Friday, November 10, 2006

Smug, hoodie-wearing, hands-in-pockets hipster twit looking for work

I enjoy the Mac Guy and PC Guy ads when they show up, but they've always struck me as being a bit too clever by half. (Check in the comments later for Blue Girl's reacton to my use of the phrase "too clever by half.") These guys don't make me think of the computers they're supposed to represent. They make me think of Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis and Bing Crosby and Bob Hope.

Mac Guy is the 21st Century version of Martin and Crosby, the smooth, cool, hip, big brother, who can carry a tune, except that instead of crooning, Mac Guy probably does a passable imitation of Josh Kelley. Meanwhile, PC guy is an uptight, squarer, actually somewhat competent, but still neurotic and prone to panic contemporary version of Lewis and Hope, the little brother trying too hard to outdo his sibling and collapsing in a heap of frayed nerves when he finds he's in over his head.

The comic dynamic between the two characters is what makes the ads appealing. But it's also what makes them less than effective from Apple's point of view.

We all want to be as smooth and cool as Bing and as handsome and hip as Dean, but deep down we know that we're the little brother, as gawky and as clueless as Lewis, as full of it and as easily buffoaloed as Hope. Which is why we root for them.

We know why Dorothy Lamour prefers Bing, and we would think it's a category error if she ever truly fell for Bob---which is part of what makes the ending of Road to Utopia the perfect inside joke. Even when Hope gets the girl, he doesn't get the girl.

The other part of its perfection is its winking at the Code. It's telling us that what we know. "The censors won't let us show it, folks, but you and I know that when the camera isn't on them, these characters are having lots of great sex."

In the end, we identify with Hope and Lewis because they lose out.

It's the same with Mac Guy and PC Guy, with this twist. Mac Guy and PC guy represent the two roads that diverge in the woods at about the time we hit 30.

Mac Guy is the us we could have been if we had somehow managed to avoid or put off middle-age, the us who stays young and available---for sex or adventure or fun---the kind of person who manages to remain cool and hip until 40 or even 60. PC Guy is the us most of us become, tied to a job, tied to a spouse, tied to repsonsiblities that we never feel quite up to assuming, prematurely middle-aged, defined by our totally uncool roles as worker bee, good husband/wife, reliable adult, and on our way to becoming, most humiliating of all, known primarily as somebody's mom or dad.

The ads want us to identify with Mac Guy. But in our hearts we know we're PC Guy.

This isn't a good way to sell macs.

From Bill Nothstine comes the word that somebody at Apple has noticed. They've fired Mac Guy. Well, they've fired the actor who plays Mac Guy, Justin Long.

From the Radar column in Fresh Intelligence:

Why was Long dropped, specifically? Perhaps for striking people as a "smug little twit," in Seth Stevenson, ad critic for Slate. Long, he adds, is "just the sort of unshaven, hoodie-wearing, hands-in-pockets hipster we've always imagined when picturing a Mac enthusiast.... It's like Apple is parodying its own image while also cementing it." Of the polymathic Hodgman, who has drawn acclaim for his work on The Daily Show and NPR's This American Life as well as his book, The Areas of My Expertise, Stevenson writes, "Even as he plays the chump in these Apple spots, his humor and likability are evident."

Sounds to me like they're making another mistake. Apparently they're going to go out and find a more "likeable" Mac Guy. (I wouldn't be surprised if the new Mac Guy turns out to be a Mac Girl whose "likeability" resides in the three inches of cleavage revealed by her low-zipped hoodie.) They're blaming Long and not the dynamic.

What would be smart is if they make a series of ads with just PC Guy neurotically confronting a world where macs rule. That way they could at least show the actual computer they're trying to sell.

By the way, the article in Fresh Intelligence slights Long as an actor by citing his roles in Herbie Fully Loaded and Dodgeball, forgetting Long's most important credit, the basis for his own geek appeal.

He played the leader of the fan club whose obsessive knowledge of the starship Protector's inner workings helps save the day in Galaxy Quest, which is still the best Star Trek movie ever made.

Meanwhile, PC Guy is played by The Daily Show's John Hodgman, and Bill Nothstine has figured something out about him.

"Separated at birth?"
Bill asks?

Pointless pedantry: Another contempory reworking of the Hope and Crosby, Martin and Lewis dynamic is Charlie Sheen and Jon Cryer in Two and a Half Men. It's something that got toyed with on Cheers where it seemed to be the basis of the friendship between Sam and Frasier. If I wasn't writing this at 5 in the morning and had more than a pot of coffee in me I could probably think of several more examples. But right now what's occuring to me is that the pairing of the cool, hip, smart guy with the nervous, uptight doofus must be an ancient bit of stock casting. You can see it in the Wily Servant and his Young Lover master pairings in Greek and Roman comedies, although the most obvious contemporary version of that one is Max Bialystock and Leo Bloom in The Producers, which makes me think that a good family movie night double feature would be the original Pruducers and A Funny Thing Happend on the Way to the Forum.

Your turn: Fresh Intelligence quotes a reviewer for Slate who wondered if the smugness of Mac Guy was a case of Apple parodying its own image. I've often thought that a lot of ads these days actually seem to be insulting or at least making fun of the people the ads are supposedly aimed at. Beer commercials in which homely, overweight, leering morons chase after impossibly beautiful women being a prime example.

What ads do you think are clever and what ads do you think are like the Mac Guy and PC Guy ads, too clever by half?


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