Thus Spake Zuska

But Plumber Chicks Are HAWT!

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?

Comments

  1. #1 Mike Olson
    October 5, 2009

    You’re right! It is reinforcing a stereotype! Look, how stupid they made that man look. The attractive latina, doesn’t do anything other than look at him because he is staring and he acts like a moron simply to get her in the house, even though his wife is obviously home! Further, he is flushing his wife’s clothes down the toilet! His wife assuming that all persons are intelligent and equal, is puzzled by his moronic, deceptive behavior. It is simply not a part of her personality, thus she can’t understand it. Clearly this commercial is playing on the stereotype that men are stupid, inept, undesirable and constantly chasing after women…even those who don’t demonstrate any real interest and at inappropriate times. The women are heroic, in the case of the latina, crossing traditional boundaries and working for a living. Or long suffering victims of male buffoonary. Oh, if only men could be like womyn! Why, why, why, can’t we? It’s as if the differences are based in genetics! Women seeking long term committed partners due to their long term investment in reproduction and men are seeking many short term partners due to the fact they don’t have as large a biological investment. Clearly, women, due to their hard wiring are better than men with their inferior hard wiring.

  2. #2 LtStorm
    October 5, 2009

    I can see an alternate reading of this commercial. It’s targeted at the suffering housewife by demonstrating what stupid things a man will do under control of his baser desires, and that Kohl toilets can helpfully handle whatever stupidity he dares to brew up in his reptilian brain. It’s boiling a man down to animalistic desires and showing he will do anything that he thinks will work as a mating ritual.

    It’s pretty much demeaning to both sexes.

  3. #3 peter
    October 5, 2009

    as an alternative interpretation, you could see it as a signal to the married woman that this is one more way to prevent your man from straying…

    though most toilets I’ve ever been involved with were chosen by a landlord… whoever that may have been. I wonder what the demographic split is there?

  4. #4 D. C. Sessions
    October 5, 2009

    Once again demonstrating that the people who produce mass media are a lot more about their own issues than they are about the markets they’re supposedly addressing.

    <Shakes head>

  5. #5 frog
    October 5, 2009

    It’s a lot weirder than that. That last shot when his partner walks in — right before they reveal the dog food — is suggestive of the man masturbating into the toilet. The shaking head is a pretty traditional part of the comedic impersonation of such behavior.

    You can only get weirdness when you’re trying to tap into the link between sex, urination and defecation. I don’t think I want to get the full Freudian subtext here — it’s a bit too creepy; it goes way past simple misogeny into the deep crazies. This is one of those ‘a cigar is not just a cigar’ situations.

  6. #6 Jeff Knapp
    October 5, 2009

    Sex sells. They are going for both men and women in this one. For the men, we get the sex fantasy, the women get the idiot husband comedy. Further, men get to be OK with the ad because, at the end, we are the but of the joke. Women accept it for the same reason.

    Kohler had a real problem, a very unsexy product with a compelling feature that solves a problem that is inherently unpleasant to talk about, and needing to reach both men and women – especially couples. The easiest way to men? Sex. An easy way to women in domestic partnerships? Buffoon husband. A clever writer and director figured out how to put the two together. That’s it in a nutshell – on the surface.

    Underlying it is all of the cultural implications you discussed – and that is where the ugliness lies.

  7. #7 Troy
    October 5, 2009

    Would you really be analyzing it this much if roles were reversed, and it was a wife trying to get a chance at oggling some Italian stallion with a full head of hair, and muscles for days, while her dopey Hubbie with fading hair, and half glasses walked in on her?

    Sometimes we have to step back and say to ourselves, Its just a bloody commercial..

  8. #8 Zuska
    October 5, 2009

    Well, Troy, I might not feel as compelled to analyze it all to hell if it didn’t play so nicely on so many offensive sexist and racist stereotypes. But if they used your proposed scenario instead, I’d probably still analyze it – just in a different manner.

    You see, unlike some folks, I don’t care to view commercials with my mind shut off and brain open to accept whatever tripe the ad agencies want to pour into them, hoping to let it seep into my subconscious and fester away there. But you go right ahead and keep doing so if it makes you feel like you’re getting smarter that way.

  9. #9 The PhD Mommy
    October 5, 2009

    I thought that commercial was stupid the first time I saw it. Why, oh why, would someone link sex with, as you put it, piss and shit? Weird. And stupid.

