Friday, October 23, 2015

A weird, sad, true story about me and the Old Spice guy

For very personal reasons, the Old Spice ads make me feel sad.

Not an actual Nazi.
The actor in the goofy, over-the-top Old Spice ads is Isaiah Mustafa. That name is branded into my memory for the weirdest, saddest reason ever. You see, a few years ago, I was a regular member of an online movie discussion forum where that actor's brother was also a frequent participant, much more active than I was. He was very proud of his brother's career and would occasionally post updates about what Isaiah was up to. All very nice and positive stuff. No problem there. Unfortunately, one day there was a thread on the forum about the use of terms like "grammar nazi" and whether they were offensive and should be avoided or banned. I argued that history was full of infamous, real-life people whose names eventually became figures of speech. I cited, I believe, Attila the Hun as an example. As events recede further into the past, I argued, they become more and more abstract, so it is inevitable that they will take on symbolic meaning. A character like the "Soup Nazi" on Seinfeld is not intended as a literal member of the National Socialist Party, and there is no implication of antisemitism in his portrayal. The epithet merely means that he is very focused on rules, neatness, and absolute control. Banning terms like "grammar nazi," then, is ultimately futile. It's just how language works. Eventually, the "n'" in "Nazi" will be lower case. I still feel that way. You may not.

One person who definitely disagreed with me on this point was the Old Spice guy's brother. He accused me of being, in essence, a Nazi sympathizer or Nazi enabler, if not an actual Nazi myself. It was, unequivocally, the nastiest thing anyone has ever said about me, online or offline, in my entire life. (And I was once a customer service rep for a major automobile manufacturer, so I've been called plenty of nasty names.) I was shell-shocked. At the time, I still felt that online forums actually mattered, so I responded to this attack with a lengthy, heated post in which I accused the Old Spice guy's brother of being blinkered and dogmatic to the point of being unreasonable. I refrained from implicating him in the deaths of 6 million  Jews, however, a kindness he did not extend to me. I don't believe the dust-up between us ever came to any sort of agreement or peace accord. We both just kind of gave up on it and never directly interacted again on that now-dormant forum. To this day, I cannot sit through the Old Spice ads without feeling an awful mixture of embarrassment, anger, shame, and regret.

And that's my story about the Old Spice guy.