“Oh, this is bad, this is really bad! You work, and you slave, and you steal just enough for a sweet lick of that shiny brass ring… don’t I get a lick? Doesn’t Gil get a lick?”
This question is posed by perhaps one of the most deeply satirical characters in The Simpsons, Gil Gunderson. Gil can’t catch a break. He’s a salesman and a serial under-seller – a cuckold Willy Loman grasping for a capitalist dream far out of reach. In epitomising the misery and dread that American life can instill in people, Gil offers a fine example of the most efficient ways to be overtaken in everyone’s favourite rat race. In one episode he is presented will an open goal: Homer wants to buy a car. Despite the sale quite literally making itself, with Homer becoming so excited at the prospect of a red car that he begs Gil to let him buy it, he manages to concede to a stereotypically ‘smooth’ salesman at the final hurdle. That’s Gil through and through. So what can we learn from ol’ Gil’s sales failures?
A fundamental mistake that Gil makes is his tone and body language. He slouches into a defeatist posture that does little to inspire confidence in his abilities, let alone the product that he’s trying to sell. I’m not one to talk, but if Gil could just stand up straight and maintain eye contact without wringing his hands he’d be well on his way to people taking him more seriously. To be fair on the man, he does have a bad back.
Problems with the ways Gil expresses himself are closely tied to what he’s expressing. He pleads and never makes assertions. Sometimes taking control of a situation means telling someone what they should be doing and why they should be doing it. It’s obvious, but pleading with someone immediately establishes and victor-victim dynamic that will prove difficult to overcome.
It’s all too easy to say too much. Gil is a prolific oversharer: he’ll recommend that a school look into rustproofing a computer before he even sells it to them. He’ll comment that your drool won’t damage a car’s finish, but reveals that rainwater will strip it right off. This is a classic case of less being more. His initial comments are rarely problematic, but he will then continue to reveal some glaring fault with his proposition.
Making excuses is itself a problem. To some extent we are all guilty of this, and for a lot of people making excuses or shifting blame can be so second nature that they often don’t realise that they’re doing it. The issue is that this creates a false narrative that leaves no room for personal growth. Although platitudinal, it’s the act of accepting and learning from your mistakes that helps you from making them all over again. Buck your ideas up, Gil.
Great. Now whether you’re closer to a Gunderson or a Belfort, you can be that much closer to everlasting happiness. In the immortal words of Mick Jagger, “go bite the big apple, don’t mind the maggots”.