Thursday, August 25, 2016

A General Electric ad gets flack for making fun of people with disability


Commercials about a major company that make fun of people with disabilities: Really? That's what some people are saying.

The ads are part of a new campaign by General Electric that center around Sarah, an engineer, and her family's visit to her on the job. In the first one I saw her brother, Ricky, misinterprets what she says about how the company's machines communicate with each other. Here, watch:



The ads aired during the Olympics and are still being shown. The one below about robots, notes a piece in the L.A. Times, was watched more than any other commercial.



These ads have incensed some viewers, who believe Ricky has special needs. "It's obvious he's on the spectrum and this ad exploits such ignorant stereotypes," said one commenter over on ispot. "It really seems like GE is making fun of a young man with intellectual disabilities," noted a YouTube viewer.

Ricky may exhibit some traits typical of autism—he takes things literally, he attributes feelings to inanimate objects—but I don't think GE was purposefully mocking anyone with special needs. What's for sure, though, is that a person who thinks and acts differently is being used as comedic material. And that's such an old-school way to engage the masses.

Commercials like these do us all a disservice, because they promote intolerance—witness the parents' exasperation, the sister's forced patience with her brother. Sure, you could say it's just a commercial but it was seen by countless millions, and it's yet another dig at being different. People with disability already have many societal challenges to overcome. Commercials like these further encourage the misunderstanding that anyone not smack in the middle of the spectrum of normal is laughable.



I'm sure there are people who found these ads amusing. As the parent of a different thinker, I wasn't one of them. The commercials would have been far more compelling if Ricky turned out to be smarter than 'em all.

Image: Screen grab/Building Advanced, Robot-Like Machines

39 comments:

  1. This is so interesting you say this because as I watched these ads I found myself thinking "Does he have autism?"

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    1. I saw the commercial several times.I thought he was just being a pest and trying to get under her kin. I didn't even realize he was her brother.So.....I him being on the spectrum never crossed my mind. Wonder if we all are justlooking for issues that are really not there....

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    2. Totally agree with you, Debbie. I wouldn't have "gone there" without it being pointed out and even after looking for it, I still thought he was intentionally being a pain and not portraying someone on the spectrum. As a parent of a child with severe cognitive and physical disabilities, I am begging people to please lighten up just a little.

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    3. Not sure what this kid's deal was. He seemed to be himself, not trying to annoy his family. No matter what, I thought it wasn't cool to make someone who thinks differently the butt of a joke. There are a whole lot of other truly funny scenarios the ad people could have cooked up.

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    4. Wait they were related?

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    5. Yep, the scenario is a mom, father and son go to visit the daughter who works at a GE factory.

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    6. I am far from being a politically correct person. Yet when I watched this series of ads I said to myself that they are making fun of this guy who is obviously challenged. Now, It is not so much that I had a problem with it as much as I could not believe no one else was thinking this and complaining about it. So with all of that in mind the GE marketing company was definitely making fun of someone who is challenged. If Trump did it he would be persecuted Just saying...

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  2. There's the stereotype of highly intelligent people being pretentious blowhards that's also prevalent in these GE commercials. Ricky seemed clueless for the most part. The parents, whom I presume to be of average intelligence, are portrayed as dull and lacking dimension.

    I don't think any intellectual group was represented well.

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  3. I did not think he was disabled just being funney

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  4. I had never see it until now and I have a child with autism and I am not offended at all...I actually don't even see a link to making fun of disabilities. I think we have to be careful to not be overly sensitive and look more into things than are really there. Way to much PC in this world...

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    1. Totally agree! I have a son with severe autism and think the ad is sensitive, respectful, educational and funny!!

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    2. I look at it as How does this ad benefit a person in our society with Autism? Is there a huge GE donation to helping people with Autism? Is there an educational component so people can understand Autism learn to be tolerant or even helpful to those people with Autism and their families? Is Ricky actually autistic and those a working actor with Autism - that would cool. So how does it help??? And would it also be an "effective commercial" if Ricky suffered from Down Syndrome, or Leukemia, etc.?

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  5. I didn't think it was offensive either, and I don't think he came across as someone with a disability. He struck me as the male version of a "dumb blonde." If a cute blonde with a ponytail had said the same things, I don't think anyone would have thought she had a disability. I thought he was just a pesky brother.

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    1. I agree. To be honest, the daughter's character was the unsettling one. I hardly see any intelligent people who are more than their talents in media.

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  6. I have seen this commercial a bunch of times and definitely got the impression that the brother was "on the spectrum." But I am not sure he was being made fun of, anymore than the parents or sister were being made fun of. In a way it seemed to me that it was normalizing a quirky kid.

