Posers & Players: Can a mini-van swagger make parenthood ok?
Okay, I admit it. I don’t want to be considered a lame-o loser. I don’t want friends, or even strangers, seeing me as yet another wolf-on-the-prowl that finally gave up the excitement of the fight to “settle down” into some sort of slow-mo, thrill-lacking ride - marked almost universally these days by the addition of the requisite wife and kids. Sordid adventures to Vegas hotspots become wholesome weekends at Chuck E. Cheese, as family men trade in whatever minimal street cred they once had for the neutered calm of the average put-upon father. Does life really end with a family?
It’s a moronic thought, even on the surface. I mean, you couldn’t get more involved in the actual circle of life than by getting married and having kids – but somehow we’ve bought into the notion that having it all means living life like some single adult hyper-focused on improving self no matter how married with children you actually are. We demand grand careers and driving passions – not run of the mill jobs and dull weekend hobbies. We need challenges and loads of “me time.” And if we ever inadvertently admit to enjoying sitting at home on a Saturday morning watching SpongeBob with the kids we’re guilty of “settling” for something less than….what exactly? For the life of me, I simply don’t know how the family ideal so treasured by generations past has now become a curse to be avoided (or at least leavened) at all costs. It must have taken a miracle of negativity to pull that one off. Personally, I blame Bush and Fox News.
Anyway, Toyota saw this and has attempted to milk our shared, and rather pathetic, existential crisis for auto sales. Specifically, they did this by offering up “The Sienna Family” and their “Swagger Wagon.” The spots are something, to say the least, and they really do hit all the right notes, starting with the genius casting of an exceptionally perfect pair of post-modern, ironic parents plus two moppets. The married duo literally epitomizes the sort of modern engagement-detachment with all things family that parents today seem required to radiate. They love their life but they hate parts of it too and act cool even as they feel kind of lame, allowing for a sort of “Daily Show” arms length to reality that says “yeah, I’m part of it but not really.” The spots are funny (and numerous) plus the rap video is absolutely not to be missed, but at the end of the day it’s all so ridiculously empty. The spots themselves are great but I just hate what they seem to say.
The commercials are consistent in that they seem so truly focused on mom and dad and who they are. It’s about the kids (ergo, the need for the mini-van) but not really. There is an air of superficiality and hidden disdain that permeates the entire production. The jokes seem to be at the parents’ expense but they’re not really, and these two people are just kind of jerky. They act a little like their kids are accessories for proving how cool they as post-modern warriors really are. I know I’m probably reading more into this (way more…) but it’s what I see – and I just don’t like it.
Now, leave aside that I actually loath mini-vans. For me, they are the sweatpants of vehicles – comfy, easy and ugly - so how anyone can claim “swagger” in something that resembles a bulbous, steel turd with sliding doors and wheels is beyond me. Mini-vans – no matter how much chrome you slap on them – are lame cars, and making the people who drive them seem more hip and irreverently ironic still doesn’t exactly push the vehicle class over the finish line of stud-dom for me.
I can watch the ads and laugh but I worry what it’s saying about my own view of the life I lead. If I really need to act like some achingly hip barfly who just happens to have a wife and kids maybe I shouldn’t have bothered procreating in the first place. Either I’m winning the game of life or I’m not, and if a 21st century family man can’t figure out he’s a player because of his family and not in spite of it, then all the “rapping” and “cruising’ and “macking” in the world can’t save him from being a self-conscious poser that really hasn’t got a clue. Swagger or not.