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Keeping Close to Bad Taste: Virgin Mobile's "Crazy" Commercials

As a person with only a moderate attachment to TV—I'd like to think so, anyway—popular commercials tend to pass me by. I sat blank-faced in my sixth-grade class when people mentioned the "beer frogs" and later failed to recognize the AFLAC duck, having opted for DVDs and streaming video of dubious legality.

Then, there was Hulu, the one-stop shop for one-season feminist classics and the latest NBC hit alike, with the added benefit of not provoking dreams of scary folks in uniform arresting me for piracy.

Lately, though, I've been starting to wonder if Hulu feels the need to balance out its convenience and legitimacy with extra-abhorrent ad vignettes. It seems that irrelevant talking animals are not the height of commercial vogue, leaving extra room for the gems Virgin Mobile has been bombarding me with at every break. And by "gems," I mean they're abso-freaking-lutely awful in every way. Take a look:

Okay. This commercial plays with Hitchcockian elements of campy horror, from the random lightning to the frantic music, but overall it's clearly meant to be funny. I'm going to go ahead and assume the hook aimed for our wallets is not anchored in logic; why support a product that further enables creepiness? Yes, people sometimes appropriate the term "stalk" to refer to looking at info people have put online. I admit I've caught myself doing it a few times. This Kelly character, though, is merging over-the-top online behavior with spying from outside her victim's home. She is legally and inarguably a stalker, and for those of us who've actually been stalked, it's pretty unfunny stuff.

So, the question is: why on earth would Virgin Mobile think this would come off as funny?

Because Kelly is a young, pretty, thin, white (even blonde, natch) woman. And in Virgin Mobile's eyes (and, perhaps, in the eyes of viewers) she is thus too innocuous, and perhaps innocent, a character to consider dangerous. Responses to Virgin's campaign—yes, I'm sorry to say it's a series—in the media have been understandably confused yet tend to barely mention Kelly's femaleness. Make no mistake, though: this ad campaign is deeply, meticulously gendered. If you haven't already done so, imagine the genders were reversed here: would it still be on television? Well, yeah, it might, but I suspect the outcry would be more immediate and the premise's problems visible even to the gender-untrained eye.

Kelly looks like a personification of Hollywood-depicted womanhood... and she acts like one too. Stalking aside, the villainess is a smorgasboard of female stereotypes. She's clingy and wants commitment after the first date. As made more explicit in the following ad, she can't take a hint. She looks at pictures of Brad's exes to confirm her superiority, because women only exist as competition to her. (Brad, meanwhile, is going about his business, calm even while being harassed. Oh, those dependable, unflappable men!) As with Kate Hudson in How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days, Kelly's exaggeration of stereotyped femininity is meant to serve as both horror and comedy. Is anyone surprised that commenters keep likening this to incidents on The Bachelor?

Lastly, there's the punchline. "That's crazy, right?" clearly anticipates a chorus of "No, you are!" Someone want to make a sarcastic LOLcat-esque image to illuminate Virgin's message here? Actually, allow me:

misguided message

Not as amusing when you put it like that, is it, Virgin Mobile?

Plenty of cool feminists in the blogosphere have written about the problems with the term "crazy" itself, and I encourage you to check them out, because they've explained it better than I could.

Virgin Mobile's particular brand of "stalker humor" rang a little bell in my mind, and soon I found myself running a search for a film I hadn't thought about in years. Sure enough...

Yes, this is from a National Lampoon movie. Don't worry: you only need to watch the first ten seconds.

Once again: a conventionally attractive young white woman stalking a dude? Ha-ha! Clearly she doesn't constitute a threat, being that she's such an object not even a camera can keep from checking out her legs! Tara Reid's character, in this moment, is coded in much the same way as our Virgin Mobile antagonist. While I'm sure there are plenty more examples of throwaway jokes of this ilk on TV and film, the ad campaign goes further: stalking is not the joke; the joke is stalking.

All in all, the "Kelly and Brad" "Brad and Kelly" commercials (yes, the man's name officially comes first, even if he never speaks) are a toxic cocktail of sexism, ableism and flippancy. Their extremity even manages to reveal the wrongheadedness of casual stalking-oriented humor. I don't know if they're aiming for a "Trapped in the Closet"-type serial or if this series will come to a mercifully quick end, but next time Hulu drops into its twisted world, I'll be enjoying their oh-so-convenient mute key.

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Comments

21 comments have been made. Post a comment.

Actually...

