In a new Mother’s Day-themed KFC ad he leads a selection of prime succulents: stripped, battered and deep-fried, covered in MILFy sauciness – just begging to be eaten.
‘I LOVE you mom!’
So many baskets and buns – so little time.
OK, it’s fingerlickingly awful. Mind you, you have to give it credit for taking on not one but two taboos in one ad: cannibalism and incest.
It’s possible of course, in an age of viral annoying advertising, that its awfulness was intentional. That I was meant to groan at this ad, its terrible taste, and share it, snarkily. In which case, it worked a treat.
But even if it was intentionally awful, it’s difficult today to imagine the roles reversed and a KFC ad featuring a troupe of female strippers moaning “I LOVE you, dad!” served up deep-fried in a bucket.
But then, as the ASA ruled a while back, men can’t be objectified. And in fact, because men can’t be objectified this ad doesn’t exist. And these ads don’t exist either. So obviously this KFC ad is just a bad dream brought on by indigestion – probably caused by eating too much fast food.
AHHM was written by Jimmy Perry and David Croft, the duo behind the other smash hit 1970s hit BBC sitcom Dad’s Army. Croft was also behind Are You Being Served?, thus he and Perry dominated my childhood viewing, making them essentially the architect of my terrible sense of humour.
Set in India in the dying days of both the Second World War and the British Empire, AHHM told the travails of a concert party of misfit men – or ‘boys’ as they refer to themselves in their theme song – that just want to survive the war and have a bit of a giggle amidst the relentless boredom and heat, and put on a show to entertain the men. (Perry was drawing on his own experience: during the war he had served in a Royal Artillery Concert Party in Burma.)
Their old school, barrel-chested, ramrod-backed, racist, homophobic ‘SHUUUUT-TUUUUP!!’ BSM would have scoffed at the new, Mister lah-dee-dah Gunner Graham American Psychological Association guidelines for men and boys. Clearly a fervent believer in the now officially pathologized ‘traditional masculinity ideology’ – though he would just call it ‘backbone’ – he is forever trying, and failing, to turn the ‘effeminate poofs’ in the concert party into ‘proper men’, and save the British Empire from decadence.
Everyone else though – the squaddies they entertain, the local Indians working for the British Army, and especially the pipe-smoking Colonel – love the ‘boys’ of the concert party and their degenerate, painted poofery and can’t wait for post-war, post-imperial dissipation.
There was also a regular hint that this mustachioed scourge of poofdom who sees poofery everywhere has latent ‘omosexual tendencies himself – or is at least ‘guilty’ of behaving like an ‘omo. Williams dotes on Gunner ‘Parky’ Parkin, one of the hunkier (by dismal 1970s standards) young soldiers in the concert party: “Shoulders back, lovely boy, you’ve got a fine pair of shoulders on you. Show ’em orf! Show ’em orf!” He sings his (non-existent) praises to the officers and covers up his failures.
He thinks the lad is his illegitimate son; so he is showing paternal pride and affection for his own virility. But we and the concert party know he isn’t Parky’s daddy, so the joke is he’s unwittingly displaying something else. Freud should have had a writing credit for this sitcom: he saw a father’s love for his son, and the ‘male bonding’ of all-male groups, as a sublimated, socially-acceptable outlet for universal homoerotics.
The BSM also sometimes appears to be wearing eyeliner, though I’m sure this is just a 1970s TV camera pickup issue.
The reason BSM Williams was such a fondly-regarded prime-time act in the 1970s was down to Davies’ great comedic performance (and it was a performance of course – apparently he was a very kind and gentle chap). It wasn’t just about the virtuoso shouting – it was also about those baby blue eyes in silent close-up: so expressive when reacting to/mocking other people’s lines
And because even forty years ago, the bristling Sgt Major represented for most UK viewers under 50 an already outmoded, comically inappropriate imperial masculinity. If one that was still vividly recognisable, especially to a male generation that had, like Davies, done National Service (it ended in 1960)
For anyone under 50 today, probably the most recognisable part is the waxed Edwardian moustache – but only because it’s been recycled on the ironic upper lip of hipsters and Movemberists.
Possibly only one of the concert party ‘poofs’ seems intended to be taken for an actual poof: ‘Gloria’, played by Melvyn Hayes – who was the cross-dressing star of both the concert party and, alongside Davies, the sitcom itself. Yes, judged by today’s standards it was racist and homophobic: I’m sure plenty of 1970s viewers enjoyed seeing the bloody campers getting a beasting from the Sgt Major – I know I did.
But he was the cartoon baddie, and the past. Annoying and ridiculous as they are often presented, the ‘poofs’ were the sympathetic characters, and the present.
‘Toxic masculinity’ may not be terribly appetising, but it does seem to be on everyone’s lips these days.
The concept originally derives from the gender studies theory of ‘hegemonic masculinity’ – described on Wikipedia as the ‘stereotypic notion of masculinity that shapes the socialization and aspirations of young males’.
Although hegemonic masculinity is, as the name suggests, a bad thing in itself, toxic masculinity is, as the name tells you, really bad. It’s the aspects of hegemonic masculinity that ‘serve to maintain men’s dominance over women in Western societies’. Things like ‘the devaluation of women, homophobia and wanton violence’.
Somewhat confusingly however, toxic masculinity theory has itself gone ‘hegemonic’.
Earlier this month the dominant US consumer goods multinational Procter & Gamble (annual revenue $65B) released a hard-hitting new ad for their ailing Gillette razor brand. After decades of gouging their customers and losing market position to new, cheaper ‘shave club’ competitors, they reasserted their supremacy – by ‘calling out’ men’s toxic behaviour.
