What’s on? (giving TV the Talmudic treatment)

Verizon fios ad Pam and I amuse ourselves while watching TV by spotting small details and supplying the attribution.  It's an innocent connoisseurship and quite good fun on these dark wintery nights.

Pam is aces when it comes to identifying the person supplying the voice-over on ads.  She only needs a few syllables before she is taunting me with "who is that?  Oh that's easy."  I am obliged to say, "Um, is it, no, er, don't tell me, ok, I have no idea."  

And then I am given an idea.  Rather more triiumphantly than I would like: James Earl Jones! Gary Sinese!  Kieffer Sutherland!   Sally Kellerman!  I may not be very good at this but I do have my preferences.  I think Gene Hackman is just about perfect as the voice-over for Home Depot Loews, anyone for that matter.  And I think Richard Thomas (John-Boy in The Waltons) is spectacularly wrong for Mercedes (or, yes, anyone, really).   

My strength, if I can be said to have a strength, is spotting obscure precedents.  So I can tell you that the guy in the Verizon Fios TV ads who says, "We have some good stuff also," is using a style of speech that appears in the John Cusak movie High Fidelity.  (There are two assistants in the record store.  The bald one speaks like this.  It's kind of Martian, which is why I remembered it. But now I suspect it is not idiosyncratic after all.  Curious.  Where could it come from?  A small town in California?  Clearly, a thorough going anthropology is called for.   Unleash the hounds!)

Last week, I covered myself in glory, as I put it I think rather too loudly, by noting that the teenage girl who appeared as Oprah Winfrey's doppleganger in 30 Rock last week first appeared as the kid who asks interesting questions of Patricia Clarkson in The Station Agent. ("Who is she?  Oh, this is easy!")

One of the pleasures, one of the marks, of consuming popular culture is of course that we are better at it.  I think we were probably pretty good at it even in the 1950s, in the era of the "boobtube."  But now that popular is no longer a "guilty pleasure," now that it is frankly no longer popular culture but just culture, we are prepared to talk more openly about the pleasure we draw from seeing behind the scenes in this way and supplying our own exigetical expertise.


Thank you James Kirk.  

7 thoughts on “What’s on? (giving TV the Talmudic treatment)

  1. James D Kirk

    Recently subscribed to your blog, and am working my way through your “How to be an Anthropologist for hire” (mostly just to learn more about what anthropology truly is.)

    Anyhow, so glad to know that I’m not the only one out there that actually stops and listens to the voice over talent for commercials. Well, when I actually watch them; thank goodness for DVR technology.

    Oh, and I hate to burst your bubble, but Gene Hackman does the voice over work for Lowes, instead of Home Depot. Right category, though!

  2. Alexandre

    interesting approach. Do you enjoy television in the sameway now as you did, say, fifteen years ago?
    Seems to me, television is so passive that we find ways to make it active. Like playing games.
    Not completely new but the reflex is more automatic.

  3. peter spear

    a great catch on gene hackman. for anyone doubting the value of long-term advertising presence, take note. this is a prime example of a brand’s ownership of a category’s imagery and sense of purpose that even the competitive advertising gets attributed to them. it’s good to be the leader of a category, to be sure.

  4. Rick Liebling


    Interesting choice of accompanying visual as I love to play the (somewhat easier) what other commercial was that guy in. The guy above was also the Pilgrim in the Guinness Prop 3-17 ad from around St. Pat’s Day earlier this year. He was brilliant in the Guinness ad and I think he’s really good in the Verizon ad as well. A gifted commercial actor, or a guy on his way up in Hollywood? He would be fantastic as a sidekick for Seth Rogan.

    Full disclosure – Guinness is a client.

  5. Anthrodiva

    Watching Rehab:Party at the Hard Rock last night, one of the cabana servers kept introducing herself as “Julia Gulia” – reference from the Wedding Singer.

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