on any topic – but want to give insight and perspective from an area I know about.
Geico’s commercial featuring the PBD being prodded and poked, laughing and giggling while the musical trolls joke that folks that save through Geico are “happier than the Pillsbury Doughboy on his way to a baking convention,” is cringe-worthy to the liberty-mind. The PBD is happy because he loves being poked, and the TSA agents repeatedly violate him by touching his (naked) body. Also, never mind that this commercial has the PDB walking through a simple metal detector and not the radiation spewing machines we all are forced to either go through or to “opt out” for the grope fest.
Geico is joking about TSA’s invasion of privacy. The commercial is wildly popular. Thus, we as a society have accepted that the TSA touching us, looking at us via scanners and invading our privacy is a fact that won’t be changed. Apparently we are no longer angered or outraged by this, or this commercial would spark rage and not laughter.