GEICO’s Cavemen – Neandertal Prejudice or Comedy?

Posted by: Loren Coleman on May 16th, 2007

What would happen if a small relict band of Neandertals (Homo neanderthalensis) was discovered? What if they learned to speak some language known to modern humans (Homo sapiens) and tried to integrate into our society?

Geico Caveman

For hominologists, such questions have been pondered for years, due to the fact that many of us have considered it a real possibility that Neandertals are behind reports of nuk-luk, Bushman, wudewasa (Eurasia’s Woodpeople) and other unknown hairy hominid sightings and encounters. (See The Field Guide of Bigfoot and Other Mystery Primates, specifically on “Neandertaloids,” pages 13, 23-26, 52-53, 90-91, 118-119, and 170.)

The issue has been brought to the fore, since 2005, with the running of the American auto insurance company GEICO ads on “Cavemen.” The notion behind the televised commercials is that an advertising agency has created a series of ads about car insurance with the tagline, “So easy a Caveman can do it.” Unknown to the ad agency, “Cavemen,” which are Neandertals, are still around, and are greatly offended by the ad campaign.

The commercials – several of them shown directly below in a 2.5 minute YouTube collection – have become very successful, due to how funny they are (unless you are a Neandertal).

Seeing the success of these ads, the ABC Network, which is in a multiyear ratings slump, has taken a bold move in one of their new approved series. In addition to giving the greenlight to sure hits like “Cashmere Mafia” (from the writer who wrote “Sex in the City” and steered by “Break Up” director Peyton Reed), comes a prehistoric surprise.

ABC’s 2007 Fall television schedule is listing the new comedy “Cavemen,” adapted from the GEICO commercials as an offbeat commentary on ethnic prejudice from the perspective of three 30-something-year-old Neandertals living in the modern world…of Atlanta.

Atlanta?

Okay, it might be funny on television now, but won’t GEICO and ABC be very upset when in the real world, let’s project, some modern Russians, Mongolians or North Americans finally discover a group of relict Homo neanderthalensis survivors!?

They’ve been warned.

Wait until those floodgates open.

Geico Caveman

(Footnote: I follow the stylistic and spelling movement occurring within anthropology, begun in Germany, the USA and elsewhere, but not in the UK, to replace “Neanderthal” with “Neandertal.” The word “Neanderthal” is an old German word for “Neander” (a specific river’s name) + “thal” (valley), used to acknowledge where the first fossils of these hominids were found and described. The Germans did a revision of their spellings in 1904, so today “Neandertal” is preferred. Nevertheless, because of the historical scientific naming of these fossil hominids before the change to modern spelling, the Latin name Homo neanderthalensis retains the “h.” But as anthropologist John Hawks says in his “Neandertal vs Neanderthal” blog: “Never forget: all the cool kids write it with a ‘T'”.

Also, I am in the “species school” regarding Neandertals as Homo neanderthalensis versus the “subspecies camp” that still views these fossils as Homo sapiens neanderthalensis.)

Loren Coleman About Loren Coleman
Loren Coleman is one of the world’s leading cryptozoologists, some say “the” leading living cryptozoologist. Certainly, he is acknowledged as the current living American researcher and writer who has most popularized cryptozoology in the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Starting his fieldwork and investigations in 1960, after traveling and trekking extensively in pursuit of cryptozoological mysteries, Coleman began writing to share his experiences in 1969. An honorary member of Ivan T. Sanderson’s Society for the Investigation of the Unexplained in the 1970s, Coleman has been bestowed with similar honorary memberships of the North Idaho College Cryptozoology Club in 1983, and in subsequent years, that of the British Columbia Scientific Cryptozoology Club, CryptoSafari International, and other international organizations. He was also a Life Member and Benefactor of the International Society of Cryptozoology (now-defunct). Loren Coleman’s daily blog, as a member of the Cryptomundo Team, served as an ongoing avenue of communication for the ever-growing body of cryptozoo news from 2005 through 2013. He returned as an infrequent contributor beginning Halloween week of 2015. Coleman is the founder in 2003, and current director of the International Cryptozoology Museum in Portland, Maine.


40 Responses to “GEICO’s Cavemen – Neandertal Prejudice or Comedy?”

  1. daledrinnon responds:

    The spelling is a moot point. The same sound is in “Beethoven”, still spelled with a “th”. When you start changing the spelling of “Beethoven” in all the books, you will have a legitimate argument about spelling reform.

    “Th” is not only one sound, it represents several different sounds. One of these is called the hard t, and has nothing to do with the other sounds linguists represent as th and dh.

