Real People, Not Actors: Seafood City (1970s) and Red House (ca. 2009)

It’s a popular TV ad trope now that I’ve been seeing in a Chevy commercial: “real people, not actors.” Chevy of course spends big bucks to put exquisitely appropriate real people (curated real people) on an elaborate set with the best production values. It’s almost as different as it could be from the original home of “real people”: the hokey local TV ad for a business that can’t afford to use anyone except their own employees. But the local ads are more compelling, aren’t they? There’s a proven powerful appeal in seeing on TV people you can easily see in person, especially when they shout slogans or sing jingles at what you are bound to think is not even your own skill level. When they get a little too ambitious, the humor is powerful in real-people-not-actors daring to act. It’s like watching Bottom and his scruffy company put on their “Pyramus and Thisbe” play in Midsummer Night’s Dream. We get to make wisecracks about their performance: “If we imagine no worse of them than they of themselves, they may pass for excellent men.

Thanks to Steve Jones for nominating these gloriously local Seafood City and Red House ads from New Orleans. Be sure to check out the race relations hook in the Red House ad — it should win a Not Beating Around the Bush award.

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About Steve Smith

Professor of Philosophy & Religious Studies and Director of Film Studies at Millsaps College
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