Thursday, November 4, 2010

Humiliation Sells

Guided By Voices--"How's My Drinking" (mp3)

Man is spending Saturday or Sunday afternoon watching football, enjoying self, relaxing in the den, and there is a break in the action. Then man watches television beer commercial and thinks to self, "Well, I certainly don't want to be like that dork. I'd better start drinking the right beer."

This is the mind set of today's male that advertising is trying to develop. Make the wrong purchase choice, and there is some good-looking woman out there waiting to make fun of us. There's also a pretty good chance that some other hotties are hanging out waiting to chip in, too.

Or maybe even one of our own pals.

Really, though, it's even more complicated than that. Because it quickly emerges that there is a kind of cosmic cause-and-effect at play here. The beer humiliation is merely the icing on the cake, if you will, or, perhaps better said, a fait accompli, because the victim has already take a number of wrong turns in his life that guarantee he will make the wrong choice in the first place--he's a "Momma's Boy," he wears a European swimsuit, he carries a man purse.

So it won't just be the beer choice that will bring on the humiliation. That's just the beginning. The sheer matter of who you happen to be outside the norm will cause everyone to heap it on.

It's enough to make a guy wish he could order a Schmidt's Gay and hang out with some people who will actually treat him well.

Of course, this doesn't come as that much of a surprise. The humiliation of the American male has been the main source of humor in television sitcoms at least as far back as Married...With Children and probably as far back The Jackie Gleason Show. Emasculation is apparently funny. And life inside of beer commercials has portrayed various utopian visions for decades--racial harmony, the twins, skiing, lobsters and Lowenbrau, impossibly beautiful bartenders.

By contrast, the female bartender that waits on us on Monday nights could easily find work as a zombie extra on The Walking Dead. Only my blogmate Billy can get her to crack the slightest smile.

Often have I longed to live inside of a beer commercial, at least for a little while. All of the guys would be cooler and buffer than my real friends; all of the women that intangible notch below supermodels. We'd just hang out at the beach, the slopes, the game, the perfect urban setting or suburb. Until now. Because now, the beer commercial life has turned downright mean. Maybe it started with that "Real Men Of Genius" series, which seemed kind of funny at the time, but is just a different kind of mockery.

And let's face it: all light beers kinda blow. Just like light cheeses and skimmed milk and Baked Lays. Some blow less than others because they have a little more taste. If you're drinking one, you're choosing it for different reasons than taste. If you choose one with too many calories, the people in the light beer commercial with the fewest calories will make fun of you.

But it isn't only beer. The one that gets me, because I cook, is the "Guys Don't Bake" commercial where the male host brings out a tray of fresh, hot biscuits for his friends watching the game and everyone acts like he's a member of the castrati or something.

Advertisers got ahold of women a long time ago by convincing them that a) they could never be pretty enough and the only hope was to keep trying by buying, and b) that their favorite clothing was always just days away from going out of style. So Madison Avenue needed a degrading counterpart to reel the males in. The solution? Intimate that something that you do or are will make women not want to be with you--you stink, your beard is too rough, you can't get it up, you drink the wrong beer, you wear man thongs, you do women things.

But they also took it a step further. Stray outside the norm, and even your own friends won't want to hang out with you. And that's the cruelest cut of all, because then you don't even have anyone to commiserate with about all of your other failures. I'm sorry, my friend, it could have gone so much better for you, had you simply chosen the proper light beer. Heck, you even had a shot at being the world's most interesting man, but, just like that, wrong beer, buddy, and you blew it.


Anonymous said...

I guess "When I'm drivin' in my car
and that man comes on the radio
and he's tellin' me more and more
about some useless information
supposed to fire my imagination" or
"he can't be a man cuz he doesn't smoke the same cigarettes as me." Never mind, that band never came up with anything original or insightful. Fuzzbox?....What a lame gimmick.

Billy said...

Often an ad campaign aims to divert from the product's greatest weakness. The Marlboro Man was a symbol of freedom and an open horizon of endless possibility for a product that is addictive and deadly. Miller Lite mocks these guys for not caring whether their light beer tastes good. As if in a blind taste test any man could identify any light beer from the others.

On the other hand, the Dos Equis and Old Spice men mock our masculine stereotypes. I don't think they aim to make us feel inadequate; rather, I think they're supposed to make us feel like they get how ludicrous it all is. These commercials are the Jon Stewarts of the ad world, in my opinion.

(@Anonymous - Thanks for sticking up for the Stones.)

John said...

"Often have I longed to live inside of a beer commercial, at least for a little while. All of the guys would be cooler and buffer than my real friends..." In what universe could you possibly have cooler friends than the one you currently inhabit? Buffer, ok, sure, I'll give you that. But "cooler"? C'mon, man!

Bob said...

Sorry, Mr. Anonymous, you didn't read my post, maybe just the headline? "Satisfaction" is pre-1973 Stones, which received my ringing endorsement. Plus, how could I not like that song when Neil stole the riff for "Mr. Soul"? Touchy.

John. Dude. Irony. Really?

Thom Anon said...

That's why I Tivo. Haven't watched a commercial in 5 years.

Besides, Baked Lays make you shart(which Billy may be interested in), and there is no intangible notch worth touching.