It’s been getting a great deal of buzz with a host of varying opinions. It’s a new Gillette commercial showing a shotgun spatter of males acting in all sorts of bad ways, as thuggish bullies, cat-callers and body-grabbers. It’s the latest installation in the well over-stuffed “Men are a Problem to Be Solved” files. Over the montage of all this bad-boyness, Gillette asks us to consider whether this is the best men can be, a utilization of their corporate tag-line. Against the visuals of their ad, it’s a dumb question. Only a thorough-going sexist would say yes, this behavior is the best we can expect from men. That would be to conclude that men are less than animals. But Gillette, who wants men who shave to be their friends, thinks it’s a question worth asking.
Of course, there is no problem with the overall effort of the piece: Men, don’t be bullies or sexist pigs. Any man who can’t get onboard with that is not a man. But let’s be blunt. The ad itself is an inexcusable train wreck. Four reasons why.
First, it trades in dramatic stereotypes. Great vengeance and furious anger would rain down upon Gillette if they had portrayed any other group of people solely by their worst behaviors and told them to improve themselves. Now, real men don’t whine about being victimized, but this demands being called out. Replace Gillette’s presentation of men with the worst stereotypes about Muslims, Jews, African-American youth, or Hispanics. It’s unthinkable and for every good reason. For some reason though, it’s gloves off on men and being ok with this simply makes us selective sexists. To employ Gillette’s own question, is this the best we can be?
Second, it man-shames, ignoring what masculinity actually is. The totality of Gillette’s message is most men do bad things and good men stop them. Men can and do act like horrible cads sometimes. No one should tolerate it, especially other men. But to define the virtue of manhood as merely the correction of ubiquitous male toxicity is to reduce manhood to its own homeroom teacher. Minimalist masculinity. This is precisely what Gillette is selling here.
We must understand, however, with great clarity and conviction, that there is no such thing as toxic masculinity. It doesn’t exist and we should correct those who use the two words together. Toxic maleness? Indeed. But masculinity is a virtue. Ladies themselves know this better than anyone. Imagine a woman set up on a blind date by her girlfriends. Excited, she asks the obvious question: What is he like? They describe him as quite masculine. Would any normal woman take this as a warning? Would she ask if he’s in therapy for it? She doesn’t even ask if it’s the good or bad kind of masculinity. She takes it as a wholesale plus.
As far as Gillette has it, a man merely behaves himself. Manhood is so much more, and women want their men to have it in full measure. It’s not a mental illness.
Third, it’s preachy, authoritarian and guilt-signaling. Americans are increasingly sick and tired of having the people on their televisions tell them how stupid – bigoted – regressive – unenlightened – uncaring – homophobic – etc. they are. Gillette hasn’t gotten that memo. This commercial is very finger-pointy, and the first rule of advertising, I would imagine, is don’t tell your customer they’re the worst examples of humanity.
Fourth, the commercial is creatively embarrassing. There’s a lot happening in this ad, and it’s difficult to keep track of it all. It begins with a “Lord of the Flies” horde of boys chasing another one, calling him a “freak.” They oddly run through a terrified woman’s living room where she is holding a young boy who’s crying for no apparent reason. We are presented with the cheesiest of staged audiences laughing uproariously with all the artificiality of a bad toupee at a fictitious 1970s sitcom scene of a man pretending to grab a maid’s bottom. It’s so bad it keeps you from taking it seriously.
This indefensible behavior is capped off by a scene of two young Opie Taylor-like boys wrestling in the grass at a backyard picnic. Land sakes! Seriously, all of this put in one steaming pot of male toxicity. It’s all backed by an endless row of men robotically standing behind an endless row of barbeque grills. Each are watching the “violence” of the two boys mixing it up on the lawn, uttering a dismissive, “Boys will be boys” mantra like dystopian Stepford Husbands. Yes, it’s that dumb.
Apparently the great majority of viewers agree. On the official Gillette YouTube page, the thumbs-down votes are more than two-to-one over the thumbs-up votes. I doubt these thumbs-downers are men who don’t appreciate being told not to abuse women. More likely they are both men and women who don’t much care for being talked down to and have a much higher estimation of what real masculinity can and should be.
If you want to see a manly commercial that does masculine aspiration ingeniously, it’s here. If Gillette had called us to real manhood the way Chrysler called us back to American pride, I’d be their biggest fan.
Instead, I just feel sorry for them for being so clueless.