Vice Principals on HBO Advertisement Analysis Essay

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Race, Gender and Class as Sources of Comedic Tension in HBO’s Advertisement for Season One of “Vice Principals”

An online ad for Season One of HBO’s show “Vice Principals,” starring Danny McBride, Walton Goggins and Kimberly Gregory, consists of a two-minute trailer that showcases the main “selling” points of the comedy series—conflict, romance, “bromance,” action, and racial tension. The two main sources of conflict in the series, as represented in the ad, are between the two rivaling vice principals played by McBride and Goggins, both of whom vie for the Principal’s job, and between the two of them and the new principal played by Gregory, against whom McBride and Goggins unite to overthrow). The characters represent various types: McBride plays a middle-class, middle-aged white male with a traditional though pudgy bearing (he sports a sweater vest to school and has a very out-of-date hair cut and moustache that resembles more a stereotypical profile of a police officer from the 1980s than it does a contemporary male role model); Goggins plays a white, yuppy, metrosexual, with his hair tips dyed blonde, tight-fitting clothes (he wears a colorful bow tie in every scene), and a walk that looks more like a woman’s strut than a man’s; Gregory plays a bold, upper middle class African American woman who holds a position of authority over McBride and Goggins, since she plays their new boss at the school. The ad shows that they resent her for taking a job they feel rightfully belongs to them and two men conspire to challenge her—overcoming their repugnance for one another in the process.

The ad turns a few race and gender conventions on their head in order to generate conflict and laughs for the perceived audience of the ad. The first convention that is inverted is the gender convention: McBride’s character represents the stereotypical stuffy, doughy, choleric personality associated with authoritarianism—yet, midway through the ad, he breaks down in tears after learning that the job he has coveted has gone to Kimberly Gregory (not just a woman but an African American woman—which sets up in the mind of the audience a sense of grievance that McBride’s character, used to the privilege associated with whiteness, now feels as the new “boss” pushes him out of the way to assume her position as principal of the school he desires to run. His masculinity comes across as “weak,” vulnerable and emotional—but at the same time, the audience should feel a reasonable amount of appreciation for this honesty in character portrayal because it shows that men do sometimes feel upset and weak and vulnerable to the point that they will cry. The ad does not depict the moment sarcastically or condescendingly but rather as an honest moment that produces both laughter and sympathy because it is both genuine and pathetic at one and the same time. Goggins has the most effeminate tendencies of the three characters, as his character displays qualities traditionally associated with femininity—such as pristine or immaculate wardrobe, perfect hair, a hip-shaking runway type of walk, and body language that more conservative and less tolerant parties have described as “limp-wristed” (Palmer).

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Class convention also gets inverted in the ad. The trailer shows McBride’s character talking to an African American lunch room employee who represents a lower class African American—a type popularly represented in American culture. Gregory’s character, however, represents an upper class African American (woman to boot)—a minority character not typical of traditional or conventional narratives. Yet Gregory’s character also displays the gritty toughness typically associated with a street tough African American, especially when she states to McBride: “I will drag your face all up and down the parking lot” through gritted teeth with an expression on her face that shows she really means it and will do it. So while her character is of a higher social class than McBride’s character in the ad (demonstrated by her more expensive and in-style dress, her home—which is more upscale than McBride’s—and her job position, which pays better)

The ad also inverts race conventions: McBride—the stuffy white guy appropriates the language of black culture when he states, “It’s gonna be dope—super dope,” in front of the African American lunch room worker, who responds, “You’re not gonna kill everyone, right?” A scene of McBride’s white rage immediately follows with the camera pitched low at the floor, tilted up at McBride as he towers over the screen, hulking his shoulders and bellowing fiercely like a fighter about to destroy his opponent in the ring. The ad ends with a title card at that moment, displaying the name of the HBO series. The audience should feel riveted, disturbed, uneasy, expectant and slightly giddy from all various conflicts, introverted tropes, conventional tropes, and race, gender and class inversions that filled the ad. The ad gives no….....

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Works Cited

Palmer, Brian. “What Do Limp Wrists Have to Do with Gay Men?” Slate, 9 May 2012.

“Vice Principals Season One.” YouTube, 6 June 2016.

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