Like Peter’s post kicking off this weeklong theme of masculinity in the new millenium, I too am posting on men and advertising, though my interest is less in how advertisers are using some idealized or romanticized concept of masculinity to drive sales than in how masculinity is represented through mediated salesmen. How I arrived at this interest is a bit circuitous, as a consequence of my broader interest in viral video and, more generally, online video as a constitutively transmedial platform. In my research, one curiously recurring strain of such videos are those that appropriate television pitchmen. The video clip I’ve chosen for today’s post is a continuation of that engagement as it is manifesting online. “Slap Chop Rap” is a remixed version of the Slap Chop advertisement helmed by Vince Offer. Using voice pitch correction software, a synthesized drum beat, and adding some footage from Breakin’ through some skillful editing, DJ Steve Porter turns the commercial into a thumping, if unlikely, hip-hop track.
Even without the remix treatment, Offer is a remarkable presence with a somewhat unique spin on masculine authority as expressed through his pitches. In both the Slap Chop and his earlier ShamWow spots, he is less a carnival barker (e.g. early Ron Popeil, Don West, Billy Mays) or an enlightened and sensitive domestic problem solver (e.g. later Popeil, Mike Levey) than a contemporized, Brooklynized Eddie Haskell; in fact, shortly after his first ad for ShamWow began hitting the airwaves, Slate’s Seth Stevenson christened this “next great TV pitchman” a “salesjerk” for his persona which falls somewhere between street tough and street smart. An unsettling addition to this aura is his February 2009 arrest on a felony battery charge stemming from an altercation with a prostitute. But through the commercials alone, it’s present in his tone and diction – the connotation of domestic violence in “Guys, we’re gonna make America skinny again, one slap at a time,” the patronizing tone of “Stop having a boring life,” and especially the smarmy double entendre of “You’re gonna love my nuts.” These lines are all related to selling the Slap Chop’s capacities to alleviate the complexities of knife handling, but they serve equally to position Offer as a self-confident, linquistically dexterous joker with a hint of misogyny. A male figure who could verbally cut an interloper down to size when necessary.
Porter focuses attention on these lines and others in his remix, adding an element of mechanized repetition through his manipulations, imbuing them with a more overt and processed melodiousness and repeating them. Recontextualization and repetition are two core strategies in comedy, and they serve Porter’s work well. In a sense, he usurps the masculine authority of Offer and recasts him as a cog in the machinery of the marketplace - less the master of his domain than a servant of capital. One might be tempted to view this as a moment of grassroots resistance overtaking the seduction of advertising; however, while “Slap Chop Rap” may serve to attenuate Offer’s role as masculinized pitchman, it doesn’t necessarily reduce the promotional quality of the spot. In fact, following the viral spread of the clip online in the late spring and early summer of 2009, Offer worked out a deal to broadcast it as a paid advertisement on television, further driving the sales of his product.
In a way, this is a case of humor being used in the deflective mode that Peter underscores in his work on manvertising. Already a hyperbolic presence, the remix of Offer’s masculinity may be disavowing his power to persuade, while also making it safe for his product to be desired. Perhaps it’s too ridiculous to believe that we consumers can really slap our troubles away with Slap Chop, but the pitchman in Offer never really meant that anyway. While appropriative art may be able undercut the man, it seems far harder for it to truly scramble his message.