Manly Men Do Mainly Manly Things (As Seen on T.V.)

I would like to begin this post with a prolonged scream. AAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHH!!!

Okay, thank you, let’s move on.

To quote Faulkner, “As long as I live under the capitalistic system, I expect to have my life influenced by the demands of moneyed people.” And It’s something I’m either willing or resigned to live with. I accept that the world moves by money. I accept that all most everything people do is in an effort to gain money so that they can spend it on things made by people who are also trying to gain money. I accept commercials as an important part of this system. I don’t go in for all that complaining about ads on my YouTube videos or along the edges on my Facebook.  I don’t like to complain because I know that their presence allows me to enjoy free entertainment. Not that I particularly like ads, but I do get some enjoyment from them. They can be funny at times, brief and rare times. I also like to entertain the belief (true or not) that they don’t work on me. See, I’m a smarty-pants and their weak-ass attempts to fool me don’t work, which makes me feel all warm inside. So I don’t so much enjoy ads as feel superior to them.

Anywho, what I dislike about ads are their annoying attempts to be my friends, to weasel their way into my life like their supposed to get me or something. The way they insinuate themselves into my holidays and family dinners like they belong there. I dislike their cloying 30 second pulls at my heartstrings and their pathetic attempts to get a laugh out of me. But most of all I hate the way they try to pretend like they’re not selling anything, that’s just plain insulting.

I’ve seen a few episodes of Mad Men so I’m pretty sure I get it. Just plain saying here’s a product go and buy it doesn’t really work. An ad has to sell the story, it takes positive ideas that may have little or nothing to do with anything and attaches them to the near vicinity of the product.

Take for example one of the many horrendous Christmas ads from this previous year. A tall thin woman in an evening gown walks in slow motion down a hallway pushing a cart on top of which is a giant red bow. She pushes this bow out a door and out onto the drive way of what is apparently the castle she lives in, she then places the bow on top of one of the two Lexus  she’s bought for Christmas. The ad is obviously selling cars and it’s doing so by associating the car to the ideas of wealth, luxury, elegance, yada yada yada. Anyone who buys Lexus for Christmas (Do they? Do they really?) because of this commercial would be buying into the story of the stupid castle and the mute lady in the silk dress. But more then the illusion of wealth and the dream of absurdly expensive presents, the ad is also trying to sell Christmas. The ad has very little to do with the car and everything to do with that stupid bow because if you really sat back and thought about it, buying a car for Christmas is a ridiculous thing to do (Unless you live in a castle) but the big red bow makes that car into a Christmas miracle.

Irritating as the commercialization of Christmas is, I don’t really want to dwell on that because it’s a little too irritating. I do think it’s interesting however to think about hidden meanings and the way we consume them. (I know, right? Subliminal messages, duhn duhn duhnnnnnnnn.) It seems to me that whether or not I am buying the products, I might be buying the story.

In all my Anthropology classes my professors exhortated the value of looking for the deep meanings and the way those meanings radiated through the structures and beliefs of cultures. See cultures develop when we attach meanings to objects, occurrences, and actions. Often these meanings are so ingrained in the way we think that we are not aware of them. For a very crude example; we know what a red rose symbolizes, we know that a red rose is an appropriate gift for your prom date, we also know that it is an inappropriate gift for your dentist (unless of course you’re taking your dentist to the prom). We know that the gesture is romantic and we know without beginning told that a romantic gesture is not appropriate behavior towards someone with whom we have a primarily business relationship. Of course there are symbols that are not quite  as obvious as a red rose. Most of the meanings we are internalizing on a daily basis we are totally unaware of, we think of them as natural, as givens, not as intricately constructed parts of our culture.

This is when hidden meanings can be dangerous (duhn duhn duhnnnnnnnn), or, you know just annoying  and stuff. For progressives who are trying to expand equality and correct inequality often what it is they’re up against isn’t necessarily just politics. Much of what they’re combating is the way these inequalities are woven into our cultural meanings, which is way more difficult if you think about it. It’s very difficult to convince someone to change something that they consider to be natural even if you yourself know that what is ‘natural’ is really just the popular narrative of the privileged.

