Thursday, October 29, 2009

Men at Work


I have written before about the negative depictions of men in television advertising. Indeed it has been a central topic of my research over the past five or so years. My perspective comes out of several research studies that I have conducted on the depiction of men as wolves and lower animals, men as cavemen, and men caught in public literally with their pants down. For the latter study, I collected twenty-seven examples of television commercials depicting men caught with their pants down. One of the better-known commercials featured comedian Dave Chappelle, in an ad for Pepsi, who has his pants sucked off by an over-active vacuum cleaner. While watching TV last evening, I noticed a new commercial for a company, Identity Guard. You can see the commercial above. Notice that the guy in the commercial is, well, depicted in public wearing only his underwear. While on the surface, I agree, this is humorous, and from a creative perspective, the image deviates from the norm and therefore is likely to garner attention.  From a cultural perspective, however, I think more is at work. To be “caught with your pants down” is a humiliating experience associated with public embarrassment. The fact that the individual in the ad is oblivious to his situation drives home the point. If it’s okay to be stripped of your manhood, then there’s nothing left to loose. Considering the loss that many men have experienced during this current recession, there is consolation in the fact that there is, well, nothing left to lose. Maybe we can use such depictions to measure the state of the economy: if there’s nothing left to lose, then maybe the economy is at bottom and will begin to turn around. I have no idea if there really is a correlation; in fact, I doubt it. But when the economy does turn around many of those men who lost their jobs will not be getting them back. I wonder how will advertising treat them when times are good?

3 comments:

Daniel said...

Men being depicted with their pants down in advertising can surely be seen as a slight against the modern men in general, and after I thought about it I realized there are many ads that slight men. The campaign by Bud Light for ‘Real Men of Genius’ came to mind first, because it is a campaign making fun of men, but also for a product directed towards them. This campaign involved Bud light saluting individuals who have done/do really embarrassing actions. Examples of these could be the ‘way to much cologne wearer’, ‘the really really bad dancer’, or ‘Mr. overzealous fowl-ball catcher.’ What does wearing too much cologne and beer have to do with each other? Absolutely nothing. I did find these commercials to be hilarious, but didn’t see the relationship to the product. It could be that men tend to jokingly make fun of one another when they hang out, and by allowing Bud Light the chance to do the same then customers may view Bud Light as a friendly product, or one of the guys. However, I think that is a stretch at best. Especially since when these commercials come to my mind, I didn’t recall which beer company they were actually for.

This is a link to some of the commercials: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ETrWZsYYJOQ

Johanna said...

When I first read about your work studying men who are depicted "with their pants down" I was pretty facinated. I had never really put much thought into how many ads really do put men into these blundering and embarassing situations. In today's society many people overlook negative stereotypes and predjudice toward men, instead people focus on women and minorities being oppressed by the media. These ads show that the media also works to propogate negative stereotypes toward men. After reading this post I went on to examine popular television shows and was amazed at what I saw on many of the sitcomes. From Family Guy to According to Jim, there is an overwhelming pattern of slovenly,slightly stupid, otften overweight men who live with these beautiful patient women who take their "issues" with a grain of salt. What does this media tell us about American society? That men can be rude slobs, let themselves go phsically and still expect to have a beautiful partner who will constantly tolerate their disrespectful behaviour? Allthough many of these shows are funny I have to wonder what message they are sending to America. I guess I will just have to continue to watch the way men are depicted on TV and ads inorder to evaluate the way society views its male population.

mmbyrne said...

One of the first ad campaigns that came to mind was surprising e-trade.com. For me, the correlation is quite obvious--a baby boy in a diaper discusses the ease of managing his stock portfolio management in a much deeper man's voice. So if you heard the commercial, without looking at the ad, you might think it was advice from a fellow friend or coworker. In reality, like the Geico commercials it's meant to reach out to men in the same way to say "Look, if a baby can do it, so can you."

However, I cannot really sympathize with men on this issue. For years, it was women who were used degradingly in advertising. Recently, I think of the Dorito's Superbowl Commercial "The Power of the Crunch" in which a man has the ability to undress a woman with a simply bite into a dorito. So what does that say about our society when our advertising relies heavily on satire and exploitation of stereotypes?