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DarkEcho Horror Death by Rick Berry
The DarkEcho Files

DID YOU HEAR THE ONE ABOUT...?

For more than six years Paula Guran published -- in email form on a weekly basis -- an eccentric newsletter for horror writers and others. This is a short essay from it.

DarkEcho
09.21.00
V.7 #34

I didn't see it. Maybe you did?

There was a Nike ad than ran last weekend on NBC during the network's Olympics coverage. The ad begins with distance runner Suzy Favor Hamilton spotting a man in a hockey mask -- who bears a remarkable resemblance to both FRIDAY THE 13TH's Jason and HALLOWEEN's Michael Myers -- preparing to attack her with a chainsaw. Wearing her trusty Nikes, Hamilton runs off and keeps up such a strong pace the psychokiller collapses in wheezing exhaustion. The tag line at the end reads: "Why sport? You'll live longer."

Okay. *I* think that's funny. Nike shareholders laughed when the ad was screened for them in Portland. It's obviously a parody. A spoof.

But, responding to adverse audience reaction, NBC cut the commercial. Nike vice president Charles Denson said company officials were disappointed in the response. "I guess we felt it was a little ironic,'" Denson said, because "(NBC) preapproved the ad before it ran in the Olympic spot.'' NBC says it originally accepted the ad "subject to audience complaint," claiming it was aware that some people might not get the joke and be offended at the thought of sport as a race for your life from a killer.

Mike Wilskey, vice president of Nike, said in a statement that the "ad will continue to run in other media. Our rule has always been to respect the intelligence of our consumer...we know they get the joke." (In fact, the ad, which is one of several in Nike's new "Why Sport?" campaign, is currently running on ESPN.)<

Maybe we should never overestimate the intelligence of the consumer.

This week's SPORTS ILLUSTRATED mentioned that the spot was clever and well-executed, but "appallingly inappropriate in the family-friendly context of the Olympics. Adding shocking value was the fact the spot's first airing on NBC immediately followed Cathy Freeman's poignant lighting of the Olympic torch."

Okay, maybe that's -- "inappropriate in the context." Whatever.

Driving Tuesday I heard an otherwise usually intelligent, liberal public radio talk host voice her disapproval of the ad. She was affronted because she saw it as encouraging or at least making light of violence against woman.

Uh, okay.

I started thinking about that. I mean, sometimes horror folks' humor is a little macabre. The funniest thing I've seen in a long time on television was on an animated series my kids watch the other night called "The Family Guy." The segment featured the family's urbane and voluble dog in the midst of an emotional crisis. At one point he takes a drive in a truck (hey, he can talk, why not drive?) in a lonely wooded area. He runs over a pedestrian. The dog leaps out of the truck, asks the victim (who still lies under his tires): "Ohmigawd! Are you Stephen King?"

"No," the man replies, "I'm Dean Koontz."

The dog gets back in the cab, backs over the guy, and speeds off.

I was hysterical. <

The kids looked at each other and one said, "I think it was a horror writer joke."

"Oh," said the other. "So. Who is Dean Koontz?"

I think even Dean Koontz would have laughed at all this -- at least up to the point the kid asked who he was, but the questioner was only 10. Then the 13-year-old said, "Koontz is a horror writer." I started laughing again. So, nobody got THAT joke. (See, uh, Koontz is always denying that he is a horror writer, and the irony of him being tagged as such...oh, nevermind.)<

But then again I can't see anyone taking that Nike ad as a threat to society. On the other hand, I'm willing to bet that the radio lady has never seen Jason or Freddy and doesn't realize that a chainsaw killer is no longer seen as particularly horrific. It's a monster that has become -- like Lugosi's Dracula, Karloff's Frankenstein's monster before it -- an archaic icon.

Maybe it all has to something to do with the ever-evolving nature of horror; how we are constantly re-inventing the symbolism of ancient fears. Maybe it has to do with a societal de-sensitivity toward violence. (Although, if you have any awareness of history, you have to grant that earlier cultures were certainly pretty insensitive toward violence.) Perhaps it's just a different point of view and one must realize that not everyone is going to get the joke.

Hey, the line between tragedy and comedy is always thin.


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