Sorry, I can actually feel myself spiraling off topic. So, back to commercials that I hate.

There’s another one for a certain type of tequila.  It feature’s a manly actor with a face like an Easter Island statue lacquered in bronzer. This guy walks masculinely off a train and into a bar. With no greeting to the bartender he speaks the name of his tequila in a gruff, manly way. He receives the tequila on the rocks because mixers are a sign of weakness.  He then looks across the bar at two men enjoying themselves over a couple of cosmos. The Easter Island dude then stares at these ‘men’ in such away that they are thoroughly and properly shamed for enjoying pink things with cherries in them.

The lesson of this story is I think ‘Real men don’t enjoy things’ but I could be wrong. The story certainly is selling manhood. That it’s important in order to be successful socially. And that it can be lost by too closely associating with objects and behavior deemed feminine.

Does this not bug anyone else? This constant, pathetic, need to reaffirm gender roles? This commercial seems to be taping into the silly idea that men are losing something, that manhood is under attack and needs to be defended.  Are you man enough? Who the actual fuck still cares? If those dudes enjoy their cosmos let them. But we consume this subtle meaning without thinking about it. We only think about the tequila, but the commercial  is causing us to reaffirm these ideas. By reproducing it we legitimize it, we buy the story and we sell it too.

Commercials by their very nature have to distill cultural ideas into very small, chew-able, bites. Because of this they can be little windows into the way we think and what we value. In the same way that the Easter Island dude reaffirms the importance of defending masculinity from effeminate men, the woman in the silk dress reaffirms her place along side the big stupid bow as an adornment and a prize of wealth and success. It’s difficult to say women are full and complete people when they play second fiddle to a big red bow. It’s also difficult to raise young men who do not undervalue women when everything even mildly feminine is dismissed as shameful with a stern look from some douche in a suite.

I don’t really hate commercials, but I mostly do. I do totally hate the way this “capitalistic system” commodifies, gender, sexuality, and pretty much anything else that we’re willing to buy. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not blaming commercials. They only do it because it works. They’re really only a symptom. But I think that we could all be better off if we were more critical of the hidden meanings in the story. We should all be aware of what it is we’re really buying.

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4 comments

  1. You know we don’t live in a capitalist system, right?

    Capitalism means exchanging goods and services in a voluntary marketplace. Capitalism must be free of coercion for it to be capitalism. So it’s impossible for capitalism to be oppressive because why would two people CHOOSE to make a transaction unless it benefited both of them?

    We live in a society which is dominated by legalised coercion theft and violence, which is used to prevent capitalism from existing except in the most limited way in small pockets of the marketplace.

    The dating / relationship / marriage scene is a capitalist system. All transactions are voluntary and is assumed people only choose to hang out together, or get hitched, if it benefits both of them. Any form of coercion or ‘regulation’ or ‘forced wealth redistribution’ in the relationship market we call rape, or forced marriage or sex trafficking.

    If coercion, theft and violence is immoral in relationships it must be immoral in other types of transactions too.

    As for sexual stereotypes, most people want men to be rugged, aggressive, decisive and even immoral and violent. Imagine a feminist claiming welfare after having got rid of her boyfriend – she relies on thugs in blue costumes to collect money from everybody in society at gunpoint in order to provide for her and the child she irresponsible brought into the world with some deadbeat, or perhaps a nice guy who she got drunk with and lied to say she was on the pill. She might say she hates the “patriarchy” and men who are violent….. but where would she be without all those thugs providing (stolen) resources for her using their guns and cages?

    Or what about the man hater who has taken her husband to the cleaners and is not enjoying life as a ‘liberated’ woman – who force hubby to pay her alimony? Who makes sure he is prevented from seeing his children? More thugs in costume with guns on their belts.