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  7. This is how many GE ads are. There's one with "Owen" and his co workers. A guy who is in new way portrayed as on the spectrum asks the same sort of clueless questions,as the brother here. You've read far too much into this.

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    1. If you read this post, you'd see that I didn't say I thought this boy was on the spectrum. Who knows? I said I didn't appreciate GE centering a commercial around someone who thinks and acts differently. I just don't find that amusing.

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  8. Nachos and karate do go together, Ricky!

    Another ad which made me think was the Awkward Rob Lowe series from a few years ago.

    And what if the machines talked to Ricky at night?

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  9. I find myself having a crush on guy crush on Ricky. I bet he'd be totally adorable to hang out with and cuddle up to.

    These commercials do seem like they are making him the butt of a joke - like he could never possibly work at big, elite GE.

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    1. Yes, and the daughter and sister overstated her part at GE when she says she built a machine. She should be more humble and accurate to state that she works as part of a large team of digi-industrials. Her brother's thoughtful responses show that he's trying to understand complex explanations, and parents and sister act embarrassed and disapproving.

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  10. Ricky either has Asperger's Syndrome or he is retarded. He propably gets tortured in high school. And, like Owen or Marvin in the Optimum commercial (another character portrayed as on the spectrum), he will never have a girlfriend or family. Which, is probably a good thing, as people like this will not pass on their flawed genetics. And, with advances in genetic screening, we will be able to select against these kinds of people. Just think about it, no one to make fun of or ostracized in high school anymore. Everyone will be as pretty and smart as Ricky's sister Sarah. A master race of beautiful people! Then, the only issue we will have to solve, is at what age people are considered too old and useless. We can decide who to allow to enter the world and when they should exit. Is this where we are headed? And we think the Nazi's were evil? Bye the way, do you think I read too much into the GE commercial? Do you think the GE commercial is a subliminal message from the corporate media alite? Let me know what you think? Watch James Cordon on the Late Late Show on CBS!!!!!

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  11. they are either making fun of somebody with disability ... or it is the typical lazy commercial that wants to portray the female as smart and the male as a dumb slacker

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  12. I work with these type kids and I find this commercial very offensive. I will be contacting GE about this commercial. And I will not use or buy their products until they remove this commercial.

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  13. I'very taught many students who were
    like Ricky...the students all were
    extremely protective...the message
    is mixed, unclear and awkward!

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  14. It's obvious to me that the kid brother in this commercial (Ricky) is on the spectrum, and the ad got me so upset that I googled it and found this blog. Evidently, I'm not alone in this interpretation. Thanks for writing what I felt on viewing the ad.

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  15. I have a child under the autism spectrum, and this add breeds intolerance! I hope GE stops these commercials now!

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  16. Glad that other people are seeing those ads as something other than funny. Not only is there the humor-at-the-expense of a disabled person thing, but it's to the point of being mean. I don't associate a great feeling with the GE products/personnel practices they are marketing there because of it.

    GE's other ads in this same marketing program - the same woman making fun of her partner in the kitchen, making enemies on the bus to work, just one of the worst ad campaigns I've ever seen.

    A whole lot of missed opportunities there.

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  17. I thought maybe he was a stoner.

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  18. I thought of him as more of some slacker kid. Special needs never crossed my mind.

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  19. I'm a retired teacher who worked with hundreds of elementary school aged kids for over 43 years. To me, this ad portrays Ricky - a challenged learner - very poorly. What can we do to get GE to remove this ad?

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    1. I agree. Also a retired teacher.

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  20. I find these commercials odd and interesting. I wondered if Ricky might be on the spectrum, but I'm not sure i feel he's being mocked.
    I have a worked with some children like Ricky as a Teaching Artist, have a cousin with a mental illness and watched my grandfather struggling with alzheimers.
    The connection among those is that sometimes people in these situations say strange and occasionally humorous things. And it's ok to acknowledge that. What's weird to me is the sister's awkwardness.
    If her response was more lighthearted, I don't think it'd feel weird.

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  21. I am a retired teacher and this commercial immediately triggered "autism". Please take this insensitive commercial off the air.

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  22. These ads are shameful. My son has autism but even if he did not I wonder why your company is compelled to focus on someone's differences in this negative way. Is this how you promote GE?

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  23. I agree this is an inappropriate ad. I would like to think GE wanted to be inclusive, without intent to make fun of people within the autistic spectrum but it appears to be poking fun of them. My grandson is autistic, I feel he is being disrespected.

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  24. Very offensive. Now put a 5 yr old that would be enlightened by her, that would be great!

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  25. I found the commercial offensive and wondered if I were the only one. I don't understand how anyone found this funny.

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Thanks for sharing!



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