  10. #10 thoughtcounts Z
    October 5, 2009

    +1 to LtStorm’s interpretation as a possibility, that Kohler toilets are so good, they will withstand everything your idiot husband does to them, so ladies should buy this toilet.

    I’m not sure where my intuition falls about who is stereotypically responsible for bathroom renovations. Installing a new toilet sounds like a husband job to me (though as the experimentalist to my husband’s theorist, it would probably be my responsibility). But picking out a new faucet, sink, mirrors … this sounds like a wife job. Could it be that bathroom renovations are stereotypically a job shared jointly between the sexes? …Nah, probably not.

    Anyway, the main reason for my comment was just to thank you for your awesome, interesting post. It was very insightful. I just wanted to do my small part to cancel out one of the tiresome comments that you know to anticipate all too well.

  11. #11 Comrade PhysioProf
    October 5, 2009

    Well, Troy, I might not feel as compelled to analyze it all to hell if it didn’t play so nicely on so many offensive sexist and racist stereotypes.

    It’s obviously a random coincidence that this cute little commercial plays on sexist and racist tropes that just happen to permeate everything. Nothing to see here, no sirree!

  12. #12 mrcreosote
    October 6, 2009

    The point of all advertising is to achieve mind-share, good or bad. That fact you are discussing this ad at all means the advertising agency (and their clients) have achieved their aim.

  13. #13 mpatter
    October 6, 2009

    Perhaps we could inform the religious lobby, who can take the ad down for showing a citizen of this Christian nation trying to commit adultery.

  14. #14 stripey_cat
    October 6, 2009

    mrcreosote – not all publicity is good! There is a mental list of companies (and even a few written down, just to prove how obsessive I am) that I will never, ever do business with and will do my best to drive other custom away from, on the basis of offensive advertising. Mostly they’re small, local firms (following print or poster advertising, or decorated trade vans). Not all the boycott is for misogyny or nasty treatment of minorities – really unpleasant stereotyping of privileged groups will get you on my list too.

  15. #15 David
    October 6, 2009

    Horizontal-Axis Wind Turbines?
    OR
    How annoying 13-year old teenyboppers spell ‘hot’
    Grrr…

  16. #16 csrster
    October 6, 2009

    I think it’s simple enough. The surface meaning is “Guys are idiots who’ll do anything for tail”. The subtext is “Wow, she’s hot, and I bet she’d do me even if she wouldn’t do him”. The only surprise in the whole thing is that the wife is pretty hot as well. To get the full 10 points for gibbering sexist unoriginality the wife should have been a scowling gargoyle-like battleaxe (or possibly a hairy-legged feminazi), but the producers obviously couldn’t resist adding one more pretty face to appeal to the “Me see cute woman. Me buy toilet.” demographic.

  17. #17 ewn
    October 6, 2009

    I think I find this interpretation of the commercial more insulting than the commercial itself. Where is the “sexist stereotype?” That men are attracted to attractive women? How is it sexist that men are attracted to “exotic” women (frankly, I didn’t notice the ethnicity of the plumber until it was pointed out)? It is my understanding that many women are attracted to foreign men as well. When a commercial (or movie, or book) depicts anyone of any sex being attracted to an attractive person of the opposite sex, we do not automatically have sexism on our hands. The fact that the woman throws him a “sultry” look only shows that the entire commercial is playing out a fantasy – the fantasy that an attractive woman would even notice such an “average d00d” as you term him. So? If he had been a sexy hunk and had returned her sultry look, would we have DOUBLE SEXISM all of a sudden? Commercials, movies, books, and television shows rarely play out the mundane, but the fact that they depict extraordinary situations (oh no, an attractive woman attracted to a “normal” guy) is not meant as a dig. Plenty of movies play out the fantasy of being a normal middle-aged woman who manages to find the successful attractive man that finds beauty in her. I don’t see many people in a tizzy about those.

    Here, let me try my hand at a reading as equally plausible reading as yours:

    The commercial begins with an empowering depiction of a woman confidently filling what is typically a man’s role: the plumber. Even more, the name on the truck indicates that she probably owns the business – another indicator that women are capable of more than they are given credit for by our society. The fact that she is able to remain attractive while doing this only goes to show that women need not demean themselves to be “like men” just to fill the roles typically reserved for men.

