Recently one of my more sage-like friends was commenting on yet another iteration of one of our culture’s most enduring (if not annoying) comedy tropes: a white doofus trying to act like an urban black. It’s a gag that is probably about five seconds older rap music. From SNL’s 1985 “White Guy Rap” and onward, the wayside of our cultural is littered with new & uninspired versions each year. And yet, you can know that a joke is formulaic and still laugh first.
Enter last year’s finest example of bourgeoise Big Primpin’, and one of 2010’s most viral ads: Toyota Sienna’s SE ad “Swagger Wagon.”
The most common version of dweeb-hop is a straight-up parody of outsider aspiration, uncomplicated by any actual ability in the style being mimicked. In White Guy Rap, even by 1985 standards the “rap” is a joke. (One the other hand, one could say that Chamillion’s song Ridin’ Dirty was a joke before Weird Al got ahold of it.) With self-conscious suburbanites as the target market, the Sienna campaign had to thread the needle: you can’t really poke fun too pointedly at the intended buyer. Swagger Wagon braids gentle acknowledgment of the concessions of parenthood with passably authentic commercial hip-hop production. The gag is upheld by maintaining a wide gap between content and delivery: rapping about culdesacs with a stone-cold face. It’s an amusing novelty, but it also satisfies a deep need for cultural relevance on the part of those with no capital of any sort to invest in hipness. I’m told that one has to sacrifice enormous tracts of their former persona when they embark down the path of child rearing. And let’s face it: there is almost nothing less sexy than diapers.
I make a mean gel mold, I perfected my trick
back when – I used to party as a college chick
now I’m cruisin’ to their play dates lookin’ all slick
in my Swagger Wagon
Bridging the gap between dorm party Jell-O shots and kid’s birthday parties speaks powerfully to lost youth. The message is clear: the wife is paunchy (or outright prego, depending on which spot in the campaign you see) but not without a certain milfaliciousness. She doesn’t just apply Band-Aids: she’s a Sexy Nurse fetish. The husband ranges from contemptibly meek co-parent to comically hard-ass gangsta stoicism. The entire song is a stubborn reaffirmation of virility long-since sucked into the vortex of parenthood, like a Bob Seger ballad turned inside-out. I still laughed first. (Then I cried!)