Last night I was watching tv with Mr. Zuska and the loathsome Kohler’s “Jo’s Plumbing” commercial came on yet again.
Plumbing is one of those trades that have been traditionally dominated by men. Women have struggled to gain access to these well-paying jobs. It is a job that takes a women out, often on her own, into the houses of strangers, where she might be vulnerable to sexual assault, not to mention the harassment and discrimination she might have to put up with on the job from colleagues.
In this commercial the young plumber is, of course, hot and sexy, dressed in tight clothing to show off her body (unlike what a real plumber might actually wear). She shows by a sultry glance at the average-looking d00d coming out of his house that she, though at work and on the way to a plumbing job, is certainly available to and interested in him. Earning a living will not get in the way of her sexual availability for any random guy she happens to pass on the street! This woman is dark-haired and vaguely ethnic/exotic – perhaps Latina. Average D00d, though clearly on his way somewhere, is overcome by lust and runs back into his house to try stopping up his toilet – which is, as all women agree, a surefire mating strategy. As he is failing miserably in his quest, a non-exotic, non-sexily dressed, blond woman, presumably his wife or partner, wanders by the bathroom door and catches him at his ridiculous labor. Average D00d looks up, caught, sheepish. Thus ends the commercial.
The text of the commercial is obviously the amazing flushing power of the Kohler toilet, but what, exactly, are we to make of the commercial’s subtext? Obviously, we aren’t meant to think much about it at all in the first place – it’s just supposed to function as background. But what sort of background? Average D00d is the buffoonish husband of so many sitcom families, Blond Woman is his long-suffering wife. What does Jo the Plumber signify? Women’s sexuality, dark and mysterious, driving men to do ridiculous things, to lose control over themselves and their planned agendas – to lose responsibility for themselves. Hawt women want it – all the time – even when they’re working! So what if you are in a relationship – it is perfectly reasonable to lose control over yourself at the sight of a Hawt Exotic Woman Who Totes Wants You, You Know She Does.
Something else about this commercial’s subtext: it lets us know who the commercial takes as its audience. And that would be, heterosexual white men, who can identify with Average D00d in his lust for exoticized Jo, and then admire the masterful performance of the Kohler toilet, shown to manfully handle every (clean and unblemished) item thrown at it. You gotta hand it to the Kohler ad folks. Here they are, trying to sell a product whose purpose is to efficiently and swiftly dispose of piss and shit, and they’ve done it by connecting it with hawt sexy exotic women. Hawt sexy exotic women are, of course, not the same as those illegal immigrant wetbacks that are stealing our jobs. You know, like cleaning our toilets, something done more and more frequently these days by illegal immigrants.
I would bet that most bathroom renovations – the market Kohler might be trying to reach – are under the guidance and decision-making of women. It seems like it would make more sense to create a commercial that would appeal to women’s interests, and that doesn’t treat women like sex objects, but then, I don’t get paid the big bucks at the ad agencies. And sex narratives like the one in the Kohler ad are so ingrained in the consciousness of all of us that they may work equally well on women as on men. I’m sure we’ll be able to tell by the comments. How long till someone shows up to accuse me of having no sense of humor, of reading too much into a “simple” commercial (like any commercial is ever simple), and all the other familiar, tired, tiresome complaints one hears whenever one dares to notice the miasma of gender smog permeating our lives?