It's Gotta Be the (Washed-Up, Steroid-Abusing, Fictional Athlete's) Shoes

Slate's Culture Blog
Aug. 17 2010 4:03 PM

It's Gotta Be the (Washed-Up, Steroid-Abusing, Fictional Athlete's) Shoes

One of the funniest things about the very funny Danny McBride is the gap between how poorly his characters dress and how good they think they look. In The Foot Fist Way , there's a scene in which McBride's Fred Simmons goes out on the town in a silken, short-sleeved dress shirt with flames licking upward from its hem—a glorious eyesore he pairs with oversize denim shorts. In Pineapple Express , his character Red wears a yellow tank top, tucked into distressed baggy jeans, beneath a kimono. As Kenny Powers, on HBO's Eastbound & Down , he alternates between shapeless gym duds and filigreed Western wear .

So it's awesome but odd that K-Swiss has hired McBride to play Kenny Powers in an ad campaign for new sneakers. (The sneakers are called, with a mildly discomfiting whiff of reproductive anatomy, "Tubes.") In one sense, the pairing seems perfect: Garish and goofily "high-tech" (the soles appear to consist of hollow, spongy cylinders that compress with every step), Tubes are exactly the sort of sneaker you could see Kenny Powers rocking with buffoonish pride. In another sense, the pairing seems disastrous: Tubes are exactly the sort of sneaker you could see Kenny Powers rocking, and who wants to wear that, except maybe on Halloween?

Advertisement

It's a risky strategy on K-Swiss's part, representing as it does a rare (unprecedented?) incursion of irony into the selling of high-priced, high-concept athletic gear, which typically brooks none of the stuff. Steroid-abusing, hateful, and lazy, Kenny Powers is a piss-take on professional athletes, so it's hard for a performance-gear ad campaign that stars him to function as anything but a piss-take on performance-gear. Irony can play just fine in ads, of course, but not, it would seem, if you want people to shell out for your Grip-Maximizing, Torsion-Enhancing, developed-in-concert-with-NASA TubuflexPro4000 technology. Kenny Powers, lovably boorish, lends the sneakers something they wouldn't have otherwise: a distinct personality, or at least a strong association with one. But is it the right personality? We buy all sorts of things that come packaged in quotation marks, but the Kenny Powers Tubes campaign gambles on the existence of something difficult to get one's head around: the ironic workout routine.

Jonah Weiner is Slate's pop critic.

TODAY IN SLATE

History

Slate Plus Early Read: The Self-Made Man

The story of America’s most pliable, pernicious, irrepressible myth.

Rehtaeh Parsons Was the Most Famous Victim in Canada. Now, Journalists Can’t Even Say Her Name.

Mitt Romney May Be Weighing a 2016 Run. That Would Be a Big Mistake.

Amazing Photos From Hong Kong’s Umbrella Revolution

Transparent Is the Fall’s Only Great New Show

The XX Factor

Rehtaeh Parsons Was the Most Famous Victim in Canada

Now, journalists can't even say her name.

Doublex

Lena Dunham, the Book

More shtick than honesty in Not That Kind of Girl.

What a Juicy New Book About Diane Sawyer and Katie Couric Fails to Tell Us About the TV News Business

Does Your Child Have Sluggish Cognitive Tempo? Or Is That Just a Disorder Made Up to Scare You?

  News & Politics
History
Sept. 29 2014 11:45 PM The Self-Made Man The story of America’s most pliable, pernicious, irrepressible myth.
  Business
Moneybox
Sept. 29 2014 7:01 PM We May Never Know If Larry Ellison Flew a Fighter Jet Under the Golden Gate Bridge
  Life
Dear Prudence
Sept. 30 2014 6:00 AM Drive-By Bounty Prudie advises a woman whose boyfriend demands she flash truckers on the highway.
  Double X
Doublex
Sept. 29 2014 11:43 PM Lena Dunham, the Book More shtick than honesty in Not That Kind of Girl.
  Slate Plus
Slate Fare
Sept. 29 2014 8:45 AM Slate Isn’t Too Liberal, but … What readers said about the magazine’s bias and balance.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Sept. 29 2014 9:06 PM Paul Thomas Anderson’s Inherent Vice Looks Like a Comic Masterpiece
  Technology
Future Tense
Sept. 29 2014 11:56 PM Innovation Starvation, the Next Generation Humankind has lots of great ideas for the future. We need people to carry them out.
  Health & Science
Medical Examiner
Sept. 29 2014 11:32 PM The Daydream Disorder Is sluggish cognitive tempo a disease or disease mongering?
  Sports
Sports Nut
Sept. 28 2014 8:30 PM NFL Players Die Young. Or Maybe They Live Long Lives. Why it’s so hard to pin down the effects of football on players’ lives.