  2. daledrinnon responds:

    Oh and another interesting point is the “species school” mention: I also subscribe to the species school as you have stated it. But what the Geico ads are showing are not speciated Neanderfellers but “Archaic Homo sapiens”. This does make some considerable difference in the visual presentation. If you are going so far as saying that neanderthalensis is speciated from heidelbergensis rather than representing arbitrary chronospecies of the same lineage, then the “Archaic Homo sapiens” parallel to heidelbergensis is an unnamed species. The older literature referred to these as “Presapiens”, which actually could be a useful term.Some of the “Presapiens” skulls look to be premature early-sapiens intruders from Africa, however, and some of these even precede the classic Neanderfellers in Europe.

  3. robin_bellamy responds:

    I think this show will offend because it’s ludicrous, not because there are still remnants! I give it three weeks before cancellation…

    But then there are still an inoridnate amount of ridiculous “ghost hunter” shows that are still around.

  4. elsanto responds:

    As TV, I really don’t know… it would take some slick writing to pull off… no one less than Joss Whedon, perhaps. All told, I have to agree with robin_bellamy. The commercials themselves, however, are a very clever take on racism, and a subtle satire of contemporary TV conventions, so kudos to the house that produced them.

    Just my two cents.

  5. jayman responds:

    I’d predict it’ll either flop immediately or be a big hit… it may be just quirky enough to succeed. The best science fiction always is about social commentary.
    Personally, I think the fact that H. sapiens outlasted H. neanderthalensis says nothing about the latter being “inferior” to the former.

  6. jayman responds:

    BTW, I feel the commercials are more a comment on sexism than racism. Commercials have long used women to suggest ease of use.

  7. UKCryptid responds:

    Though I completely agree with the point madeI do feel the damage would have already been done with the numerous movies which don’t exactly depict our cousins in the nicest of lights.

  8. mystery_man responds:

    This is not the first time TV has made light of them. Anyone here remember the “Caveman Lawyer” on Saturday Night Live? Personally, I think it’s kind of funny, but I wouldn’t want to offend any Neandertals that might be out there. On a serious note, I don’t think they would necessarily jump at the chance to integrate into our society even if society was ready to accept them. There are a lot of primitive “stone age” tribes that have been discovered and they are not jumping to become part of the modern world or learn our languages. I think they may just want to be left alone.

  9. peterbernard responds:

    Geico needs to stop trying to fool us! That “caveman” is a human in makeup! As long as they keep perpetuating these hoaxes, how can we seriously study footage of REAL cavemen? Curse you, Geico hoaxers!

  10. Mnynames responds:

    I think the ads are pretty funny too. My wife hates the look of the cavemen, but I think they’re pretty cool, especially the “main one”, for lack of a better term, who I believe is depicted in the first pic above.

    Unless it’s well-written, it’ll probably fail, which is a pity, since it’s such a promising concept. Then again, if written very well, like say “Alien Nation” was back in the 1990’s, it’ll still get cancelled despite great appeal and acclaim, because it’ll be too intellectual for studio execs to figure out.

    In my view, anything that offers satirical commentary on racism is a good thing, because the concept itself is so sad that it’s funny. Think about it- “I hate you because of the colour of your skin?” Pretty sad. “Well, I suppose I could tan, would that help?” Pretty funny. Prejudice has power, but one of the surest ways to remove that power is through honesty and mockery. Let’s hope this one proves worthwhile…

  11. Bob Michaels responds:

    Neanderthals are still with us, their genetic material can be observed, look carefully at the many diverse people living in the US, some are quite brutish, with superorbitial ridges, prognathous jaws, they never really died out they were absorbed into the Homo Sapiens lineage. Some are even running for President, I think the TV series will be a Home Run.

  12. gridbug responds:

    The forthcoming Geico caveman series does not feature the actors from the commercials. My guess is that that would make too much sense.

    Projection: series will tank. Hard.

    Suggestion: Boggy Creek – The Series! 🙂

  13. James Paige responds:

    Bob Michaels: I see your racist joke, and I do NOT think it is funny.

    Yes, if a relict population of Neandertals tried to integrate into our society, they would face terrible prejudice. Just look at how much prejudice people still hold against one another.

  14. dogu4 responds:

    What if? They already live among us. The moral majority (they suck at math and science) and I just saw 10 of ’em on TV running for president. Quiet! I think I heard one trying to make sense. Shhhh.

  15. Tengu responds:

    This is ridiculous, Neanderthals would not live in Atlanta, as a cold adapted lifeform they would be more happy in Anchorage

    (Or, explain to a GB citizen here, is Atlanta nice and cold???)

