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Defining "masculinity" in beer commercials

BY WILL MATTESSICH | SEPTEMBER 02, 2010 7:20 AM

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Are you sick of hearing women talk? Are you stupid and lazy? Do you need constant reassurance that you are a man?

Have a beer!

That's the message that Anheuser-Busch, Coors, and Miller send with the TV ads they run — and it isn't just the beverage-distribution industry that has found the sexist, stereotyping cash cow. The clichés about men in beer commercials exist in much of the advertising industry for male-oriented products.

But commercials that portray men as idiotic slobs in bad relationships are seriously degrading to our conceptions of masculinity.

One commercial in this vein is the "Bud Light Book Club" commercial that aired during the most recent Super Bowl. In this ad a man, casually dressed in baseball gear, tells his female roommate/girlfriend that he will be going to "the game."

The girl he's speaking to has friends with her, all of them attractive women, and they are just beginning their book-club meeting. The man spots a bucket of Bud Lights on the table, and promptly intrudes on the book club, sitting down on the couch, snatching the books from the women's hands, and replacing them with Bud Light.

This structure exemplifies the ad layout for a "male" product: The anti-intellectualist-male-outsmarts-emotional/intelligent woman. The ad wants you to believe that you can be lazy, unattractive, and devoid of wit, but beer will give you a shot with smart, Carmen Electra look-alikes who don't even like you.

I only hope that a very small portion of the population watches this commercial and feels a connection to the wisecracking slacker.

"A lot of the commercials tend to make it seem like it's OK for men to be immature, which is a certain theme in American masculinity right now — a theme of extended adolescence," said William Liu, a UI professor of psychological and quantitative foundations. He is one of the leading scholars in the field of men and masculinity research.

"On a certain level, that's OK," he said. "But it's a problem for many men, because you need to have a 'straight man' in every comedy routine [someone who is serious, often the butt of jokes, who never comes across positively]. And the person who commonly plays that role in the commercials is the woman."

An ad in a similar structure is a recent commercial for the Dodge Charger. It shows various images of bored men with a voice-over of daily features of relationships like "leaving the seat up" and "separating the recycling." It even goes so far as to malign healthy eating habits ("I will eat fruit with my breakfast").

It's a commercial that tells you that your significant other is something holding you back and the only way to escape is by buying a new Dodge Charger. The ad makes the Dodge Charger into the adult version of the "cooties shot," keeping femininity at bay.

I thought we left attitudes like that on the sixth-grade playground.

And please, can I buy bodywash and shampoo without branding reminiscent of a speech from the movie 300? I don't need to "annihilate odor" or "blast away dirt." Nor am I looking for a "fierce, sensual rush" like the one Axe Bodywash promises. (What does that even mean in a hygiene product?) And I am scared of actual bodily harm if I wore a deodorant titled "SHOCK" or "Tsunami."

Advertisers are always trying to tap into insecurities, Liu said. In this type of advertising, the insecurities are about being male. And despite our best efforts, he said, these commercials serve as a reference point for us and affect our views of masculinity and ourselves.

Hopefully, this image of masculinity containing laziness and immaturity will not become too pervasive in our culture, or we will experience generations of failed marriages, bad fathers, and uneducated men.

The first step is for advertisers to stop running ads insulting the American male.


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