Once upon a time you had to be not just respectable but downright admirable to be a paid endorser of a commercial product. By attaching itself to a positive role model the advertiser enhanced its image to the public.
It speaks volumes about the decrepit state of our popular culture that this rule of thumb has now been turned upside down. Our advertisers are willfully seeking out some of society's greatest degenerates to serve as their spokesmen. Apparently this is what the public wants.
A few years ago a national survey asked young teens to name their role models. Not one percent named their own parents, nor their teachers, nor their ministers. But two of three cited celebrities.
So who do companies find to be appropriate role models whose public personae they wish attached to themselves?
Exhibit A is the egregious Dennis Rodman, whose self-transformation into a world-class oddball is well documented. On the basketball court - when he bothers to show up - he's a talented athlete. He's also one of the dirtiest players in history. Off the court he's deliberately sewer-mouthed during television interviews while dressing in drag and doing everything he can to offend. In an adulatory 1995 Sports Illustrated profile, he was described as "wearing a shiny tank top, metallic hot pants and a rhinestone dog collar." Among the boffo comments from Rodman in the story was, "I visualize being with another man. Everybody visualizes being gay."
You'd think this article might have tarnished Rodman's image.
No such luck. The next year, the burger chain Carl's Jr. made the gay-sex-visualizing Rodman its pitchman. In 1997, after Dennis the Menace viciously kicked a courtside photographer during a game, the chain pulled the ads, resumed airing them, then pulled them again later that year after Rodman slurred the Mormons when his team was playing the Utah Jazz in the NBA finals.
The Carl's spots returned yet again in 1999 when Rodman became a Los Angeles Laker, then were withdrawn after the team cut him for, imagine that, erratic behavior. If Rodman returns to the NBA, will Carl's once more embrace him? Why not?
We move to Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Randy Moss. A talented athlete? Sure. But what kind of a person is he?
This we know: In high school, a friend of Moss believed a white student named Johnson had written something racially abusive on a desk. After his friend knocked Johnson to the floor, Moss kicked Johnson several times. According to one account, "Johnson was hospitalized with a lacerated spleen, a concussion, blood around his kidneys and fluid around his liver." The next year, the same story said, Moss fought with his ex-girlfriend, leaving her with "abrasions around her neck and minor cuts and bruises on her arm."
Moss is now featured in a Nike ad.
There's Latrell Sprewell, who as a member of the Golden State Warriors twice physically attacked his coach. Sprewell was traded to the New York Knicks and signed to appear in a 1999 advertisement for the up-and-coming athletic-shoe manufacturer And 1. The company makes no bones as to why it hired him. Sprewell's message in the ad: "I've made mistakes, but I don't let them keep me down. People say I'm what's wrong with sports. I say I'm a three-time NBA all-star. People say I'm America's worst nightmare. I say I'm the American dream."
And there's O.J. Simpson, hired as a pitchman for an L.A. law firm after murdering his wife.
The most recent addition to this sponsor Chamber of Horrors is none other than Monica Lewinsky. Unlike Rodman, Moss, and Sprewell, Monica has no notable professional skills. She's known for one thing and one thing only: performing fellatio on the president. "That woman" became the centerpiece of a scandal that almost put the country into constitutional chaos.
Some bona fide, that. But hey! She lost several layers of fat on the Jenny Craig diet, so the company made her its spokeswoman.
Then again, it would be inconsistent for Ms. Craig to object to Monica's past. The New York Post reports that after Jenny went to work for gym owner Sid Craig, "as the [business] grew, so did their relationship. After the two divorced their respective spouses, they married." Maybe Monica fits the corporate image after all.
This week yet another sports superstar made news. Baltimore Ravens Pro Bowl linebacker Ray Lewis was arrested and charged in a double homicide. He could face the death penalty if convicted.
It might also get him a corporate endorsement deal, too.