    “..It’s also difficult to raise young men who do not undervalue women when everything even mildly feminine is dismissed as shameful with a stern look from some douche in a suite…”

    Men are only raised (not least by their mothers, girlfriends and other women) to regard feminine things as shameful FOR A MAN. For for women femininity is portrayed as divine and something men should worshipped! And they generally do! LOL Men will often treated a feminine woman like a VIP even if she is an absolute cow with no personality who has no respect for him.

    For centuries women have trained men to regard self expression, individuality, comfort, security, protection, health, fine clothes and self concern as predominantly FEMALE attributes, and they have let men know that they find these attribute unattractive in a man. This sends a message to the man: if you want to have sex and if you want women’s approval you’d better work your ass off providing resources and not be concerned for your own comfort, safety, health or even your own life. And throughout history that’s what men have done.

    The shame of men indulging in ‘feminine’ things, pleasures and comforts also has a lot to do with women claiming a monopoly on those things so that if men want to experience them they must get them from a woman. But only if he provides her with lots of resources of course!

    Some interfering feminist recently forced a ‘hug bar’ to be closed down. It was basically a place where men and women could go just to get hugs ($60 for half an hour I think it was). The idea of men being able to provide FOR THEMSELVES things like comfort, security, emotional relief (and of course sex) seems to wind up some women, because they’ve figured out this means women have less leverage over men.

    THAT, I humbly suggest, is why men have always been shamed by women for indulging in ‘feminine’ pleasures on their own.

    Just saying :)

    1. Interesting comments. I do feel that you might somewhat have missed the point of the post (which could very well be my fault). You seemed a bit distracted by a few red herrings (e.g. The welfare thing, that was a bit weird.) I see where you’re coming from, but your hung up on the ‘men are the provider’/’women are the benefactor’ model which is a little out of whack considering that the number of house holds where the woman is the bread winner is actually on the rise. I’m not sure which, if any, of your examples can be verified by fact. They seem more like straw-men (*women) whose purpose is to support your argument, but no worries there, I do that kind of shit all the time.

      You’re sort of right about the women themselves buying into the ideas of ‘men as the provider’, that is more inline with what I was trying to say about everyone reproducing and reaffirming cultural meanings. The point I was hoping people would take away (once again very possibly my fault that you didn’t) was that even though we feel that these positions are innate, they are in fact being created and recreated by us. Of course it’s more complicated then simply believing women should have an equal place beside men, but it also is severely detrimental to this goal when our cultural idea of womanhood more closely identifies them to hood-ornaments then people.

      As for women being primary agents in reaffirming manhood, that could be true, but is difficult to prove. The basic take away should be that cultural meaning is not the result of one persons actions or one groups actions, we’re all in this together. But that meaning does generally reflect the best interests of the dominant group, which is either giant lizard people or white males, certainly not women and certainly not anyone other than white.

      I do find your theory about women controlling comfort very interesting, mildly insane, but super interesting nonetheless.

      Speaking personally, which is what I feel you have also done. The reason I wrote this blog was because I was annoyed at the vastly over-simplified portrayal of what is means to be a man or what it means to be a women. Humanity always has been, and always will be varied. I don’t consider myself a feminist, I consider myself a humanist because it’s humans in all their vast variety that I want to fight for. I merely thought the these commercials were silly examples of how we always limit ourselves to silly categories and bland uninteresting behavior. Being beautiful and admired is not the end of what it means to be a woman, it isn’t even the beginning. In the same way being a man is no more stoicism and discipline than it is making balloon animals. We should be more then what is most marketably attractive, but that is what commercials and commercial culture reduces us to.

      This is what I was trying to say. Sorry if it didn’t come across.

      Thanks for reading,
      Jo

  2. “…You seemed a bit distracted by a few red herrings (e.g. The welfare thing, that was a bit weird.) ..”

