It’s a hard-knock life for advertisers looking to titillate buyers into paying attention. Back in the day—say, 2018—you were guaranteed to provoke when you used assholeto sell your bidet or dropped a barely acceptable AF onto a package to give your wipes a boost. Now, though, commercial swears are so common that you can name your candles Pretend to Give a Shit and get away with it—even at the US Patent and Trademark Office.
When the old swears no longer shock, what’s an advertiser to do? One answer: swear-ify inoffensive words by inserting asterisks into them.
You’ve invented a new kind of bidet for the American market: an inexpensive, easy-to-install attachment that replaces toilet paper with a water stream. You’ve given your invention a cheeky name: Tushy.
Now you need a mascot to give your product a face. Naturally, you choose … an asshole. And you give it a starring role in a nearly three-minute-long advertorial.
“But like literally: Poop comes out of me.”
Sort of a manic pixie dream asshole, actually, with a potty mouth that cheerfully emits English swears and English-inflected Yiddish scatology along with a generous dose of social shaming.
In the two years since I first wrote about seeing “AF” — the abbreviation for the intensifier “as fuck” — in various interesting places, I’ve kept track of its spread from the fringes to the mainstream, or at least a major tributary of the mainstream, of popular culture. In April of this year, when I noted its use in New York subway advertisements by the food-delivery service FoodKick, I speculated that this was the first time AF had appeared in a commercial context. Well, I was wrong. It wasn’t the first. And it certainly hasn’t been the last.
Back in July 2015, when I wrote about the spread of “as fuck” and its abbreviation, “AF,” my sightings were limited to tweets, rap-album titles, and small-batch consumer goods sold on Etsy and other online marketplaces. In a comment on my post, “Y” predicted a bigger future for “AF”: “It’ll be co-opted by the mainstream. In fifty years, Modern Maturity will have recipes for Scrumptious-as-Fuck Cupcakes, and Midwesterners will tell their minister that his sermon was def as fuck.”
Fifty years? Try 22 months. That’s how long it took for New York–based FoodKick to launch its cheeky-as-fuck ad campaign in subways and social media.