Friday, January 22, 2010
Caught with your pants down follow-up
Who would have thought that guys caught with their pants down or conversely being encouraged to “wear the pants” would be such a vital trend in advertising. As pointed out in my previous blog post, I have kept track of nearly three-dozen commercials over a period of years that depict guys caught in public with their pants down. And, I have described the use of this technique in my academic research as a way of debasing masculinity: masculine gender identity becomes like raw skin irritated by a dull razor and no shave cream. Just as the trend looked like it was picking up steam again—see the two ads in the previous post—Dockers comes along with an about to be launched Super Bowl campaign that encourages men to simply “wear the pants.” So what is a man to do: wear the pants or take them off in public? Metaphorically, wearing the pants is aligned with traditional masculinity as in the male “wears the pants in the family.” Wearing the pants would assign the male the role of breadwinner; chief wage earner. But we know that is not based on fact given what the recession in the late-eighties/early nineties did to men’s ability to obtain gainful employment; same for this current recession where men have been displaced from their jobs at a greater rate than women. In fact a recent Pew report says 22 percent of men with "some college" are now outearned by their wives. So the message expressed in the Dockers ad campaign in based on a myth. But much advertising is mythic in quality; myth being another word for a lie. The Dockers ad theme is based on a male fantasy and the idea is consistent with what Susan Faludi wrote in her book Stiffed about men becoming “ornaments.” No longer are many men the sole or even major breadwinner in their families, so the only way they can recoup their virility is to, in this case, wear Dockers. While the phrase “wear the pants” may be strong in tone, it is offered to a weakened male consumer. The advertisement in this way offers recompense for the male consumer’s lost status in society. Advertising, and in that purchasing Dockers, in this instance becomes the solution to his personal problem – loss of status. Furthermore, the counter messages offered by the sum total of all this advertising—pants off/pants on—is to send a message of confusion to males – which is it? In this way masculinity becomes problematic for the consumer as these and other advertisements raise the question: who am I? The only way to answer is to purchase the product. As Faludi might suggest: men have become mere ornaments.