Reading Chuck Norris

Yesterday, in our discussion, Chuck Norris surfaced a couple of times. 

Specifically, the question was, “did everyone see the irony intended in the Old Spice ad.”  Or was this, for some people, a return to the old stereotypes of masculinity?

There are 4 possibilities here (see the chart below).

  • The first, far left, is the fan who sees no irony in Chuck Norris. Norris is masterful, heroic and exemplary.  
  • The last, far right, is the fan who is hip to the joke.  He/she scorns Norris, and loves these ads because they scorn Norris too.
  • In between are people who are more or less admiring of Norris but who are also more or less hip to the joke.

It’s astounding that these ads should have this kind of range. It’s as if our culture accumulates meanings and does not shed them.  So irony comes in but admiration remains available.  

Still more remarkably, people in the middle categories are holding opposing ideas at the same time.  (Very Roger Martin.)  And that is never supposed to happen in popular culture.  

12 thoughts on “Reading Chuck Norris

  1. peter spear

    This is helpful. I find my head swimming a bit thinking through our current DEOSDQ moment. Is it a corrective or a remix? Or both? Or, perhaps, better yet, simply that brands inspire relevance by standing in the tensions that exist.

    These bits of legacy culture are a bit like the crazy uncle in the family. We can’t help but see ourselves in them and are forced to reconcile our own efforts against our experience of theirs. Some part of that uncle is you. Some part wants desperately to not be that Uncle. But oh what a life that uncle has had!

    As a corrective, Bruce Campbell wants to talk about the tentions – and he reminds me of the Stein quote “there is no there there” with his monologue about whether or not one can have “it.”

    As a remix, it is the addition of the appropriate and oddly delicate amount of absurdity – either through fantasy (dolphin guitar) or through respect (Dos Equis) – that clues us in to the tension.

    I am curious about the shift from Bruce Campbell to the Isaiah Mustafa work. What signals did they get back? That to discuss but not embody the tension fell flat? Be the uncle.

    1. Grant Post author

      Peter, “crazy uncle,” what a brilliant metaphor! Thanks! And good question, why the shift from Bruce Campbell to Mustafa. Bruce was the very model of self congratulations, but perhaps too lumpy for Bondian purposes! Thanks, Grant

  2. Rick Liebling

    This is an interesting example of the Cultural Singularity I’ve been thinking/writing about:

    “It’s as if our culture accumulates meanings and does not shed them. So irony comes in but admiration remains available.
    Still more remarkably, people in the middle categories are holding opposing ideas at the same time. (Very Roger Martin.) And that is never supposed to happen in popular culture.”

    Yes, that’s the way it *was.* Meaning was defined. Things could be serious or they could be playful. But now we live in a world where Chuck Norris can be a hero and a cartoon simultaneously. We live in a world where the Daily Show is just as credible a news source as The CBS Evening News. Everything has folded in on itself and we know long have the ability (or luxury) of putting things in neat categories.

    1. Grant Post author

      Rick, Yes, I recall your excellent work on the Cultural Singularity. Could we have a link, please! Best, Grant

  3. Myles

    I’ve always thought of irony as a way of distancing yourself from criticism.

    Then there’s always using the ironic stance without realizing the irony, which in a way is kind of ironic. Not sure what to make of Chuck Norris’ endorsement of Mike Huckabee in the last presidential campaign. You kind of get the feeling that neither one of them knew what to make of what they were doing. In a way its like Rodney Dangerfield’s cameo in Natural Born Killers, was he playing it straight or for laughs?

    Having lived through the 90’s, the knowing ironic smirk isn’t ironic anymore, it in order to be ironic today, you can’t acknowledge that you’re being ironic. It’s as if acknowledging your irony is uncool. Today’s hip signifiers demand that you play your irony straight without a knowing smirk, but by doing so you run the risk of actually looking like, or even becoming, what you are mocking in the first place.
    Chuck & Mike

  4. Bryan

    Grant, I think another character should be mentioned in this discussion along with Norris (or should I say “Norris”), the Old Spice Guy, and the Most Interesting Man — Ron Swanson as played by Nick Offerman on Parks & Recreation. Have you seen the Ron Swanson Pyramid of Greatness?

  5. Patrick Pearce

    Chuck Norris is a global phenomenon – possibly second only to Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan in his universal legendary quality. In these cases, any stereotypes are superceded by processes of mythification. In this perspective, Chuck Norris (see we can’t just say Norris) helps to explain behaviour traits or universal patterns. If a guy acts stupidly macho or perhap releases a random act of violence, his actions become justified by the existence of Chuck Norris and the fact that “good guys wear black”. We take out Ossama also because we respect the decisiveness of Jack Bauer and the virtue of efficiency in dealing with “evil”. They guys simply confirm who we are, inn all of our contradictions. No wonder we experience ambivalence in recognizing our affinities with these rogues.

  6. Patrick Pearce

    These comment windows are not allowing text wrap, making me lose sight of what I’m writing so misktakes occur…

    Also, any way to get an RSS feed of this blog again?

  7. Domen

    I find it quite viable to laugh at the oversimplified ChuckNorisian male/world,
    while at the same time feeling a bit nostalgic for the very simplicity/stability we scorn.
    I don’t see it as a choice between “laughing at” or “going there/back”,
    but rather as a way of consuming “there/back” to stay here and now.

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