Who doesn’t love Julia Louis-Dreyfus?
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That’s what the folks at the Israeli satellite provider, YES, must have been thinking when they chose the appealing actress to star in their new commercial, and probably paid her some mega-bucks to do so. But after their new commercial, a lot of Israelis, particularly women, including hard-core Seinfeld fans, don’t love Louis-Dreyfus any more. And they aren’t particularly fond of YES, either.
The company has a tradition of getting big stars from the American series they carry to convince television viewers that satellite beats cable. Previously, they’ve featured James Gandolfini from The Sopranos and Steve Buscemi of Boardwalk Empire in their ads both doing variations on the characters from their series, that lead to a tagline promoting YES.
Indeed, the character in the ad is a twist on the character Louis-Dreyfus plays in the HBO series Veep - a ditzy and tactless Vice President of the United States, a version of the legendary ditzy and tactless Elaine on Seinfeld, and the ditzy and tactless - but lovable - Christine in the hit sitcom The New Adventures of Old Christine.
The commercial starts in an elevator where Louis-Dreyfus encounters a large colleague munching on a bag of potato chips, pats her on the stomach and congratulates her on her pregnancy. “Oh, my god! Congratulations! I bet it’s a girl.” Oops. The colleague, she learns, isn’t pregnant - she’s just fat.
The action proceeds with Louis-Dreyfus demonstrating ways to correct her mistake, only to offend and annoy others in the process. Ultimately, she concedes and tries to say she’s sorry. She stands up in front of her co-workers: “I would like to apologize to Betty for thinking she was pregnant. Obviously, she hasn’t dated anyone forever and yeah, you need a man to get so, um I’m sorry!”
The commercial ends with the tag line “Made a mistake? Just fix it!” and viewers they are told how to fix their ‘mistake’ of signing up for cable and how to switch to YES satellite.
Such a commercial might have possibly gotten away with being so offensive if it was funny. But it committed the twin sins of offending while not being funny at all.
As blogger Ami Kaufman wrote: “When Louis-Dreyfus got this script she must have rolled her eyes, saying “who writes this sh*t?”
The backlash against the ad began buzzing on Israeli social networks almost immediately after it began airing. Now the Na’amat Israel women’s organization has taken it up a notch, reporting on Facebook that chairwoman Galit Wolloch has complained to Israel’s Second Television and Radio Authority public ombudsman, saying she was “shocked” by the condescending and insulting message.
“I call for a stop to this rude and insulting ad, which is running in prime time on commercial television.” She said the juxtaposition of the attractive, charismatic thin woman condescending to her “un-womanly” fat lady who “obviously” can’t get a man or become pregnant offends “hundreds of thousands of women across the country.”
Esti Zakheim, a successful plus-sized actress - one who I’ve praised in the past as a trailblazer for larger women by appearing on Israel’s “Dancing with the Stars” wrote on her Facebook page that while “I have no problem laughing at myself, my heart goes out to the younger generation. Fifty percent of the population is overweight and the other half has body issues because of unrealistic standards of beauty.”
Commercials like these only contribute to that problem - and reinforces the message that the one group of “other” that it is still politically correct to insult are fat people (presumably, because their size is a choice and so if they’d just stop munching those chips in the elevator, they’d be as slim and lovely as Julia Louis-Dreyfus.)
Some of Zakheim’s commenters compared the ad to the other commercial getting press lately, the Bar Rafaeli Superbowl ad with the now-famous kiss, because it also featured a slender attractive woman and a chubby shy person being condescended to. But at least Jesse Heiman’s character Walter got the ultimate payoff of kissing a supermodel. All Louis-Dreyfus’s victim, Betty, had to show for her suffering was humiliation.
One suspects that Louis-Dreyfus would have been too savvy to appear in a commercial like this if it had run in the United States, but in a foreign country doesn’t have to worry about alienating fans.
Over here, the blowback is, indeed, more of a problem for YES than it is for her. With this commercial, they clearly screwed up. With their reaction to the criticism, we should be able to find out, if, in fact, the company actually does know something about fixing mistakes.