    In sharp contrast to this, we have the shot of a man coming from his house with garbage. Not only is his task notably less demanding, but it is a _domestic_ task – a realm typically thought of as reserved for women. After seeing an attractive woman clearly acting in a more capable position than himself, he is concerned for his masculinity. What is more, the look she throws him causes him to worry that she notices this discrepancy in their positions.

    Nonetheless, the man resigns himself to his submissive position in this relationship and seeks to show his _need_ for the skilled manual labor of the woman by stopping the toilet. Sadly, he is merely an inept male and is as incapable of breaking household items as he is of fixing them (that is, not only is he not a plumber, but he is also not capable of the reverse). To add to his shame, his (presumably) domestic partner sees his buffoonery. He is clearly incapable of pleasing any of the women in this short tale. We all get a good chuckle at the general idiocy of men.

    Or, you know, you could just view it as the escapist, amusing fantasy (for both sexes) that it is instead of making condescending comments implying that those of us who view such things view them with “our mind[s] shut off.” Finding insult everywhere some “battle of the sexes” scenario is played out in a fictional environment is silly. There are serious reasons to care about the depictions of both men and women in our society. This commercial is not one of them.

  18. #18 MissPrism
    October 6, 2009

    “Plenty of movies play out the fantasy of being a normal middle-aged woman who manages to find the successful attractive man that finds beauty in her. I don’t see many people in a tizzy about those.”

    Which movies? I’m honestly baffled here. Do you mean “normal middle-aged women” played by Geena Davis and Renee Zellweger? I hope you do, because that would be hilarious.

  19. #19 Zuska
    October 6, 2009

    The commercial begins with an empowering depiction of a woman confidently filling what is typically a man’s role: the plumber. Even more, the name on the truck indicates that she probably owns the business – another indicator that women are capable of more than they are given credit for by our society. The fact that she is able to remain attractive while doing this only goes to show that women need not demean themselves to be “like men” just to fill the roles typically reserved for men.

    In sharp contrast to this, we have the shot of a man coming from his house with garbage. Not only is his task notably less demanding, but it is a _domestic_ task – a realm typically thought of as reserved for women. After seeing an attractive woman clearly acting in a more capable position than himself, he is concerned for his masculinity. What is more, the look she throws him causes him to worry that she notices this discrepancy in their positions.

    Nonetheless, the man resigns himself to his submissive position in this relationship and seeks to show his _need_ for the skilled manual labor of the woman by stopping the toilet. Sadly, he is merely an inept male and is as incapable of breaking household items as he is of fixing them (that is, not only is he not a plumber, but he is also not capable of the reverse). To add to his shame, his (presumably) domestic partner sees his buffoonery. He is clearly incapable of pleasing any of the women in this short tale. We all get a good chuckle at the general idiocy of men.

    Oh my god. If this is the “positive” spin on this commercial, and you are seriously putting this forward as something that we could all look at and be pleased about, that makes me even sadder. Women can “remain attractive” while doing a man’s job! Oh boy! That is exactly what we were hoping to hear, because as much as we want to earn a living wage, we want even more to be sure that d00ds will still think we are totally hot. Role reversals make men concerned for their masculinity! And make them feel submissive! Domestic males are inept and filled with shame at what is, in effect, their emasculation (they cannot please any females) – but it’s okay, because we can all LAUGH at this sorry type of d00d who clearly does not know how to be Real Man.

    Yeah, you’re right. That’s a MUCH more positive interpretation than the one I offered, and there’s absolutely NOTHING to do with gender going on in your tale.

  20. #20 Laura
    October 6, 2009

    This made me think of the local plumbing business I encountered while researching remedies for a clogged kitchen sink: M. Cary and Daughters.

    From their FAQ: “Are there really any Daughters, and do they actually do any of the work?” It’s funny how often we’re asked this question. Yes, it’s not hard to find the “girls” out in the field. Melissa is out as often as she can be, and Michelle jumps in whenever the call for help comes into the shop!

    I found it interesting that 1) this business chose to subvert the dominant gender tropes in the name of their company (a good strategy, since it caught my attention in the internet yellow pages!) and 2) a lot of their customers are surprised that “daughters” can be plumbers who “do any of the work> … and had the nerve to ask that question!

