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Tim Wilson: Snowman Shocker, sexism, and the Jew 'fro

opinion Tim Wilson

Published: 9:41AM Friday March 16, 2012 Source: Tim Wilson

Think of the internet as a giant Savannah on which herds of stupidity and intelligence roam in unequal numbers. There are few barriers to entry.

A good idea can cause a stampede. What's a good idea? Well, you've seen dancing cats, and - last week on the segment - swimming piglets, that's pretty much Distraction 101. A really good idea? Dressing up as something quaint, and then scaring the living daylights out of the unsuspecting.

Jay Lichtenberger of New England had just such a notion with the Scary Snowman series on Youtube. It's a snowman with a frightening face that jumps at passersby while a hidden camera captures their screams , twitches, and in some cases curses. Note the difference in gender responses. Men especially HATE being scared.

Women seem - if not to enjoy the experience - more comfortable with expressing public horror. We, as viewers, love watching both twitch.

It's like being in a horror movie and - rather than the victims of a gore-drenched Jason, or Chucky - relishing the audience's discomfort as it freaks out. This is a somewhat unsavoury pleasure. File under Schadenfreude.

A similar - but not the same - effect lies behind the Guinness ad for Saint Patrick's Day . It's a droll summary of the ovine instincts of the middle-class English male.

If this advert featured women, it might not be considered so amusing. The ad itself is comfortable and cliched. Men are like sheep. They like to lounge around on couches, eat Indian food, and look at women dancing. No new ground is broken once the concept of them being herded like sheep is established.

I wonder why it's funny. In the US, the only group it's acceptable to express disdain for - publicly - are white Southern males.

What's the equivalent in NZ? Westies, perhaps. But when everyone laughs, the doves cry.

The best moments on telly are the unexpected events that aren't grotesque. The internet is the same, I suppose.

Seeing people jump in New England - after a snowman moves - is distracting, seeing people die in Syria quickly becomes uncomfortable.

Let's end on a softer note. You've heard of the Afro, a giant halo of hair sported by African Americans in the late 60s and early 70s, often to signify political intent? The Jew 'fro has the same aesthetic effect (height, density) without the political overtones.

The best exponent of the Jew 'fro is a US comedian who's appropriately named Carrot Top; I'm not convinced he's even Jewish. A Jew 'fro doesn't say 'Burn Baby Burn'. But it's exotic, a signifier of difference, and - unlike the Guinness advert- doesn't rely on slothful stereotypes (I'm not against lazy stereotypes, btw). What do Jews carry in their Jew 'fros? Watch, and wonder.