I actually found this commercial hilarious, since I thought it was a nod towards Edward Cullen's creepy behavior in all of the wretched Twilight books and movies. Yes, I am probably being way too optimistic about its intentions and what it's supposed to imply.

For my own sanity, I am going to continue imagining Edward in place of that girl, and pretend that the world in general is starting to recognize that he is abusive, not romantic.

Hmm!

Very interesting interpretation, Sara! That intention would make the campaign a lot more tolerable, though I imagine they'd be more overt if they meant to mock Twilight...

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I was *waiting* for Bitch to

I was *waiting* for Bitch to comment on these commercials!! I find them absolutely abhorrent, also, and am sad that Virgin Mobile is my cell phone carrier. (They are cheap--in many senses of the word--and I am poor. I am also mentally ill, so...bonus!) Way to pander to stereotypes, VM. Good luck to "Kelly" actually getting online all of the time to stalk "Brad", b/c my Internet coverage is spotty.

My mom is schizophrenic and I

My mom is schizophrenic and I told my boss about this, because sometimes I need to take my mom to the doctor or help her with other tasks (she doesn't drive and sometimes she isn't up to taking the bus). I hate that I always feel I have to tell people that she's not dangerous or scary, and that she has a job and functions pretty much like any other person.

It may help to click the "not

It may help to click the "not relevant" button on the right hand side. Hulu may get the hint if enough people do it and it should stop the ads from being played during your experience.

Arrgh

I had almost finished writing this long comment and I hit some key by accident and lost it all. I have to go back to work now, but in short:

1. I couldn't wait for Bitch to blog about this either - as soon as I saw the commercial I knew it was going up.

2. It's all the fault of the Apple Mac Vs. PC ads (well, for starting a trend) - they made it ok to make fun of a 'pathetic' character to promote the brand, and that's evolved over time

3. Disturbing (not surprising) trend that all of these ads mock women or paint women as outrageous and ridiculous in order to get viewers' attention/a laugh
-Case in point: Pepsi Max superbowl commercial, Sprint breakup commercial, that Flo insurance commercial, as well as this one

WTH? What gives?

I tried to post a comment but

I tried to post a comment but i was denied.

Funny about how womens rights to speech should not be silenced - BUT A MANS is irrelevant eh?

The only that comes CLOSE to my fear of Sarah Palin gaining more power, is a world run by people like you.

A movement worth promoting and enforcing would be human rights. Rights that are due to you as a human, regardless of sex, race and beliefs. Though this, disappointing seems to be a movement against men - Finding your own hidden messages within creative media as you have just done for this clever little advert.

I'll be displeased if you choose not to submit this comment and only hope that you do not and realise this is one of the many reasons the feminist movement is losing credibility over the last decade.

Read the Comments Policy.

Dave, we have a Comments Policy.

Using snark as a weapon is not allowed (eg. "are you kidding?") Anti-feminist trolling is not allowed (eg. "The only that comes CLOSE to my fear of Sarah Palin gaining more power, is a world run by people like you.") Ableist language and name-calling (eg. "crazy") are not allowed either.

I assure you that a poster's gender identity and identification or lack thereof with the term "liberal" have nothing to do with it.

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Apologies to the sender whom

Apologies to the sender whom I replied to, I had mistakenly clicked reply under that message opposed to responding to the article itself.

When I stumbled across this article, as a person who works in creative media I was somewhat stressed (flippantly worded more than I'd like) as the interpretation as a whole that the journalist (that's you) published.

I could have been more tactful on my first post, though that is a testament to my initial anger at something being sensationalised as sexism that was obviously NOT an attack on the female gender.

What followed was disappointed in both myself for the poor and aggravated wording and then the sites moderators for for feeling as though my opinion was invalid. Not even for the crass language as I have seen over this websites comments a few times now.

Though all that aside, what I really want to say is that, right now journalists need to be fighting for the rights to speech worldwide. Due to the wikileaks saga, journalists are starting to be too scared to speak out against the powers that be. These rights need to be fought for, tooth and nail.

Then what example does it set! that these apparent journalistic outlets such as this website condemns a person for a phrase as follows: "The only that comes CLOSE to my fear of Sarah Palin gaining more power, is a world run by people such as ______"

I was not trolling the person that was replied to accidentally, I was emphasising a fact, being so my opinion to you Deb.

" I do not agree with a word you say but I will defend to the death your right to say it"

Regardless of what it may have sounded like I was condemning you for, I was trying to trigger a response. Thought and action. An opinion to possibly make someone think deeper into a subject matter before jumping on-board the proverbial bandwagon.

