We were reading a cheerful Bloomberg forecast about the U.S. ad industry being pummeled by recession until 2010 and noticed a banner ad for the Intel “Don’t Be That Guy” campaign. It’s a clever comparison of obnoxious colleagues with obnoxious non-Intel computers.
Problem is, the “That Guy” in the Intel ad is a woman.
We raise this not to suggest Intel is sexist but rather that the English language is still damn awkward when dealing with modern diversity. Anyone who has suffered through a college writing class or AP Stylebook knows the tangles of talking about a hypothetical individual and how he or she needs to do something. Generations of language use have bred iconic sayings, such as “Don’t Be That Guy,” but now the singular subject of course may be a woman, who isn’t a guy at all.
Humans seem to need to tag things simply; Barack Obama is termed black while he is really half African and half Caucasian. Somewhere we read a study that 20% of whites living in the United States have a recent African ancestor. Geneticists have determined that all of humanity was the offspring of a single woman, called Mitochondrial Eve, who lived in what is now Kenya, Ethiopia or Tanzania. If you do the math, today’s diverse humans are all closely related — go back 30 or so generations and you have more great-grandparents than people who lived in the world at the time, meaning we are all each other’s cousins.
Our simple terminology tags must now include multiple variables, recognizing the sensitivities of modern diversity. The unfortunate result, Guy, is ad copy that makes no sense.