Shiny Suds

ZOË RICE: I get it, I do. When you wash your tub with chemicals, the residue hangs around to taunt you! You should buy organic cleanser! I rationally understand that’s the message of this commercial. But that’s not what I walk away with. Instead, I think “Creepy! Look away or be violated!” I do tend toward empathy, and my natural inclination is to imagine myself in someone else’s situation. Perhaps that’s why I feel oddly uncomfortable watching the Shiny Suds commercial. Somehow, it’s like those leering suds are cat-calling at me too, or at least I can imagine how it might feel, showering with an audience. It’s unsettling and unpleasant. I want to change the channel.

Do I think the ad is sexist, per the complaints that led to its being pulled from the airwaves? I don’t know that I’d put it in a political context–they are only bubbles, after all. But there’s no way this ad would make me buy that product. I don’t even know the name of the organic cleanser; I wouldn’t know what to look for on a store shelf even if I chose to. I find myself wondering what kind of focus group research led to this commercial. Interestingly, when the Perpetual Post group was discussing it,  a couple of the men insisted, “But you feel unsettled by the bad residue. You’re supposed to. Doesn’t that mean the ad is successful?” And a couple of the women (me included) replied that while the intention of the ad was fulfilled, how can it be a success if all we female viewers want to do is look away? The target is women, no? Isn’t the advertiser assuming (as they will) that women buy the cleanser? That women oversee the cleaning of the bathroom? If I am the target audience, and I am made to feel uncomfortable enough to change the channel and never even learn the name of the product–well, why would that be any kind of success?

I am savvy enough to know when I’m being manipulated, and yet I still prefer advertisements to show me the beautiful world I can step into once I buy the products. I want to see the gleaming bath tiles, with the sparkling little stars of cleanliness. Doesn’t mean I’m going to buy the cleanser, but at least I won’t be creeped out. Or better yet, make me laugh. The initial idea here could be saved, and it’s obvious humor was the intention. So keep the talking residue bubbles. But let’s change the dialogue. Maybe they nag, like a mother: “Don’t forget to floss!” or maybe they make fun of the woman’s husband, “Hmm, is that beer gut growing?” Then they’re still naughty bubbles, just less threatening. Maybe then I’d inwardly chuckle and at least remember the name of the product I’m supposed to suddenly think I need.

HOWARD MEGDAL: Zoë and I disagree on two points relating to this commercial. For one thing, I think the ad is funny. For another, I think the ad isn’t just targeted at women.

Let’s start with the funny. The first 22 seconds are letter-perfect replicating of those ads, while the creepy bubbles in the subsequent scene not only act in ways we haven’t seen bubbles act before- but we’re seeing bubbles acting that way. While smiling bubbly smiles. And hearing unexpected jeers- “Wow, you’re really working on your core.” It is tremendously well-done. I think it is my favorite ad of the year.

I mean, maybe I’d have to have the gift of empathy to understand this better. But I don’t think that’s it. I can feel the revulsion when I see women sexually harassed by the male characters in Mad Men, for instance, in ways large and small. They are fictional characters, but I can still feel real revulsion.

But this was a bridge too far. They are bubbles. Scrubbing bubbles. It wasn’t real enough for the creepiness to in any way overpower the humor for me.

As for the target, I don’t agree that women were the sole target. After all, the ad was not for Shiny Suds, obviously, as previously stated. But the real target was support of the Household Product Labeling Act. So for every woman who felt this on a more fundamental level, there were also men who watched and were attracted to the ad from its humor. And obviously, men are just as capable of supporting legislation as women are.

But I’m not prepared to acknowledge it was simply a male-female issue. My wife, who has been a woman for some time, laughed at the commercial. And she feels for people in ads- she tears up at bank commercials, when the family gets the mortgage at the end.

So for me, this was an ad that worked. And I hope we see more like it. I also hope women stop getting harassed in the shower by large, loofah-crazy bubbles. I’m pretty sure these two are not mutually exclusive.

MOLLY SCHOEMANN: When I first watched the commercial for ‘Shiny Suds’, I had already heard that it had been banned for being offensive and disturbing, so I was prepared to heap scorn upon it. But then I watched it…and laughed. And watched it again. And laughed again. And showed it to my fiancé, who frowned and said, ‘That’s disturbing.”

“Not really,” I said. “I mean, I guess so. I still think it’s pretty funny though.”

I scrolled through the comments of others who had viewed it—and it was a pretty mixed bag there as well. Some, like me, thought it was funny. Others found it inappropriate. Ok, most found it in appropriate. And yes, I can see where they’re coming from: The catcalls and hooting that the little soap bubbles do is pretty skeezy and gross. It makes me a little uncomfortable. But…they’re also soap-bubbles. And they don’t actually do anything threatening. The woman in the ad is reluctant to take a shower with them hanging out in her tub…but she still does! And then they yell things at her from her soap-dish, but that’s it.

I hate to be one of those people who’s all, ‘lighten up, people, it’s funny!’ But seriously, lighten up, people. They’re soap bubbles. Unless you have been assaulted by soap-bubbles in your shower, and if you have, I’m sorry, I don’t really understand getting all up-in-arms about this commercial.

Part of the reason I liked it may be because it began in the typical way of commercials for bathroom cleansers—with a woman watching as a product left her shower sparkling—and then veered off into a subversive send-up of the genre. I tend to find such commercials to be tiresome because they only ever seem to feature women. Having grown up in a household watching both of my parents clean, I resent the fact that this fairly common scenario is not reflected in commercials. Why is it only women who seem to find fulfillment from washing a sink full of dishes or scrubbing a toilet?

I yearn for the day when I can turn on the TV and see an American male dusting off his hands and surveying a kitchen floor well mopped. In the meantime, I will continue to support any commercials which upset the female-dominated world of cleaning product commercials. I also support any commercial in which scrubbing bubbles are depicted as the gross, sexually frustrated sudsy cartoon characters they clearly are. I’ve always been kind of weirded out by them. It’s good to have that feeling vindicated.

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