Wednesday, December 8, 2010

I Really Like Peggy. But Shame On You! Me!

I just finished Bob Newhart's memoir "I Shouldn't Even Be Doing This," a quick and fun read.  Newhart is one of the pantheon of "original" comedians, meaning his style was unique and refreshing when he came along. Over the years my family has enjoyed telling me how much I look like him, or he looks like me, or whatever. It would be a compliment to say I was funny like him; but looking like him--not so much.

But I do love to laugh, and I chuckled out loud a couple times reading his book.  Bob said he didn't feel humor should be analyzed too much, parsed and dissected so as to become un-funny.  His public humor is of the gentle sort, but privately he is capable of some perversity, as he claims are all comedians--such is the nature of the comedic mind.  Still, it would be a stretch to say any of Bob's humor has ever offended anybody.

There have always been comedians who reap laughs using shocking statements, often leaving the audience with some guilt feelings about their response.  Ethnic humor has haunted the shadows for many years but still sneaks into the daylight from time to time and may even be making a comeback (SNL actually used a Polish joke last week, I have to say I didn't see it coming).  And some TV commercials also brush with the ethnic taboo; enter Peggy.

Peggy is a foreign-outsourced phone service operator for a bank card.  Reinforcing  the obvious extreme cultural disconnect, Peggy is not a woman, but instead a misnamed Caucasian teddy-bear of a man with a voice that should be reading children's stories on Public Radio.  His English is broken and he omits some verbs, articles, and the odd participle.  He seems to be based in some frozen East European country, working from a slap-dash shack with a support staff right out of the Beverly Hillbillies.  My guilt confession: Peggy is hilarious.

There are 4 or 5 ad spots of consumers dealing with Peggy.  After briefly digesting the name/voice disconnect, the earnest customer attempts to conduct business over the phone but is met with obfuscation, misdirection and inevitable disappointment.  Peggy is willing to do something, but that something will assuredly fail to meet the need.  Peggy is alternately simple, confused, and/or downright devious, and the message is clear: outsourcing is inherently evil and substandard service will ensue. It is also (gasp), funny.

Should I really be laughing at this?  Maybe if I break it down, I'll find I'm not laughing at ethnicity.  Let's see, the name--yeah, that could happen to anybody, lots of things are lost in translation.  How about the English?  Well, I can only imagine how I'd sound in Paris after 4 years of C+ high school French, but I'm not trying to resolve someone's over limit fee, either. Maybe the real villain is greedy corporate America, for sending jobs overseas and making a mess of it.  Come to think of it, they are real life villains. 

Ok, lets cut to the chase.  I, too, have dealt with outsourced call service centers, it wasn't funny.  None of them were evil, per se.  Any problems I had stemmed from language pronunciation, which tended to drag out the conversation.  What these commercials do is make fun of a situation, and they want you to use their product.  In this regard Peggy and company are guilty of an unforgivable sin--the commercial is so funny you forget to  associate it with the product.  After seeing these ads for months I had to look up the product for this blog--it's the Discover Card. Apparently those guys keep it real, and keep it in the States.  Too bad, I still won't be applying for the card.

Well, I better close, NBC is running episodes of "Outsourced" back to back, and I don't want to miss one minute of those crazy Indians.  Oh that Manmeet!  Where do they get those names?

No comments: