Paul Marcarelli. The name may not seem familiar, but you all know him. He was the Verizon Guy, Mister “Can you hear me now?” for about nine years, until the company informed him they were taking their ads in a ‘new direction’.
And he’s gay.
Now, Verizon didn’t change their ad campaign because Marcarelli is gay, they changed it because they can. That’s not the story. The story is about homophobia in the US of A, and how, even in the 21st century, people have a hard time coming out.
Now, to be fair, Verizon did keep Marcarelli on a short leash. His contract prohibited him from doing any other commercial work, and forbid him from disclosing anything about the Test Man campaign. In an article for Ad Age magazine, entitled “Verizon Keeps ‘Test Man’ on Short Leash”, it was made clear that Verizon “adamantly maintains … that the actor who plays [Test Man] should certainly not be ‘heard.’” In fact, you would have been hard-pressed to even get Marcarelli’s name from Verizon, they were so secretive about his identity. He was to be the Test Man, and no one else, I guess.
In a new contract, however, Marcarelli was given permission to promote his own projects–like The Green, a film he recently wrote and co-produced, that tells the story of a small town that turns against a gay couple when one of the men, a schoolteacher, is involved in a scandal. But even with his leash loosened, Marcarelli felt he needed to keep his anonymity, to protect the character, and his income.
But, as I said, Paul Marcarelli is gay, so this story isn’t about Verizon, per se, or his character, or even his new movie. it’s about keeping us closeted and living in fear, because coming out just might jeopardize everything we have.
See, Paul Marcarelli heard ‘Can you hear me now?’ everywhere he went; he even heard the words uttered at his grandmother’s funeral as the coffin was being lowered into the ground. Kinda funny, if I do say so myself. Maybe not so funny if it was my grandmother.
What wasn’t so funny, though, were the cars that would speed by his home in the middle of the night, and the teenagers who would scream, ‘Can you hear me now?’ Those chants soon gave way to the screaming of ‘faggot’ at all hours of the night. Marcarelli says the shouts grew even more profane as the years–yes, years–went by. One night, it happened again, and Marcarelli decided it was time to call the police. But the moment his call ended he regretted the situation. “I realized that in order for them to do anything about it, it would have to become a report that would go into a police log.”
And a police log would list his name, and a search would verify that he was that guy. Marcarelli wondered what might happen to his lucrative gig–he used the money from his commercials to fund a theatrical workshop he and his friends created–if word got that the actor playing Test Man was gay.
Marcarelli declined to file a report.
Now, he doesn’t blame Verizon for his silence. Even Paul Marcarelli knows he chose to remain mum about his sexual orientation and say nothing about the nightly homophobic drive-bys. But why should he have had to stay quiet? What kind of world is it that he can’t be himself, or even protect himself and his home, because he’s a gay man?
I know the world is changing, but it’s stories like these that make me want it to hurry up and change already. People shouldn’t have to hide themselves away, and keep their mouths closed, out of fear of what may happen when the world finds out they’re gay. We’ve learned not to hide many things about ourselves through the years; we can be open about religion and employment and income and family, and family secrets, but we still have that stigma of being gay, and what that secret, when spilled, may do to a person. We need to change our way of thinking.
Can you hear me now?