  21. #21 rx1
    October 7, 2009

    I think I find this interpretation of the commercial more insulting than the commercial itself.

  22. #22 LtStorm
    October 7, 2009

    Yeah, pretty much any interpretation is equally insulting to both sexes. It managed to cover its bases well on that front. Now if only it were satire and not an actual commercial.

  23. #23 Peggy
    October 7, 2009

    MissPrism@18: I’m also wondering what movies ewn is thinking of. Harold and Maud perhaps?

    I’m far from being an expert on the subject, but isn’t it a porny fantasy trope that the sexy plumber/gardener/delivery person will immediately hook up with whoever they find at home? The difference being that in porn the person at home is a sexy scantily-clad woman, and in this ad it’s an ordinary-looking man. The ad just reinforces the role of women as objects of male fantasy, no matter what their skills are.

    Or maybe I’m oversensitive to the craptastic stereotypes in advertising at the moment because I just watched Sarah Haskins’ latest “Target Women” video.

  24. #24 FrauTech
    October 8, 2009

    Jeff Knapp has hit the nail on the head and sums up my interpretation (and more) perfectly.

    I don’t have cable TV so I don’t see a lot of these, but I’m trying to think of reverse examples…aren’t there UPS commercials with “housewives”? Or am I just remembering a joke/skit. My issue with ALL these commercials is that the non-wife female is always very hot, the wife is very ordinary and the dude is very ordinary. The wife is also never seen out of the home, whereas the stupid dude buffoon stereotype is at least shown at work or in transit every now and then. The woman is only ever cleaning or watching the man do something stupid. Like she doesn’t have any initiative. But I agree with all those who’ve said it reinforces the stereotype as women as nothing more than an object, or even in the least-sexist mean reinforces that maybe women are smart and independent as well, but most importantly must be extremely attractive.

  25. #25 Lu
    October 9, 2009

    That’s precisely the reason I don’t watch american TV.

  26. #26 skeptifem
    October 12, 2009

    The idiot parade began early on this one.

    Are any of these dudes aware where the ‘stupid dad fails at domesticness’ trope originated? It originated in 50’s housewifery advertising, and they did it to make it seem like home making was as mentally stimulating as a career. there were disturbing attempts to make cleaning seem like it was as emotionally stimulating as a career too. Thinking that dads being portrayed as totally stupid about something that society places very little value on anyway is somehow an “equally insulting” interpretation is beyond wrong. I guess racism against black people in the news media is just as wrong as the trope that white people can’t dance/rap being shown on tv, right?? Please. “Compliments” have always been bound up in oppression, all the lower status people in the world are good for *something* according to some racist/sexist crap.

    Housework is considered non work, unpaid work that women just have to do. that is the normal setting for doofy domestic dudes on tv. This commercial would be refreshing for showing a working woman earning some money if they had done something other than making her into a sex object. “Ladies might be moving up in the world, I still think about them as receptacles!” was what I got out of this dude thinking that he could get some sex from a stranger who is at work.

  27. #27 Prometheus
    October 22, 2009

    Zuska’s analysis strikes me as an elaborate description of blades of grass ( good descriptions for what they are worth) advertised as a topographic map.

    Literary theory/history/criticism is not just a mass of academic doublespeak that persists to fulfill publication requirements.

    This commercial is an example of a centuries old literary and theatrical form called farce, specifically a condensed bedroom farce.

    1. A spouse, usually male but often female is overwhelmed by venal desire.

    (A) Alternately spouses are simultaneously and similarly smitten.

    2. The object or objects of desire appears, traditionally an ingenue: young captain of the guard or striking debutante.

    3. Frenetic activity (slapstick) ensues on the part of the spouse in pursuit.

    4. Complete failure is followed by reconciliation to the absurdity and waste inherent in allowing oneself to be guided by base instincts.

    In this instance job one, is to sell toilets and as Zuska points out this selection is more often a female prerogative in off the shelf American households, hence the absurd venal spouse will not female.

    Since the farce must feature a toilet and plumbers are the external to home profession associated with toilets….. the plausibly introduced object of desire is a plumber .

    Really, after “a farce involving the good qualities of our toilets” was decided, the thing wrote itself.