Moff's Law

In addition to our Comments Policy, please read Racialicious' wonderful piece "And we shall call this 'Moff's Law'" if you plan to continue commenting in this space. Differing opinions are encouraged with explanations, but simply saying that something is "obviously NOT an attack on the female gender" or that a writer is "finding racism where none exists" is not helpful. "Obviously," not everyone has opinions identical to yours. Do not approach our space with the assumption that your viewpoints are fact (or, for that matter, accuse writers addressing racism of having "a minority's uneducated opinion." Yikes!)

Though all that aside, what I really want to say is that, right now journalists need to be fighting for the rights to speech worldwide. Due to the wikileaks saga, journalists are starting to be too scared to speak out against the powers that be. These rights need to be fought for, tooth and nail.

You seem to be suggesting that if our website enforces a Comments Policy, journalists will be too afraid to expose corruption in the U.S. government. Wikileaks is absolutely not relevant here, and just as daily newspapers aren't obligated to publish every letter to the editor, Bitch Media does not have a responsibility to include policy-violating comments just because we have an online portion.

This marks the end of this particular derail.

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Create Controversy, and....

You create viewers and traffic, that's why they are doing it. I don't have virgin as a carrier because they just ain't around in my area. I'm stuck with AT&T or Verizon

Maybe.

I don't get the feeling Virgin Mobile is trying to be controversial. I could be wrong, but I think the clear attempt to be funny is indicative of them not understanding what's offensive about these ads in the first place.

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Thanks so much for blogging

Thanks so much for blogging about this - I found this commercial absolutely abhorrent since I first saw it. There is nothing funny about stalking, and I wonder how actual vicims of stalking feel about the commercial.

Well...

I can only speak for one victim of stalking (myself) -- I hate these commercials!

You're welcome on the piece! Thanks for commenting!

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a different opinion

while I do find the commercials funny, I think that it is for a completely separate reason. I a college freshman, and I know what girls do after they come home from a date. they show all their friends, "creep" on the guy's facebook page, check out all his photos for ex-girlfriends...etc. of course, we do this with our roommates and friends and laugh about the funny things we find concerning the guy, i think this advertisement is just an over-exaggeration of this "stalking" that goes on.

note: i do respect victims of stalking, I just wanted to give a second opinion to what I felt and my other college roommates felt when we first saw this ad.

kelly is super cute and i wish she'd stalk me

i like this commercial because Kelly is super cute. i want this chick stalking me. actually i want 10 women just like her stalking me.

So her crimes aren't serious because she's "cute?"

This is exactly what I'm talking about.

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I feel super pathetic to have

I feel super pathetic to have caught this reference but I feel this ad campaign was directed towards people who watch "The Bachelor" - you know, that awful show where women compete to win the affections of one man. I was mindlessly watching this crap the first time I saw this ad, and I noticed the striking physical resemblance of "Kelly" to "Michelle" - who on the show acts excessively clingy, mean and stalker-ish to the Bachelor whose name happens to be Brad (obvious reference). The ad campaign was released mid-season, and it makes sense from a marketing point of view to incorporate television themes into the commercials from which they are played. I don't know, maybe FOX hooked up with VM to make this ad to promote both things.

But - had I not been watching the Bachelor (yes, it is embarrassing to admit) I feel I may have been offended by this ad. Having seen the show, it was sort of funny to see the ad because it actually recognizes through humor hat stalking is seriously frowned upon.

What a silly post

You've got to be kidding ... If this is the worst you have to complain about then you lead a charmed life.

Btw, I found this commercial pretty funny. Sometimes I also find the ones where young males are portrayed as i d i o t s funny too. And there are a lot more of those. A lot more.

jackd

While you may find this artice silly, and indeed you ARE entitled to your opinion, I should point out that implying things about the author's so called "charmed life" is less than relevant to this article. How on earth would you know anything about the author's life? Your comment was completely irrelevant and, pardon me if I'm wrong, rude. I would advise in the future that you either make constructive, relevant comments or refrain from posting all together. Also, before you jump down my throat for be a biased man hating feminist, I should point out that not only am I not a man hater (my husband is a man after all), but I'm also not a feminist. I just happen to enjoy this site and it pains me to see ignorant posts such as yours.

It seems that irrelevant

It seems that irrelevant talking animals are not the height of commercial vogue, leaving extra room for the gems Virgin Mobile has been bombarding me with at every break sms messages