A few weeks ago on his popular Monday Morning Podcast, comedian Bill Burr went on a pretty nasty rant against alternative/indie/nerdy comedians. He had a lot of not-nice things to say about nerds and people who act like nerds, and much of his six-minute speech comes off as nothing but sour grapes and old-man whining. But at one point Burr does say something worth considering:
“I’ve had it with [nerd comedians] embracing the fact that they’re awkward to the point of pretending to be awkward even when they’re not,” Burr says.
If we ignore the part where Burr advocates nerds being beaten up (a stupid thing to even joke about), or the part where he implies going to Comic-Con is lame (WHAT?!), we should still think about this. After all, for many people, awkwardness isn’t a personality trait that’s chosen for reasons of fashion… it’s something to be overcome. Awkwardness can, in extreme cases, be completely socially crippling, and while lots of comedians can mine material from awkward situations, we laugh at stuff like that because it rings true and we wish it didn’t. But, after all, what we’re laughing at is just an act. That’s all any entertainment is. What happens when someone starts pretending to be awkward ALL THE TIME just because they think it’s cute?
Ladies and gentlemen, this is the problem with Zooey Deschanel. It’s not fair to say that I don’t like Zooey, or that she’s untalented—her music is harmless enough, and New Girl is pretty funny, although I’ve found myself losing interest the back half of this season—it’s that she tries way, way too hard to convince the world that she’s awkwardly cute, that she’s… ugh… adorkable, when this is clearly not the case. Guys, she’s tricking us all.
Now, I’m fine with this “adorkable” business when it just applies the character she plays. I’ll buy it as a fictional construction because, hey, TV is make-believe. But about a week ago I caught this gem on television:
And suddenly, Zooey’s gone too far.
I mean, is there mathematics powerful enough to measure how stupid this commercial is? In 30 seconds, we’re made to believe that the REAL Zooey Deschanel is a spacey, messy, DELIVERED-tomato-soup eating, jazzy-music-pajama-dancing indie fairy. Sure, maybe there are real people that would behave like this. But think about what we’re watching here: a commercial for one of the world’s hottest consumer products starring one of our hottest actresses… an actress who, as it turns out, has made a living off of marketing her awkwardness. Although he doesn’t mention her by name, Zooey Deschanel is exactly the kind of person Bill Burr’s talking about.
Here is the thing about the real Zooey Deschanel. She is INCREDIBLY SUCCESSFUL. She has a starring role on a very popular major-network primetime television program. She has an acclaimed film and music career under her belt. According to paperwork from her divorce filings, she makes around $95,000 A MONTH. That’s over a million dollars EVERY YEAR. You do not get to be that successful without being at least a little shrewd, which means you either A) know how to behave like a functioning human being or B) are smart enough to pay someone to act like a functioning human being on your behalf. To pretend that you’re perfectly identical to the broke, adorkable everywoman you play on Fox each week in order to sell iPhones is not only incredibly dishonest, it shows exactly the same business sense that the QUIRKY OLE SOUL Zooey pretends to be would not possess. It’s cashing in on an image, and it’s pretty gross.
To me, Zooey Deschanel’s iPhone commercial has broken her image. In her need to convince us that the real Zooey’s just like the fictional one, we can see just how marketing-savvy the real Zooey is (how much do iPhone commercials pay, I wonder?). Also, would an adorkably awkward nerd be smart enough to control their public image? No, because really awkward people don’t make themselves awkward for profit. They’re awkward because they have no choice. Maybe, once upon a time, Zooey was one of us. But now she’s not… no matter how much New Girl might make it seem otherwise.