By far, the most popular ad shown during the latest Super Bowl (trademarked name "Super Bowl" not used with the expressed written consent of the National Football League) was the Doritos "House Rules" ad. Tens of millions of Americans saw it as hilarious.
That is unfortunate. Anyone aware of the manifold social pathologies the ad depicted did not find much to laugh about.
Here is the ad:
A man knocks on a door. A pretty woman answers it. He hands her flowers and she thanks him. He has presumably come to take her out on a date. She introduces her young son to the man and excuses herself. She walks back to her room. The camera focuses on her shapely legs, quite visible given that she is wearing a miniskirt. The man stares, indeed leers, at her legs and makes a facial gesture suggesting, shall we say, sexual interest. The boy, who appears to be about 5 years old, sees this and drops his toy. The man sits on the couch and helps himself to a Dorito. The boy walks up to the man, smacks him hard across the face and says, "Keep your hands off my mama. Keep your hands off my Doritos."
Here are the major elements of dysfunction this ad depicts:
First, a child smacking an adult across the face is not funny. It is, in fact, one of the last things society should tolerate. I will deal with the widespread defense of the child's action -- "he was only protecting his mother" -- later.
In real life, a child who hits an adult needs to be disciplined. If a child did that to me, I would grab his offending arm and apply enough force to make it clear that he will never do that again.
After I mentioned this on my radio show, some psychotherapists sent me e-mails disagreeing with these views. They noted, for example, that "violence breeds violence."
Some cliches are true; I find this one meaningless. The truth is the opposite: Immoral violence breeds violence; moral violence (such as just wars, police work and appropriate parental discipline) reduces violence.
I am well aware that vast numbers of Americans (and Europeans) believe that engaging in any physical discipline of a child is wrong. I, too, held this belief for most of my life, and I never hit or spanked either of my sons. I have changed my mind because of all the fine people who have called my show or written to me about how they were spanked and now believe that they are better adults because of it. It is a given that I do not defend physical -- or any other form of -- abuse against a child. Of all the world's evils, child abuse may rank as the greatest. But a properly administered spanking is not abuse.
The New York Times recently published an article titled "For Some Parents, Shouting Is the New Spanking," in which it noted that many parents now regularly scream at their children in part because they cannot spank them. I am not at all certain that being screamed at by a parent is an improvement over spanking.
The Doritos kid deserved a physical response from this man -- as in pressure on the offending arm. With regard to the argument that this man was not the boy's parent -- and the terrible fact that there is far too much hitting and abuse of children by stepfathers and boyfriends -- I do not believe that only parents may physically respond to a child. Teachers, for example, should be permitted to do so -- I was physically dealt with by a number of teachers, and in every case, I deserved it. I also did so as a camp counselor -- to great effect. And so should the man whom the child in the ad smacked. In an ideal world, all adults raise all children in some way.
Second, the two adults in this ad act, to say the least, very irresponsibly.
The man acts and speaks like a lecher and moron. And the woman should not have exuded sexuality for a date in front of her little boy.
Those who argue that the boy was just defending his mom may well be right. But that only further reinforces the point of what a dysfunctional scene the ad was portraying: a leering man, a sexually provocatively dressed mother and sexually aware child who essentially serves as man of the house at the age of 5.
Finally, people only find funny that which has some truth in it. Would this ad have worked as well if the characters depicted were all, let us say, Asian-American? Would it have been as effective if it portrayed whites acting this way?
Tragically, it worked in part because the characters were African-American. The unimpressive sex-on-the-mind male, the sexually provocative single mother and the prematurely sexually aware and violent boy who is man of the house were familiar -- either as an inaccurate white stereotype of much of urban black life, or as an accurate stereotype of much of urban black life. In either case, the ad is not funny at all.