    I though it was more of a tangent than a red herring :)

    I just meant things are not always what they seem on the surface. Your average ’empowered’, liberated and ‘independent’ young woman (and likely a feminist), who’s chosen to raise a child on her own and accept state welfare might never have even considered that the ‘free stuff’ she gets from the state is actually acquired for her by men with guns. So really, despite her feeling of independence and freedom from the oppressive ‘patriarchy’, she is actually far more dependent on men (and on violent men at that) than any traditional housewife ever was. And traditional housewives don’t, and never did, require the use of guns to support themselves.

    So I would say that’s a step back, rather than any kind of progress.

    “…The basic take away should be that cultural meaning is not the result of one persons actions or one groups actions, we’re all in this together….”

    Abso-flipping-lutely.

    ‘…Of course it’s more complicated then simply believing women should have an equal place beside men, but it also is severely detrimental to this goal when our cultural idea of womanhood more closely identifies them to hood-ornaments then people…”

    I think women do already have equality in all key areas now. Where there is not equality it is either due to choice or it is balanced out by some other privilege.

    As for the hood ornament thing, I have to disagree.

    Firstly, a lot of advertising is about feminising objects, not objectifying women. It winds me up when feminists (not you) complain that putting girls next to cars, or depicting products *as* women is somehow objectifying women. If the advert was for a woman slave and she was depicted as being an ipad THAT would be objectifying women! The truth is objects are boring and women, and women’s bodies, are attractive and appealing (to both men and women). Far from demeaning or exploiting women advertising (and fashion modelling etc) is an example where women are valued (and well paid) for nothing else than being women. A woman with no qualifications can earn decent money for just standing about, leaning on cars, and looking fabulous. That’s a privilege, not any form of oppression or exploitation.

    Secondly, studies show boyfriends / husbands wish their girlfriends/ wives spend LESS time, energy and money on their appearance (on ‘objectifying’ themselves). Women in the first world typically control 80% of the household income. Apart from of Valentine’s day men rarely buy clothes for their partners and badger them to wear them. The truth is that objectifying yourself gives you huge leverage in society and men AND women will always tend to treat ‘done up’ women better than casually dressed women showing their ‘flaws’ and ‘imperfections’.

    The whole obsession with appearance is driven by women not by men. Sure there are plenty of rich businessmen in the fashion, cosmetics and surgical enhancement industries capitalising on women’s drive to compete in the market place of looks – but it is demeaning to women to suggest they are somehow being exploited by these industries (not saying you’re suggesting that). It would be equally demeaning to men to suggest Ferrari were exploiting middle aged balding men by selling them expensive red sports cars. We all make our own choices, nobody is being forced to do anything.

    (red herring alert)

    One factor which might be influencing the obsession with appearance which seem to be out of control is that post feminism women are enjoying being single, partying and playing the field for much longer than they used to. But it’s a biological fact that a woman’s value to men decreases rapidly with age, both in terms of looks and fertility. A woman is most valuable (in terms of these criteria I mean) in her late teens to mid twenties. She can command just about ANY man at that time in her life. But rather than use this time of greatest power to secure a decent mate from the best prospects on offer, a lot of women now don’t start looking for a mate to settle down with until their early to mid thirties, by which time they really can’t compete with all those 20-something women. So they end up spending huge amounts of time, energy on their money trying to look ten years younger in an attempt to secure a half-decent man from an ever diminishing pool of available men – and all against the ticking clock if she wants to have children.

    Men on the other hand tend to go UP in value as they age. A single man in his 30’s with a career and some money in the bank is generally more attractive than a man in his early to mid twenties paying off his student loan. So he is much more likely to set his sights on a twenty-something woman (because many of them will be attracted to him), rather than a woman his own age.

    So (my point is) I think a lot of these pressures are brought on by women just waiting too long before looking for a long term relationship and then having to compete for a decent man with girls ten years younger than them.

    A case of cake and eat.

    Sorry I rambled again…

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