Catering to Crudeness

  The new series of ads for Candie’s shoes make those old ads about the Tidy Bowl man look positively genteel. One Candie’s ad features actress Jenny McCarthy wearing a pair of bright orange, high-heeled sandals that match her t-shirt. Jenny is glancing up from her newspaper with an embarrassed smile on her face. And no wonder: the camera has caught her sitting on the john. Another ad shows Jenny kneeling on the floor, scrubbing the toilet. In a third ad, she’s lounging on the toilet tank, drying her nail polish. What’s the point of using bathroom images to sell shoes? The answer is that manufacturers have decided one way to appeal to the lucrative youth market is with in-your-face, smirking vulgarity. It used to be that ads for children’s products had to pass muster with parents. Otherwise, the parents wouldn’t shell out money to buy the product. But in recent decades, many young people began having money of their own to spend. Advertisers began to go over the heads of parents right to the kids—to appeal to them on their own terms. Their ads began speaking the language of immaturity¾ exploiting the silly, the childish, even the vulgar. It started in the 1970s with products like the "Garbage Pail Kids." Parents were shocked and outraged. But today it’s commonplace to see toys that are deliberately gory and disgusting. Manufacturers and ad makers alike know that for a certain stage of adolescence, the highest compliment a kid can give is "oh, gross!" The Jenny-on-the-john ads are an example of catering to kids’ bad taste. But bad taste is more than merely an aesthetic issue. As Deal Hudson writes in Crisis magazine, the problem with bad taste is not simply that "it promotes inferior art" but also that it promotes "inferior manners and morals." As Hudson warns, "vulgar TV and banal music" can lead to "brutish manners and even violent behavior." Because of original sin, we’re all born with base tendencies. Good taste must be taught and cultivated. But some advertisers are teaching just the opposite: They’re affirming bad taste by catering to kids’ most vulgar instincts. That’s why you and I ought to speak out when we see ads that cater to crudeness. Sometimes it works: When readers complained about the Candie’s shoe ads, Style magazine apologized—and promised not to run them again. And we ought to explain to our kids why gross is not cool. We ought to remind them that the apostle Paul taught us to focus on "whatever is honorable… whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious." When we see crude, vulgar ads like the ones with Jenny McCarthy sitting on the john, we have to help our kids discern what advertisers are trying to hook them with. We ought to teach them to be intelligent, discerning consumers; to rebel against ad makers who would manipulate them by appealing to their baser impulses. Kids need to protect themselves against a culture willing to exploit them—for a few bucks and a pair of shoes.


Chuck Colson


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