It seems to be a regular occurrence these days, that some company, in an attempt to be edgy and provocative, approves an ad campaign in which things like “good taste” and “human decency” take a back seat to that tired old adage in which it’s assumed that bad attention is better than no attention. Reebok is the latest company to earn admission to this illustrious hall of shame, with an ad that tells its straight-dudebro audience to “cheat on your girlfriend, not your workout.”
The ad, which only appeared in Germany, made its way across the Internet anyway – hello, global village! – and triggered calls for a boycott, which then led Reebok to pull the ad and apologize, saying they “don’t condone this message or cheating in any form.”
I’m not really all that interested in participating in a boycott of Reebok over this ad. What I find more interesting is how it fits into a larger schema of advertising that is meant to appeal to what I’ve seen dubbed “anxious masculinity” that seems to be manifesting itself all over our culture as of late. I had similar thoughts when I read a recent article in Bitch about “breastaurants,” which looked at the increasing popularity of these trashy little eateries in a recession.
In an article about FaceLube, a skincare system for “real men,” Amanda Hess writes:
How does something like FaceLube happen? It is the perfect storm of anxious masculinity: An economic downturn framed as the “end of men,” a marketing environment increasingly comfortable alienating women, and a founder who has built a career on being “one of the boys.”
(By the way, I know the people behind FaceLube were thinking of cars when they named their product, but all I could think of was sex lubricants. Branding fail?)
I feel like I’ve seen more and more of this in-your-face brand of masculinity in recent years, and that it’s particularly troubling to me when taken in conjunction with the stepped-up assault on women that has been unfolding as of late. It’s one thing when it’s just misguided advertising and overpriced beauty products; that stuff is mildly obnoxious and even a tad bit amusing in a weird way. I could just laugh it off if these things were isolated incidents.
But that’s the thing – they aren’t isolated incidents. They are part of an overall cultural shift that doesn’t even try to hide itself anymore, an attitude that has become so blatant that people don’t even try to act like they are doing anything other than trying to control women and keep us in our place lest we upend the social order with our annoying demands for things like “bodily autonomy” and “civil rights.” Laws, threats of infidelity, accusations of “unwomanliness,” not-so-subtle reminders of our “real” value as babymakers and human masturbation aids – it’s all the same. It’s all meant to keep us small and cowed and afraid to fight for what we know deep in our hearts to be fair and right.
I know, I know – the people who make ads like this one for Reebok – and all of the Carl’s Jr. ads…and the Dr. Pepper Ten ad…and, well, half of the Super Bowl ads – would probably reject the idea that they have anything to do with, say, laws that mandate the use of transvaginal ultrasounds or Rush Limbaugh calling Sandra Fluke a prostitute. They would probably say that it’s all in good fun, and that they are just trying to be “provocative” and “edgy.”
But I would suggest that in this day and age, when men and women are so constantly being pitted against one another by media and business and politics and advertising, what would truly stand out is not another advertisement that encourages men and women to see each other as adversaries in an endless war. No, at this point, what would would really be edgy is advertising that shows respect for our common humanity. I know, what a novel idea, right?