Opinion: Whoopi Is Loud and Proud

When Kathryn Bigelow won the Best Director Oscar for The Hurt Locker — her raw, unsentimental film about an American bomb-disposal squad in the Iraqi war — she was the first woman in the 82-year history of the Academy Awards to do so. While that’s a pretty dramatic shattering of a glass ceiling, she stayed away from acknowledging gender issues in her acceptance speech. She also chose not to go the way of her ex, James Cameron, and call herself “queen of the world.” She prefers to see herself as a filmmaker, period.

But any way you look at it, it was an historic occasion for women.

Who knew that in the minutes leading up to the Academy Awards broadcast there would be another breakthrough for females? This one, though, was less a shattering of a glass ceiling than a straining of the pelvic floor. Yup, with one sweeping, cinematic 60-second spot for Kimberly-Clark’s Poise Pads, Whoopi Goldberg successfully invaded the female incontinence space. After such pioneering work, our urinary frontier will never be the same.

First the zingy “four-hour erection” phrase seeped into the American consciousness via E.D. commercials. Now it’s an equally liberating marketing moment, this time for the American female bladder. We also have a spanking new, professional-sounding diagnostic acronym on our hands: L.B.L., or light bladder leakage. Say it loud and proud.

Certainly, Goldberg has no fear: Impersonating eight great women of history through the lens of their urinary mishaps, she made one small step for man, one “shpritz” for womankind.

Goldberg has a storied connection with the Oscars. She has hosted four times and has won a Best Supporting Actress award. And the fast-moving and skillfully edited Poise montage, with its intriguing costumes and gorgeously detailed lighting and sets, fits right in with the unsubtle staginess of the awards ceremony. Playing characters such as Cleopatra, the Statue of Liberty and the Mona Lisa in a variety of bad accents and wigs, and shot by noted photographer Timothy White, Goldberg’s performance could have been an opening clip for the show-until we heard the words.

In the grossness department, the major “eww” had to do with the comedienne’s use of “shpritz” and the variations on that sound. The upshot, she says, is “no one wants to talk about it, but we’re all walking around with wet pants.” (Now that men walk around with no pants in ads, women have to talk about wet ones? Yikes.) But there really is no sanitized way to put it; “dribble,” “piddle,” “trickle” — they’re all pretty unseemly.

For Poise, that’s part of the plan: It wants to destigmatize the subject to start a conversation. The campaign, from Mindshare Entertainment, was intended only for the Internet and print. It has been reported as the work of JWT, but that agency only did some initial concepting of the 1in3likeme Web site.

Goldberg ad-libbed eight Webisodes, each featuring a different character. Mona Lisa is the strongest. The lighting is beautiful and the idea is clever: for centuries, viewers have wondered about the source of her enigmatic smile. “I don’t want to be painted! I want to be dry!” Goldberg says in a bad Italian accent. She also comes up with a killer line at the end: “Excuse me. I have to make another face.”

The montage was made to air on The View as part of a brand integration deal. It proved so popular that the K-C powers decided to enter it into the pre-Oscar show at the last minute.

For TV, especially, getting the tone right must have been tricky, though Goldberg does come off as vulgar. The overarching thing about her is she’s absolutely open and embarrassment-free. She’s a walking, talking no-mortification zone. Her earthy presence no doubt leads women to the Web site, and perhaps even makes them laugh — which will possibly lead to some light leakage, and the need for Poise Pads. There’s a great circle of synergy here, no matter how snarky you want to be about it. Goldberg’s proud to be the face of light bladder leakage. And, I guess, in that way she’s detonated a whole different kind of bomb.