an open letter to rob lowe and directv, by rafael castro

The following is an open letter to Rob Lowe and DIRECTV written by Dr. Rafael Castro, Executive Director of the Integrated Center for Child Development. It is published here with his permission. 


{image is a photo of “Cool Rob Lowe” looking derisively at “Painfully Awkward Rob Lowe” in one of a series of commercials for Direct TV}

An open letter to Rob Lowe and DIRECTV

Dear Mr. Lowe,

These days it’s all about the snow where I live, Mr. Lowe. Perhaps you’ve seen videos of my fellow Bostonians jumping from windows into snow banks? I even heard that somebody a bit further north just climbed the frozen falls up at Niagara.

For me, this means that I can’t go outside for my regular runs – not even bundling up helps, as there is barely room for the cars on most streets, let alone the runners. So it is back to the dull treadmill and, with the treadmill, the TV, which is where I saw your latest commercials.

The first one I saw is the one you call “Creepy Rob Lowe.”

“Creepy Rob Lowe” is such a downtrodden human that the marketing machinery behind the campaign probably thought that no one would be offended by demeaning him. You even hinted at predatory intention in the scene where this sad fellow goes to the public pool to “watch others swim”… with binoculars. That said, there is no one who is not deserving of compassion and dignity, no matter how we might perceive their attempts to interact with others.

But Creepy Rob Lowe was just a beginning. It was the next character in the series, “Painfully awkward Rob Lowe,” that moved me to write to you today.

I am a developmental neuropsychologist. My life’s work is dedicated to diagnosing, supporting, and advocating for children on the autism spectrum. What you did when you created and derided this character was to make a mockery, quite literally, of what is often a painful reality for my autistic patients. “Painfully awkward Rob Lowe” sports pants that reach impossibly high and are wrapped tightly with a belt above his hips. You gave him a hairdo parted in the middle that naturally clashes with the age of the character and is supposed to contrast with the swag and cool that you bring in the images that follow. What I see, rather than fodder for a punch line,   is an adult who might once have been one of my patients – someone whose challenges with daily living skills, like grooming and hygiene, may just have gotten the better of them.

More and more “painfully awkward” children walk through my door every day. And every day, I wish that they could come of age in a world that accepts rather than mocks their challenges.

I don’t fail to get that this is about marketing and I appreciate humor as much as anybody else, but I truly believe that these ads miss the mark. The basic premise of advertisement would have sufficed: Mr. Lowe, in his splendor and magnanimity, chooses this product over another, and the rest of us subliminally consider following that lead in an aspiration to be like you.

As I prepared to write this letter to you, I wanted to give you the benefit of the doubt. I hoped that perhaps this was another case of a celebrity unwittingly being used for a purpose not personally espoused. Then I saw that you are “on the talk circuit” speaking proudly of your association with this work and your ownership behind “the creative aspect” that gave birth to these portrayals. I could no longer reconcile giving you a pass.

In your interview with Ellen Degeneres, in whom I would have hoped to find an ally in the fight for the dignity of the different, you basked in how this is not someone else’s creation, but is rather a collaborative, ingenious effort to which you gladly and proudly added your ideas. At the time of the visit to Ellen’s show, your last few characters had not yet been revealed to the public and you noted how you looked forward to their release.

In your latest installments, you have gone on to make fun of characters including “Scrawny Arms Rob Lowe,” “Peaked in High School Rob Lowe,” and “Overly Paranoid Rob Lowe,” I dare say there will soon be quite a small segment of the population whom you have not insulted.

It would appear that there is a progression in the commercials by which the attacks are increasingly insensitive. Your latest ad features “Poor Decision Making Rob Lowe,” who derides a mentally ill homeless person who is mumbling under his breath and pokes fun at the fact that your character would make the unwise decision to eat a tuna sandwich that he found on the bus.

Has it occurred to anybody behind these commercials that it is not perhaps “poor decision making” but an unimaginable degree of desperation and need that would push a person to do such a thing? How low, no pun intended, need this go, Mr Lowe?

I have no doubt that you did not mean harm when you created these ads. But intent and impact can be very, very different things. I implore you to shelf these ads. My young patients deserve so much better.


Rafael Castro

Ed note: Please find the conversation that followed this post on Diary’s Facebook page here

13 thoughts on “an open letter to rob lowe and directv, by rafael castro

  1. Brilliantly said, Dr. Castro. I can’t say that I understand for what these horrible ads were written but they are horrible ads none the less.

    Thank you for sharing this, Jess.

    Love you,

  2. I have NEVER found any of these commercials funny. I find them sad and tasteless and cannot turn the channel quickly enough when the ads air. My husband and I have even discussed canceling our DirecTV because we are so disturbed by the ads. Clearly, a letter from us is, also, in order.

  3. Wow. This is one of those instances where I just wanna say “Word.”

    Because it’s all just brilliantly said and needed to be said – so damn much. I get irritated beyond belief when they have a character [in a commerical/TV show/movie] that is said to have anxiety but it is portrayed almost as though anxiety is being made fun of – but this kind of thing? These commercials…. They seriously disturb me because people wonder why bullying is so much more an issue these days; [Um seriously?! *facepalm*] and if I could, I would hand them these commercials – and other similar advertising on a silver platter. I just haven’t ever seen the humor in [crap] like this.

    There I go rambling. But seriously. Word. Thank you for sharing.

  4. Pingback: » an open letter to rob lowe and direct tv, by rafael castro

  5. Glad to know i am not the only one that hates these commercials! Dr. Castro just explained so much more beautifully than I would have!

    like Kylie said. WORD!!

  6. This letter makes me appreciate two things. Firstly, I sincerely appreciate Mr. Castro’s advocacy on behalf of the differently abled in my family. Second, I am very glad I do not have television. This reaffirms my decision to keep it out of my house.

  7. It’s refreshing to see that thoughtful, caring people are unafraid to politely point out when others are not thoughtful and appear uncaring. We are all in this life together.

  8. Thank you Dr. Castro! There is nothing worse than seeing a person degrade others for their own good. As the parent of a disabled child, there is nothing more sick to me than being cruel and demeaning to people who struggle every day….just communicating or trying to fit a mold that they were not born to fit. Does that make them any less than anyone else? My son is my hero and model of what all people should be like; he always has hope and wakes up every day with a smile….very few people can say that. All that I can say is poorly done Direct tv and Mr. Lowe…..and well done Dr. Castro 🙂 Thank you.

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