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    Wednesday, April 12, 2006

    "The Nastiest Wife on Television"

    Seth Stevenson, in Slate, discusses a new Century 21 ad.

    The Spot: A title card reads "The Debate." We fade in on a couple standing in their kitchen, arguing about whether to buy a new house. The wife is the aggressor; the husband has his doubts. "Suzanne researched this," says the wife in exasperation. As we're wondering who Suzanne is, the ad cuts to an image of the couple's kitchen telephone. "This listing is special, John," says the voice of their real estate agent over the speakerphone. "You guys can do this." The husband caves. "This is awesome," says the wife. We see a picture of the agent's Century 21 business card.

    I've gotten a few e-mails about this ad—all of them negative. One of my readers called the ad "creepy." Another felt that the wife in the spot "comes off as a nagging harpy." And a third asked me to explain "why a woman bullying her husband would make me want to buy a house." ...

    It's terrifying. The problem lies in the performances. That beleaguered husband, dough-faced and weary, seems highly sympathetic as he expresses a few doubts about this major life decision. Meanwhile, the wife (who looks like a more hostile Mary Louise Parker—though she lacks MLP's patented bone-dry delivery) just knits her eyebrows at the guy like he's unfathomably dense. Later, she jabs him with an accusatory "What?!"—her eyes wide and wild, her neck muscles flexed, her head twitching in disbelief at what a ninny her husband's turned out to be.


    Now, darling readers, I want you to watch this ad. (Link on Slate, same page that I linked.) I want to know if I'm crazy because here's my take.

    Is this an ad that would make me want to engage the services of a real estate agent? No, but it did make me wish I could buy a house.

    The actors weren't the usual husband-and-wife sitcom pair in their performance. The "creepy" feeling people got was from being present for something that intimate: watching partners make a HUGE life decision and intimate partners handle that awkwardly and a big part of it is terrifying and painful and one partner is pushing and the other is reining in. That's a relationship.

    On television, we are also supposed to see men's wants and desires as things to be indulged, sort of childlike whims, whereas women aren't supposed to want like that. And, if they do, they're supposed to stop "bullying" and "nagging" and accept the fact that they're not getting the house. I think this is because we still see a hetero couple's money as his money. Therefore, men can take risks with it, women conserve it and treat it with respect. If the genders were reversed in this commercial and he was pushing it, we wouldn't be reading "The Nastiest Husband on Television".

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