    And (according to a recent documentary on GB TV) Anchorage is teeming with big game

    (And, come to think of it, what would a Neanderthal be doing in the new world anyway??)

  16. MrInspector responds:

    “They’re not ‘cavemen,’ Arthur.”-F. Prefect

  17. Judy Green responds:

    Actually, I would prefer a program starring the Geico Gecko, he is my favorite. But, having said that, I really can’t see where the Neanderthal ads are offensive in any way. I guess you can find prejudice anytime, anywhere if you look hard enough. To me, they are a lesson learned, sometimes people aren’t what they seem or what we think they are. I will give the new show a look, I do wish they would have used the main character in the Geico ads as his makeup is very well done methinks.

  18. valst responds:

    I enjoy the “cave man” commercials you’ve referenced myself, though I prefer the gecko. You need not worry much about offending Neanderthal, however because like “military intelligence”, no-iron pants and “faeries” (I prefer the old French/old English spellings), they exist only in the minds of men.

    To be sure some scientists, like layman, still believe in the caveman as drawn and wholly created by artists who graduated from the (“Draw this dog, you may have artistic talent”!) school of arts, but those who read the current literature know that in reality Neanderthal as caveman has been fading faster than Randy Johnson’s fastball.

    To wit:

    According to Prof Henneberg of the University of Adelaide, a world authority on fossil human anatomy in the Journal of Comparative Human Biology “All hominims appear to be a single gradually evolving lineage containing only one species at each point in time.”

    Next:

    That was in 2006. Also in 2006, more grudging admissions were made in Nature, in an article entitled: Are We All Neanderthals?
    “Their very name has become a byword for all that is brutish, stupid and crude. In the popular imagination, these were the violent, shambling, grunting apemen of legend. If you accuse someone of being a Neanderthal, you are not paying them a compliment.
    But Neanderthal Man, who represented one of the oddest and most mysterious chapters in the history of humanity, has been undergoing something of a makeover in recent years.

    We now know that these extinct cousins were not the brutes of legend but a sophisticated and intelligent species, capable of creating fire, fashioning delicate tools, burying their dead and perhaps even making music.”

    The article went on to suggest that “modern Europeans” were up to 5% Neanderthal!

    Finally:

    Although much of the world slept through the announcement, Neanderthal/caveman officially died in November 2006 when German and U.S. scientists completed the DNA analysis of an actual “38,000 year old Neanderthal” individual. The results of that analysis, (which everyone should know about because; how often do scientists get to sequence “caveman” DNA?) revealed the following:

    “….analysis of DNA from a 38,000-year-old bone has revealed Neanderthal and human DNA is actually up to 99.9 per cent identical.”

    Of course, that number needs to be put into context so here goes: each Cryptomundo reader’s DNA is 99.9% identical to every other Cryptomundo reader!

    Again, as quoted from a lecture by Eric Lanser, Ph D; (easily verified elsewhere) “Any two humans on earth are 99.9 percent identical in their DNA sequences”.

    If everyone admitted what they will eventually have to—that there is not and never was such a thing as a “caveman”, I would not be going through this existential meltdown, right now.

  19. UKCryptid responds:

    I also agree that a certain joke up there was completely uncalled for and isn’t worthy of the title ‘joke’.

    Anyway, one thing I’ve often wondered if our tall friends are still around, I dare say they’d have some kind of language. How would someone go about learning/translating this? It’s always fascinated me that cultures can be found and suddenly some nerd can speak their language, lol. Anyone know the process?

  20. Bob Michaels responds:

    James Paige you are Nuts. That is absolutely not a racist remark, lighten up Al.

  21. James Paige responds:

    Bob Michaels: Okay. I am pleased to learn that I was mistaken.

  22. fuzzy responds:

    I love Mnynames’s comment, “…it’ll still get cancelled despite great appeal and acclaim, because it’ll be too intellectual for studio execs to figure out.”

    Most of the intelligent shows die young – I’m still grousing over the cancellation of “My World And Welcome To It”, a wonderful TV comedy series from waaay back, based on the writings of James Thurber.

    But there were many others…

  23. BugMO responds:

    I have always wonder what would happen if modern man would run into his supposedly extinct cousin. I don’t mean as in a sighting, but in some type of event that would finally prove their existence. Would we treat them the same as us? Would they treat us the same as them treat themselves? Would we give them rights and freedoms? Or would we catch them and lock them up in a zoo to study them? How would the world react?

  24. cenoxo responds:

    If the TV show is successful, I can’t wait to see tasteful spinoff marketing campaigns, like U.S. Army — So Easy a Caveman Can Do It.

    (Aimed at high school students, I imagine.)