    The individual moral is The Hawk and the Nightingale

    The societal moral is that fidelity and devotion are not merely conventions but the positions of merit, fortune and gratification…all else is vanity and waste.

    You now owe the bursar’s office 900 bucks for freshman Introduction to Classical Forms.

  28. #28 Zuska
    October 22, 2009

    Well, that’s very clever of you, Prometheus, and congratulations on your own successful class completion. But it’s not like Classical Forms themselves are somehow immune to sexist bias, or are incapable of being deployed in modern form in ways that incorporate sexist bias and stereotypes in their present-day story-telling – ways that are easily subjected to feminist literary and/or film analysis. Now sit back down and commence note-taking again until you figure out what is going on around here.

  29. #29 Prometheus
    October 23, 2009

    “..it’s not like Classical Forms themselves are somehow immune to sexist bias..”

    I made no such claim and anyone who does is a jackass.

    “…or are incapable of being deployed in modern form in ways that incorporate sexist bias and stereotypes in their present-day story-telling…”

    Again, why attempt to impeach an opinion I have not expressed.

    You know can’t meaningfully explain the bias without identifying the form and address that form or introduced modern element of bias and you admit as much.

    You are not only a competent professional writer on the subjects of feminist theory and bias but a good one.

    I am not accusing you of being wrong. I am asking you not to be lazy because you have set a better standard for yourself than is demonstrated in the O.P..

  30. #30 Plumbers
    October 25, 2009

    rx1 , why so serious ? I see nothing insulting in this commercial , actually , its the funniest commercial I’ve saw recently

  31. #31 steve the plumber
    November 5, 2009

    But Plumber Chicks Are HAWT!

    Thanks for sharing

  32. #32 jo the writer
    November 7, 2009

    As far as I can see others already showed you that almost everything in the commercial is correctly produced, and the only thing that remains to be explained to you (I intentionally mention you as it appears that you’re the one approaching the ad with too much bias) is the selection of dark haired woman for plumber and the blond one for the partner.

    It’s also inevitability. To write a good ad (and this one certainly is) you have to make it believable. Now imagine if you were shown a wasp blond woman dressed as a plumber in fifth second. The whole ad lasts 30, by the time the ad is over a lot of people still wouldn’t get what that woman is supposed to represent. They would have to be able to fight with their beliefs that something like that is “just wrong” or “impossible.” Which is certainly what you wouldn’t want if you’d make an ad. The dark haired woman is something the public can more readily believe to actually be a plumber and your ad is allowed to progress.

    I’m not saying that it’s good that in U.S. wasps are not expected to be plumbers, I’m just saying that a task of a writer of the given ad is not to preach to the society but just to get some positive attention to the product in as few seconds as possible.

    Now that we solved that, it’s clear that the guy’s partner must be the obvious opposite. If you show two dark haired women in thirty seconds quite a few of people wouldn’t know that there’s a second woman appearing at the scene! Now a bad writer or the one without a taste or the one with bad intentions would maybe opt for obviously unattractive or even plain ugly woman, but this one is good. He selects a blond one, which also looks good enough to make the sympathy of public shift from the “hero” of previous bigger part of the ad to her, making her a person with which everybody is to be identified as the ad finishes.

    Finally, the director even took care to tell the dark woman not to return the look to the guy “too provoking.” Note that the guy looks at her much longer, and then we see her looks back after he stares long enough. Note she doesn’t pass the “invite” message, more something “yes I know I look good.” Which again proves how good the authors of the ad are!

    Now you can only complain “why is she attractive at all” or “why is she looking good.” The answer is obvious, you can’t make a 30 seconds ad by introducing unattractive woman at the start, you again wouldn’t have enough time to explain the whole situation to the viewer.

    After this, I’m still interested to read from you what the authors of the ad did obviously wrong, in your opinion, but plainly separated from your observations of what’s wrong with the society as it is (where immigrants are the ones that do plumbing works). As I already demonstrated, the “looking good” of the plumber woman just isn’t wrong, it’s substantial for the narrative. And it appears that’s the major problem you have with the whole ad.

  33. #33 Sheenashirley
    March 27, 2010

    I don’t think I want to get the full Freudian subtext here — it’s a bit too creepy; it goes way past simple misogeny into the deep crazies. This is one of those ‘a cigar is not just a cigar’ situations.

    Plumbing service

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