Harry and Louise: A Primer

With the U.S. discussing health-care reform again, a lot of people are bringing up the classic ’90s TV characters “Harry and Louise.” For the uninitiated, here’s the Wikipedia entry. Basically, as part of a campaign against Clinton’s ill-fated health care plan, health-insurance companies created some commercials with the characters of Harry and Louise, your typical suburban couple as envisioned by TV sitcoms (balding, slobbily-dressed, basketball-loving Dad; wise, MILF-y Mom), complaining about the lack of choice and rising costs that (the commercials claimed) would be created by a universal health-care plan.

The first ad was the most famous; it was, of course, highly paradoxical and weird to have health insurers accusing someone else of wanting to limit choice and making you choose from a few plans designed by bureaucrats, but it was a talking point that was all over the place at the time, and the ads worked by attaching that talking point to the trials and tribulations of a television family — the plan must be a problem if Generic Suburban Dad and Smart Suburban Mom say so. It’s an example of how a lot of advertising works by connecting itself to the world of prime-time scripted television: Harry and Louise come off as characters who could be on a sitcom or hour-long dramedy, and they feed off the goodwill that the viewers have toward that type of character. Hell, they even have a wacky neighbour with a backwards baseball cap.

“Harry and Louise” has become a catchphrase and the actors — for whom the characters are named — have periodically been brought back for other commercials.