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?

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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.

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