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The First In A Series Of Rants Against Advertising: Dairy Queen and School Of Rock Humor

August 8, 2011

The new Dairy Queen advertisement series is the latest in a maddening succession of media that rely on what I’ll call “School of Rock” humor—a category of joke in which we are expected to laugh without really knowing why.

In the commercial, a spokesman illustrates DQ’s “good isn’t good enough” policy by pointing to a falcon. “But not just any falcon. It’s a Rock & Roll Falcon.” The falcon whips out a guitar and says some dumb shit about thank you Detroit or something.

What is the joke here? And when did audiences become expected to find it funny automatically, as if it was a given from the outset? All signs point to Jack Black.

School of Rock was a moderately successful movie in 2003, but that movie, aimed at a seemingly ambiguous target audience, was the last decent thing Jack Black was involved in.[1] Both School of Rock and Black’s band Tenacious D employ the same shtick to deliver humor—the over-the-top parody of over-the-top rock bands of the 70s/80s, or perhaps more accurately a parody of the fans of these bands: overzealous, impervious to aging, and committed to the cause of rock. The character worked in School of Rock because it was just that; a character–comparable to one from Saturday Night Live–inventive and funny because of the quirks built into his personality. The blindingly dedicated rock fan is utterly unaware that he is a walking joke, making a fool of himself perpetually. But his zeal is another reason why the character works so well in School of Rock; his enthusiasm, however ridiculous, is an exaggerated form of something we all have in us. What’s more, that zeal is convincing because of the element of Black’s character that is taken as a given from the outset: there is an authenticity and earnestness that lies beneath the surface of Black’s stunts. He is an absurdist and a fool, but no one questions his love for rock music. That love is infections and pure, which is why we can believe the plot of the movie at the same time that we laugh at it. In the parodied, pop-culture version of School of Rock humor, there is no earnestness to speak of, nothing underneath the absurd.

Since School of Rock, it is as if advertisers and media personalities like Dos Equis’ “Most Interesting Man In The World” (who brags about achievements as ostensibly badass and just as thoughtlessly un-funny as our falcon) have all been doing a parody of Jack Black under the notion that impressions of the original character will be taken to be as funny as the character himself. Similarly, while Tenacious D satirizes the seriousness of heavy metal and its fans, current media seems to have forgotten why the joke was funny in the first place. It is analogous to those Capital One Vikings who still appear in commercials years after the original aired. Why the hell are Vikings selling a credit card again? I know there was an expository commercial at some point…

School of Rock humor celebrates the extreme on the extreme, the ridiculous joke of two juxtaposed “hardcore” elements.[2] Absent from these elements is the both authenticity of Black’s character, and any real attempts at satire. What we’re left with is nonsense turned in on itself. In fact, “metal” humor has become so commonplace that line between satire and authentic celebration of things like “a guitar that sounds like dolphins” has become too blurred to tell if it’s a joke or not. When you have a show like Metalocalypse, which is both clearly defined and hilarious, this works out just fine. When you have a falcon selling an ice cream cone, I end up trying to curb-stomp myself.

Look, let’s get a couple things straight. Jack Black’s character is his own. If he wants to ride that brand of slapstick into the ground, let him do so by himself. One funny character is not enough to build an entire brand of humor.[3] Second, you can’t make good humor by barfing a bunch of over the top gimmickry onto a screen. Third, and perhaps most importantly, no one should ever visit a Dairy Queen again.

(I do, however, endorse the frequenting of Kayak.com:)
-Dan

[1] Nacho Libre anyone?

[2] The guitar playing falcon, yes. But also the bubbles with kittens in them and the rainbows on fire. The whole commercial series relies on School of Rock humor, which, although there is an element of strict “metal” humor involved, it is more about the stacked absurdity that defines this garbage. “So good it’s riDQlous.” You’re telling me.

[3] You don’t see people trying to sell you things by hitting a cowbell really loudly. It just doesn’t make sense. (Weird.)

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. Joe permalink
    August 10, 2011 10:25 pm

    THIS IS GOOD ADVERTISING!

  2. August 11, 2011 1:37 pm

    What could you even call that?

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