No laughing

By Published on .

The maximization of American society is out of control. Its spillover into marketing, while inevitable -- advertising slavishly mirrors popular culture trends -- is still disappointing.

There are, unfortunately, millions of people -- sophomoric men mostly -- who find this brand of locker-room humor unbelievably funny. These frat boys are the ones who line up to see "American Pie," mail blow-in cards to Maxim by the hundreds of thousands and tune in religiously to Comedy Central's "The Man Show." It's a wonder they have the skills needed to fill out a subscription form, but let's assume they get help from their moms.

This is sure to frame me as the world's youngest prude, and I'm admittedly in the minority. But I just can't understand what anyone over age 12 finds funny about these magazines, films and TV shows. The current issue of Maxim includes a step-by-step guide to a party prank that involves covering a toilet seat in plastic wrap. "The first guy to drain his dragon will get soaked," the text reads. "If he has to take a dump, even better -- he'll sit in a cushion of his own feces."

I'm doubled over with laughter. You?

That Maxim has rapidly accumulated a large audience -- it now boasts a circulation of more than 1 million -- is all advertisers need to know. But you really have to wonder whether the marketing executives who spend their money in this magazine have ever actually read it.

The boys (they prefer the term "real men") who swear loyalty to Gear and "There's Something About Mary" defend the humor as ironic and tongue-in-cheek. Anyone who doesn't get it is just priggish.

Advertisers mimic this "spoof" defense (remember the still-touring Swedish Bikini Team and its ads for Old Milwaukee beer?). The new Brut campaign from the agency formerly known as Ammirati Puris Lintas isn't sexist and stupid; it mocks sexist and stupid ads. That makes it funny, not offensive, see? Neither do I. What I see are testosterone-soaked commercials filled with half-naked chicks and limp penis jokes.

"Of course I'll respect you," reads one print ad, "I just won't call." Brut says women like these ads as much as men do. Yeah, that's believable.

Abercrombie & Fitch is the latest marketer to be Maxim-ized. The retailer has dragged itself back from the dead with a focus on college culture. It also courts controversy to CalvinKleinishly stretch its small advertising budget by attracting media attention.

Last year, A&F drew fire by filling its catalogue with drinking games, even though most college students are too young to legally consume alcohol. This year's holiday catalogue leaves the bar for the bedroom -- with sex tips from a porn star, a fake profile of a perverted shopping-mall Santa and an interview with troubled actor Andy Dick, who describes in graphic detail how oral sex has replaced booze in his life. All this from a clothing chain typically described as preppy.

In a recent interview, filmmaker Albert Brooks lamented the success of films like "The Waterboy." Said Brooks: "What makes money is a very specific kind of comedy -- aimed at a young male audience -- that has a huge amount of shit jokes. . . . It's like another language to me. I'm convinced that when the aliens finally land, that's what they'll laugh at, too."

Brooks' films, of course, rely on intellectual rather than physical humor. They also flop at the box office. His remarks appeared in Esquire, a magazine Editor in Chief David Granger stubbornly [and admirably] positions as the anti-Maxim, even as nearly every other men's magazine dumbs itself down. Like Albert Brooks, Esquire struggles to find an audience.

Content quality, it seems, no longer matters, only the ability of a media product to accumulate audience. Marketers not only support this media garbage, they emulate it. It's like another language to me, too, Albert.

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