  25. Bob Michaels responds:

    Look at it this way, if a male CroMagnon came upon a good looking Neanderthal Woman, don’t you think they would mate? It’s an example of Natural Law.

  26. cenoxo responds:

    ..or the Wrangler Basic Cut jeans ads, One, Two, and Three (click images for large desktop-suitable versions).

  27. captiannemo responds:

    Neandertal…thats us!…in evolutionary terms and I don’t think they watch television,I was in town paying my cable bill and didn’t see any of them in line.But then they might have rabbit ears or just an antenna.Hmm no monthly bill! they are smarter!

  28. sschaper responds:

    I’m in the race school, not the subspecies or species school, for the reasons others have mentioned above.

    Dunno how the show will be. Hopefully it will remove the prejudices. OTOH, the prosthetics make them look a little more archaic than Neandertalers.

    There was a novel _The Silk Code_ by Paul Levinson, that examined the situation with a more modern view of Neandertalers. Not a bad read, either. IT has some crypto connections, too, at least in covering some of the same Eurasian geography and reports.

  29. Lee Pierce responds:

    The cavemen in the commercials aren’t real!?!? Next thing they will say is that the precious little Gecko isn’t English.

  30. kamoeba responds:

    As long as they leave that lame Aflac duck out of it, I’m cool.

  31. MattBille responds:

    I, for one, would love an episode where our cavemen catch a duck and a gecko wandering in the neghborhood and catch them for the barbecue.

    It’s a one-joke show, which only works if it has an unusual talent level (as Mork and Mindy did with Robin Williams.)

    Real Neanderthals? Someone whould hijack them for a reality show.

  32. EdwardHowland responds:

    Tsk Tsk! We ought not to ridicule the Clan like this.

  33. Mnynames responds:

    Sorry Lee Pierce, but he’s a day gecko, native to Madagascar and surrounding Indian Ocean Islands, although one species is known from South Africa.

    Of course, they are popular pets, so he could be an emigrant to the UK…

    As for my joke being off-colour (No pun intended), my point was to provide an example of how mockery can highlight the preposterousness of prejudice itself, and was certainly not meant to propagate it in any way. The emperor has power until you point out that he has no clothes…

    I would hope that if any Neanderthals (Count me in the Beethoven camp on that one) are discovered, they will be accorded all of the rights we would expect of fellow human beings. Heck, I’m for giving Chimpanzees, Gorillas, and Orangutans limited rights in order to protect them better. Of course, there are tribes of humans in South America whose only contact with the outside world consists of being shot at by miners, squatters, and slash-and-burn farmers, so I don’t hold out too much hope for any newfound Hominins, let alone our “bush meat” brothers…

  34. kittenz responds:

    I think the ads are very funny, especially the interactive Caveman’s Crib online, but I don’t think that the TV show will be as funny. The people who produce and write the show will have to work really hard to come up with fresh, new, FUNNY ideas every week. I give it about a month before it tanks. I’ll watch it though, just in case I’m wrong, because in the right hands it really could be a fun show.

  35. fuzzy responds:

    Su-u-u-re it could.

  36. Jason P. responds:

    Fuzzy, you said ‘I love Mnynames’s comment, ‘…it’ll still get cancelled despite great appeal and acclaim, because it’ll be too intellectual for studio execs to figure out.’

    As I’ve noted on here before, blaming ‘studio execs’ for the failure of certain shows, etc. is overly-simplistic and, quite often, simply inaccurate. If more people watched shows that have ‘great appeal and acclaim,’ they wouldn’t get canceled. It’s really quite simple.

    As a former entertainment industry executive myself, this is a sore spot for me, as it gets quite tiresome to hear these same complaints over and over again…

  37. DVics responds:

    I love the commercials, but I think a full-fledged series will bomb in a short time.

    Regarding offense to possible (or supposed) relict neanderthals, let’s worry about that when, and if, actual neanderthals are found to still exist.

    Also, I completely agree with Jason P. Studios show what the public demands. Note the onslaught of reality-based TV.

    Examples abound. You sell what you know people will buy.

  38. DVics responds:

    Let me clarify… The execs might bank on a series doing well if the commercials are such a hit, but there are never any guarantees. A series is not a quick, 30 second commercial spot, and it could get tired quickly.

  39. Judy Green responds:

    I REALLY enjoyed your input Valst! I am going to be researching Prof. Henneberg’s work in depth, I found his theories so interesting. Thank you!

  40. cor2879 responds:

    The commercials are funny because they are in 30 second snippets… a half hour, weekly tv show based on this concept will tank. It’s a one-trick pony they get old fast.




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