Featured in an advert along with your family? Wrong side of 40? Bald? Fat? Regional accent? Then I have some bad news. The very thought of you makes your wife feel sick or pitying. Your kids hate you. You’re shit at your job. You can’t do DIY. Now that you have passed on your genes you are, essentially useless. You’re a stupid Dad.
Ads have always needed a fall-guy. Women were hideously ridiculed even a couple of decades ago; generally targeted for their apparent stupidity. Even in the 80’s women could be portrayed as fairly dumb without a hint of irony, but by the last decade of the 20th century that particular brand of chauvinism went the way of smoking adverts, the Hofmeister bear and tea-drinking chimps.
I’m sure if you go back far enough and look long enough there are ads that are explicitly racist and homophobic too, but nowadays it’s really only men who get it in the neck in ads. The Stupid Dad meme started to gain traction in the 90’s, when notions of sexism eventually caught up with the ad industry. In search of another butt of jokes about stupidity and uselessness, advertising turned to Dads.
Sure, you can make all sorts of arguments about the male gaze with no little basis, but women are off-limits to the ad creative if you want to make someone look clumsy, oafish or generally the punchline of a joke.
The Stupid Dad has several key characteristics. Generally it pays to have a Stupid Dad with a regional accent. This makes the Stupid Dad look more stupid.He must be obviously middle-aged, balding or bald, fat, decidedly stupid and unashamedly emasculated. Every Stupid Dad has clearly been castrated by his wife. Perhaps from time to time the kids taunt the Stupid Dad by throwing his unattached testicles to each other while he looks on haplessly.
Another key trait is that the Dad must be made to look stupid in the advert, preferably by his wife or small kids. This usually occurs when the Dad ridicules the product being sold. This reinforces the idea that to not buy this product you must be a bit of an arsehead.
There are several adverts that recently subscribed to the Stupid Dad meme: the Sainsburys Pork Chilli ad; some Butlins ads from about a year ago; and some ads that seem to be trying to encourage some vague form of environmentalism.
Probably the most offensive version of the Stupid Dad meme is a Somerfield advert from late 2007. Here, John is made out to be a complete duffer and publicly humiliated by his wife, Rose, for forgetting some groceries. The pair have now left our screens, probably due to the fact that John eventually snaps and stoves Rose’s head in with a frozen leg of lamb.
I don’t subscribe to the idea that the only persecuted demographic in the UK is the white working-class male, usually an excuse for racists to bemoan the fact that they’re not allowed to say n*****, but try putting any ethnic minority, child, woman, OAP, homosexual or otherwise-abled person in the Stupid Dad role and there’d be mayhem.
It’s a curious, if fairly harmless, double standard that rather seems to reflect the way the middle-aged man is shaping up in society. Beyond their pro-creational use they’re permanently bemused, technophobic, balless, sad and despised. The real role of the Stupid Dad is simply to be utterly redundant.