Monday, 9 February 2015

Hegemonic masculinity, media, and advertising

In what follows, we offer a sampling of the advertisements discussed in the workshop we held on February 4, 2015 and some of the commentary that accompanied them. Unfortunately, what we cannot provide is a sampling of the lively and entertaining discussion that made the two hours we allotted for the session feel far, far too short. For a glimpse of that, you will have to join us the next time!

- Nathan Kalman-Lamb

Poster for The Men's Team's workshop on masculinity and advertising.

Advertising is simply everywhere; it has become part of our daily audio/visuals and our daily mindset. Nike’s slogan, “Just do it” represents the power and the global influence of advertising. It seems like we are exposed to 100 times the amount of advertising we were even fifteen years ago due to the extent to which media is now broadcasted and received through personal devices. One thing that hasn’t changed, though, is that men and women continue to be represented in radically different ways.

Representation for men and women is considerably different. Men are usually represented as serious, muscle-laden, and dominating. Women are typically portrayed as confused, uncertain, and, perhaps most ubiquitously (unless the portrayal is negative), thin.

What happens when we do not live up to the perceived standards and socially-accepted norms? We simply buy products and services, whether we really need them or not, that promise us satisfaction, happiness, status, even an improved sex life. If we do not buy these products, most of us fear is that we will feel a lack of worth, depression, lower self-esteem, and insecurity, regardless of if we are men or women.

So taken are we with living up to a certain standard or standards presented in media and advertising that we will go to extremes to challenge any obstacle to our personal gender identity and/or gender expression. Some feel so strongly about this that they come to see gender-based violence in one or more of its myriad forms as acceptable. Some feel that being considered beautiful, no matter what the cost, including cosmetic surgery, which has tripled world-wide over the past ten years, becomes justified. They are not.

- Tony Barone

The above ad depicts a hockey coach who is overtly emotional while trying to motivate his team. The interesting part of this commercial is the reaction he elicits from the players, who seem both confused and irritated. The ad condescendingly states "there's no place for sensitivity in hockey," underlining the absurdity of being openly emotional when in a typical masculine atmosphere. The correlation of sports and masculinity is a dominant cultural code in our society, with young boys being mentored in an atmosphere that encourages hostility, aggression,  and a lack of emotion. This ad represents the conditioned stereotype evident in organized sports; the worship of strength and the celebration that comes with the denial of emotion. 

- E. A.

At first glance the commercial comes across as funny and entertaining, but on closer inspection what we are really seeing is media playing with and mixing up our understanding/perception of gender and gender roles.  The commercial works because its ability to disorient and provoke is memorable. This ad challenges our default perceptions of male and female roles. A computer nerd is not supposed to embody masculinity; he is not supposed to be entitled to kiss the swimsuit model.  Not in our world with very clearly defined gender roles and gender identity. The absurdity of the image of them kissing -- according to the logic of hegemonic gender norms -- reinforces the image that we are supposed to (but don't) see: Bar Rafaeli kissing a muscular Hollywood actor or model. In this case, then, masculinity is that which is alluded to but never explicitly shown.

- Tony Barone

There are a number of things implied in these two commercials. Men (and only men) should care about how their beer tastes. Indeed, this is presented as a sort of prerequisite for manhood. However, it is not okay for a man to dress like a woman, for clothing functions as a performance of gender. Thus, manhood is something that must be displayed; it is by what he wears, what he buys - that is, by material things - that a man shows that he is a man. The disdain in both ads for performances of femininity reveals something else as well: 'femininity' is somehow inferior to 'masculinity.' The insults about his 'purse' are not just about the bag itself - they are about calling his manhood into question, indeed, about patronizing him as a lesser form of person: a woman. 

- Christopher Ford

Old Spice has a tradition of utilizing its traditional image of  'manliness' in its ad campaigns and in this commercial they've hired Terry Crews. Crews represents the alpha male, both an actor and past NFL linebacker, he embodies the physical characteristics of a strong and masculine man. What makes this commercial exceptional lies in its satire; both Crews and the directors understand the role of masculinity, and this commercial lampoons the idea with an over-the-top, exaggerated mascot who is so strong and powerful he transcends what is physically possible. The notion of his persona being so desired is also poked fun at with an absurd twist that puts him as the role of every character in the commercial. At the end, he even marries himself, causing him substantial frustration where he then destroys himself with the only thing stronger than him; the product advertised. When the spot concludes, Crews, playing his wife, simply states "men" in a sarcastic and jocular manner, emphasizing the complete absurdity of both the masculinity, and the entire commercial. 

It is also important to acknowledge the way in which race intersects with gender in this ad. The choice of an African-American actor is deliberate, for blackness is historically associated with hypermasculinity. This depiction of blackness carries with it, then, a variety of loaded connotations around physicality, violence, and sexuality. Each of these characteristics is a signifier of masculinity, and all are ostensibly epitomized most completely by black men. (There is nothing inherent or natural about the association of blackness with masculinity. It is the product of a history of racial violence and exploitation by white people.)

- E. A.

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