Tuesday, April 20, 2004


Did you know Rafael Palmiero has hit 528 home runs? I didn't. I follow baseball, and I know he's a star for the (invisible) Texas Rangers, but 528 homeruns? Who knew? I mean, that's a hall of fame number. More than that, it's a first-ballot-walk-right-in number. It's a don't-even-bother-to-show-us-your-driver's-license number. It's a Mike Schmidt number.

And yet---well---I don't know what you thought the first time you saw Rafael Palmiero in a Viagra commercial, but personally, it gave me the creeps. And the 528 dingers somehow make it worse. I mean, here's a guy in his 30's, a pro athlete, a home run hitter, good-looking, a guy who has 22-year-old porn-star-wannabes waiting for him outside the locker room every night, and HE can't get it up? What the hell is wrong with him?

Speaking as a guy, on behalf of all guys everywhere, Rafael Palmiero is wrong for the product. I understand what the advertising people were thinking, but they were wrong, because most guys are not going to identify with him. I'm sure the advertising people thought the message was: "Viagra, man---if Palmiero can take that stuff, it must be cool" or "Take Viagra and you'll knock them out of the park too." No. Un-unh. Nothing like that. Speaking for all men, everywhere, here is what guys think when they see Rafael Palmiero pitching Viagra. They think: "Poor bastard. His dick is broke."

The typical customer for dick medicine, the 60-year-old guy who can't throw the football through the swinging tire like he used to, does not think his dick is broke. No guy ever thinks his dick is broke, even if the organ in question is sitting in a jar of formadehyde in a medical museum at Harvard. There's always a rational explanation for limpness that has nothing to do with a broken dick. ("So I'm sitting there, and there's 3 seconds left in overtime, and the Lakers are down one, and Shaq is at the line shooting two, and the bitch puts her hand on my thigh! And this is AFTER she burned the goddamn macaroni and cheese!!")

Needless to say, since no guy ever thinks his dick is broke, the last thing he wants to see is a commercial telling him it is. That's just not what he thinks. He thinks: "I am every inch the tough SOB I was forty years ago, but now I'm tired at the end of the day. And OK, I'm getting older. Everything still works, but I need a boost sometimes, like vitamins or something. I'm not some 30-year-old pretty boy who can't get it up; I'm more like---Ditka!"

I haven't seen Rafael Palmiero selling Viagra since the debut of the Ditka/Levitra spots, and I don't think that's an accident. Next to Ditka, Palmiero will always look like PeeWee Herman, no matter how many home runs he hits. I mean, if you want to sell dick medicine to the masses, who's better than Ditka? Clint Eastwood maybe? Well, OK, but he doesn't do commercials. Billy Dee Williams? Maybe, but he would never do a commercial suggesting he is actually 67 years old rather than, say, 25.

Most guys are not pretty, and neither is Ditka. But with his fireplug physique, and his psychopathic twinkle, he's still a tough guy after all these years. The hair still looks like he cut it himself with an Insinkerator, and is there any doubt that, in a pile of large, biting, kicking men with bad attitudes, he would still somehow emerge with the football? And yeah, he takes Levitra. YOU GOT A FREAKIN PROBLEM WITH THAT?? This is an attitude that the wimpiest, flabbiest, cubicle-bound, chicken-legged, bald, impotent 60-year-old guy can admire because he too is certain (certain!) that with the game on the line, he would also emerge with the football. I know I would.

The latest entrant in the sweepstakes, Cialis, seems to understand they have already lost the celebrity endorsement battle, because they don't even use a celebrity in their commercials. Instead, they use "life-style" scenes of loving elderly folks driving sports cars and looking out at the ocean together. It's possible to watch these spots and not even know Cialis is a dick medicine. OK, you think---happy geezers---now what the hell does this thing cure? Liver spots? Shingles? Cat-hair allergies?

Again, this message is wrong. Even if you can figure out what Cialis is for, it is not something guys are going to rush out and buy. Geezer romance? Is this something guys long for? Even old guys? I don't think so. Again speaking for all guys everywhere, I have nothing against romance. But let's face it, romance has NOTHING to do with boners. To the extent there is any link between the two in the public imagination (i.e., what chicks think), it's the product of a decades-long propaganda campaign financed by the Hallmark Card Company. Halliburton probably had their hand in there somewhere too. Geezer romance? Spare me. Bob Dole, in the darkest hour of his erectile despair, did not dream of holding hands with his elderly wife in a hot tub. Trust me on this.

Which brings us back to Ditka.

The problem presented by these products, for advertisers, is that they have to tell us what the product does (or at least strongly imply it), without grossing us out. Viagra succeeds on the first count, but the image of a 528-homer guy with a broke dick is way too distressing. Cialis fails on both counts---it's hard to figure out what it does, and even if you do, the payoff (in senior muskrat love) just isn't worth the trouble.

Using Ditka, on the other hand, makes all the problems go away. At a stroke, he eliminates the gross-out issue because it is impossible for anyone who does not live in an institution to look at him and think of sex. Though I do not claim to understand women, I cannot believe that any woman, ever, looked at Mike Ditka and said to herself, "Wow. That guy is hot!" It just never happened, even at the height of his athletic career, and his fame, and his wealth.

Now don't get me wrong. I'm sure Mike has his loving, cuddly side (though, throughout his 50-year career in the public eye, no mention has ever been made of it). But the point is that when he throws a football through a swinging tire, our minds won't take it any further. The metaphor never gets extended.

I mean, who would want to? The thought of Mike Ditka climbing into the sack with some pitiful creature---well, decent people just don't think of these things, do they? There are special neurons or something in the brain that prevent that kind of thought from forming. Because we're not talking Playboy Channel here, are we? No. We're talking Animal Planet. We're talking "The Miracle of Life on the Serengeti: Large Herbivores," right? I think it's fair to say that any human being with a shred of decency would rather witness a bloody, eight-car pile-up on the Schuylkill Expressway, complete with severed heads rolling across the median strip, than spend one second visualizing Mike Ditka "making love."

Mike Ditka is the rare person who can sell dick medicine on TV without anyone ever thinking about him having sex. For a man of his singular talents, this is perhaps the most unusual.

Copyright 2004 Michael Kubacki