Why the ‘Wayne’s World’ Super Bowl Ad Makes Me Sad
This Super Bowl Sunday, you will see the usual expensive advertising campaigns, all meant to remind you that your job during a pandemic is not to care for and protect your fellow man, but instead to consume mass quantities. There’s a Frito-Lay ad with Peyton Manning, a Tide ad with Jason Alexander, and something involving Matthew McConaughey. It is not known yet whether or not Mr. Peanut will be ritualistically sacrificed like he was last year, but we can only hope.
But I suspect the main thing fellow Gen Xers like myself will be talking about during the game’s commercials—other than the fact that there’s a global pandemic and that there’s a real chance this all ends in fire and death — will be the reunion of Wayne and Garth. Yep, Mike Myers and Dana Carvey, back together to hawk Uber Eats.
I know there was much made of this tweet this weekend:
But I might humbly argue that the length of time between now and when Wayne’s World debuted is even more disorienting. The first-ever Wayne’s World sketch, back when Mike Myers was still an unknown “featured player” on Saturday Night Live, ran on February 18, 1989, on an episode hosted by Leslie Nielsen. (Other hosts of episodes featuring Wayne’s World sketches include Mary Tyler Moore, Delta Burke, Debra Winger, and Wayne Gretzky.) The sketches ran for five years and inspired one of the best Saturday Night Live movies in 1992 and Wayne’s World 2 a year later, which wasn’t great but did feature a terrific Charlton Heston cameo. And to a certain generation — say, the sort of ironic, cheerfully silly, and goofily sardonic generation that snarked its way out of the American narrative — it was a very, very big deal. They even made a video game out of it!
(It’s basically Contra but dumber, which is to say, I have played this game for a disturbingly high percentage of the hours of my life.)
But like so, so many artifacts of Generation X — from grunge to Reality Bites to Timothy “Speed” Levitch to sneering at “selling out” to the notion that you and the people you care about might actually have a stable future that won’t end with the planet justifiably expelling our entire species from its surface— Wayne’s World has mostly vanished over the last two decades. Myers and Carvey brought the duo back for an MTV Movie Awards appearance in 2008 and two SNL cameos over the next decade, including an amusing bit on the SNL 40th anniversary show in 2015. Myers is much better known for Austin Powers at this point, and there was something a little sad, actually, about the fact that the primary appearance for Carvey—the show’s biggest star for nearly a full decade—on that 40th anniversary show was in a sketch where he was the sidekick. (Though he did pop up briefly as the Choppin’ Broccoli guy.) Wayne’s World is rarely referenced and doesn’t seem to have any obvious successors. What can you say that Wayne’s World inspired?
The ad itself has not been released — it’s a very 2021 thing that the clip above is an ad for an ad — but there is something jarring about seeing Wayne and Garth, forever young and stupid and earnest, shilling for a company as inherently shady as Uber. One of the great Wayne’s World jokes was a very Generation X one: Advertising was so inherently shameless and embarrassing that the only way to satirize it was to steer into its inherent cravenness and insincerity. The best gag in Wayne’s World is when they try to sneak as many corporate sponsors into a bit as they can, doing the joke better than 30 Rock tried for years afterward.
That irony is gone now: Wayne and Garth are in an ad for Uber Eats because, sheesh, what else would Wayne and Garth be coming back for at this point? What was once a satire of commercialism has become yet another way to package and sell nostalgia: another way to try to get your childhood to make you buy some shit. It was sweet when Wayne and Garth returned to honor the show that made them famous. Now they’re just mugging for a company of morally bankrupt union busters who have polluted our cities and can’t even figure out how not to lose billions doing so. Yet I’m as much a sucker for this ad as everybody else. Here I am, writing all about it, and still trying to figure out how in the world Carvey is five years older than Myers but looks about two decades younger.
The saddest thing about this is that it’s probably the end of the line for Wayne and Garth. The sketch wasn’t broad and eternal enough to appeal to the cross-section of people you need to have much real staying power: Wayne’s World captured a moment that no one really cares about anymore. It’s fitting, really.
And it’s another reminder that that moment was a long, long time ago. For all the talk that Wonder Years tweet generated, I found the Wayne’s World throwback even more stark. The equivalent of a Wayne’s World bit now is, essentially, the equivalent of a Super Bowl ad in 1990 featuring The Andy Griffith Show. It honestly makes you want to hurl.
Will Leitch writes multiple pieces a week for Medium. Make sure to follow him right here. He lives in Athens, Georgia, with his family, and is the author of five books, including the upcoming novel How Lucky, released by Harper next May. He also writes a free weekly newsletter that you might enjoy.