Last night Ragú debuted the above ad during NBC’s telecast of the Olympics.
We had to rewind it a few times before we actually believed what we saw.
Ragú, in case you don’t know, is a brand of spaghetti sauce. It has been the favored canned spaghetti sauce at SBM for many years, because of its low acid content (i.e. it’s sweet) and we have a sweet tooth. It has been around for years, and this ad—which caused Ragu to trend on Twitter for a little while—is remarkably hip coming from this old, trusted brand.
There is so much to love. The concept—a child is traumatized by seeing his parents engaged in some kind of sex act, until a helping of comfort food in the form of spaghetti makes everything okay—is distasteful but the execution is a perfect 10, from the great acting by the kid to the country-tinged song, which has all the warmth of a beer jingle but covers events so much more horrifying:
Parents in bed, but it’s just eight o’clock.
That’s why they taught you, you should always knock.
Give him RAGÚ because growing up’s tough.
Give him RAGÚ he’s been through enough.
As masterful as this ad is, however, after the 20th time I watched it, I realized that there is one tiny flaw. The first time I watched it I thought that the kid was so upset by what he saw that HE raced downstairs and immediately made himself a pot of spaghetti. The ritual of carby comfort food—so perceptively shown by the bubbling waterfall of Ragú and the breaking of the spaghetti as it goes in the pot—was captured so well. The idea of the kid making his own spaghetti—much as a jilted woman might head straight to the ice cream freezer, or The Beat reaches for a bowl of unagi don—left me giggling uncontrollably for several minutes.
But whoever is making the spaghetti isn’t the kid. And it isn’t the mom, either or dad, either, as neither wears the same shirt as the spaghetti cook. Perhaps the idea that mom would make dinner without washing her hands was too unsavory. The situation we’re left with, however, is that post coitus (or whatever they were doing) the whole family sat down to some heaping helpings of spaghetti and everything was fine. The child is pretending to forget, and dad is all smiles because he just got laid. The faceless mother remains an enigmatic caregiver.
But at a terrible cost.
Interestingly, the father of psychoanalysis, Sigmund Freud, believed that a child witnessing a sex act between his or her parents was one of the most pivotal moments in their emotional development. He called it the “Primal Scene.” Although several of his early, most influential patients seemed to have a primal scene in their past, Freud wasn’t sure if it had actually happened or they were just making it up but continued to look for examples of it in his future patients. As we now know, Freud’s insistence on interpreting all behavior in sexual terms left his theories dangerously underdeveloped, leaving no room for the study of how humans medicate with mac ‘n’ cheese, Rocky Road and, yes, spaghetti and meatballs. With this commercial, Ragú has finally corrected that omission.
Heidi MacDonald is the founder and editor in chief of The Beat. In the past, she worked for Disney, DC Comics, Fox and Publishers Weekly. She can be heard regularly on the More To Come Podcast. She likes coffee, cats and noble struggle.