Though in case you think they were tarring all men with the same stereotypical shaving brush, the ad did allow (at 1:06 mins in) that ‘some’ of them aren’t sexual predators and bullies, or arm-folded, burnt meat-eating enablers. And of course, associating Gillette with those few good guys battling male toxicity.
The ad was a great success – in the sense that it got people ‘talking about the brand’ and its new ‘purpose’. In an age when MSM ‘messaging’ can go entirely unnoticed, this one grabbed loads of editorial like a boss – and, much more importantly, owned people’s timelines.
And here I am, talking about it.
Actually, you’ll be relieved to hear, I don’t want to talk about it much. Everyone already has, at length – some even making good points. The only thing I want to say here about this ad is that regardless of what you think about it, whether you consider it ‘an important message’ or ‘an outrage’ – or refuse to have an opinion on it at all (though I’m not sure this is actually permitted) – it’s somewhat… paradoxical.
‘The Best That Man Can Be’ presents itself as an assault on the dominance of toxic masculinity in our culture and its terrible toll. But it is put out by one of the biggest, most powerful multinationals in the world that wants millions of men to buy its products.
If toxic masculinity is so dominant and dominating – along with the patriarchal culture that produces it and protects male power – how does this very expensive ad exist?
OK, I’m being slightly facetious. The reason it exists is because calling out toxic masculinity and ‘male privilege’ (sometimes qualified by ‘white’ but less often by class) has itself become more and more ‘dominant’ in much of the media over the last few years. A process that predated #MeToo but was turbo-charged by it. To the point where it now looks like liberal orthodoxy. Question it at your peril – unless you want to be labelled as ‘part of the problem’.
The week before Gillette went woke, researchers from the University of Missouri-Columbia and the University of Essex released a report that claimed to show that, contrary to previous studies, men are (slightly) more disadvantaged than women in most developed countries. Previous ways of measuring inequality (the Global Gender Gap Index) are ‘biased to highlight women’s issues’, they argued – and don’t distinguish between personal preferences and social inequalities.
‘We’re not saying that women in highly developed countries are not experiencing disadvantages in some aspects of their lives. What we are saying is that an ideal measure of gender equality is not biased to the disadvantages of either gender. Doing so, we find a different picture to the one commonly presented in the media’.
prof Gijsbert Stoet, University of Essex
Perhaps that picture ‘commonly presented in the media’ is why the newsworthy and controversial study was not widely reported in the UK, aside from conservative newspaper The Daily Mail and its sister paper Metro.
And in case you imagine the University of Essex a bastion of those dreaded Men’s Rights Activists, in 2016 it gave female staff a one-off pay rise in order to raise their average salaries to the same as their male counterparts.
The study’s Basic Index of Gender Inequality (BIGI) measures educational opportunities, healthy life expectancy and overall life satisfaction. According to the rankings it produces, the UK, US and Australia all discriminate against men (slightly) more, whereas Italy, Israel and China are tougher on women. Men in developed countries receive harsher punishments for the same crime, compulsory military service, and (many) more occupational deaths than women.
In the UK men fall somewhat behind women in years of secondary education, and more than 3.3% behind in healthy life-expectancy. Globally, men are, allegedly, disadvantaged in 91 countries compared to 43 for women.
These results suggest that the structures and culture that protects ‘male power’ are perhaps somewhat less dominant – or effective – than we have been led to believe. At least when compared to say, oh I don’t know… capitalism.
The same week massive multinational Procter & Gamble unleashed its crusading new brand purpose on the world, assimilating hegemonic masculinity theory for its campaign for market hegemony, the venerable American Psychological Association published its “Guidelines for the Psychological Practice with Boys and Men”.
This is the first time the APA have published guidelines for boys and men. According to them, boys and men who are socialised to conform to ‘traditional masculinity ideology’ often suffer in terms of mental and physical health. Although acknowledging that concepts of masculinity vary across cultures, ages and ethnicities ‘traditional masculinity ideology’ is characterised by achievement, risk, violence, dominance, anti-femininity, stigmatisation of the appearance of weakness and homophobia.
In other words, it’s much the same concept as hegemonic masculinity and its evil bro, toxic masculinity.
I think it’s good that the APA have finally released guidelines for boys and men, and of course agree that ‘traditional masculinity ideology’ is related to anti-femininity, and homophobia which does indeed have a cost for men as well as women- after all, my first book Male Impersonators, published a quarter of a century ago, made similar points about the relationship of homophobia to misogyny.
Though I feel rather more ambivalent about that once radical or at least marginal critique now that it has become official doctrine. I have also documented extensively in my work how many traditional ideas about masculinity have already been largely rejected or considerably modified by young men. And were probably always much less monolithic than we imagine – or ‘hegemonic’ theories allow.
Otherwise, impossibly pretty metrosexuality and its shockingly slutty successor, spornosexuality, could never have become the mass-market global phenomenon they are.
Muscle Beach was a popular pick-up area with men who wanted to meet men – including Tennessee Williams and Christopher Isherwood. Perhaps NBC’s picture editor was trying to tell us that traditional masculinity ideology has more holes in it than a Santa Monica rest-room partition? Or maybe NBC just wanted to get clicks, as you do these spornographic days, by using a hunk of male eye candy – in this case, vintage eye-candy because ‘traditional’.
Actual traditional masculinity ideology isn’t very sexy. It’s not interested in inviting our 21st Century non-binary gaze nearly enough.
The APA report itself repeatedly reminds us that gender is ‘socially-constructed’ and that men have ‘greater socioeconomic advantages’ than women – but when it talks about the problems men face it sometimes seems to imply that they themselves are to blame:
‘Despite having greater socioeconomic advantages than women, men’s life expectancy is almost 5 years shorter than women; in every ethnic group the age-adjusted death rate is higher for men than women. A sex difference in risk-taking is largely responsible for this discrepancy. For example, accidents are the leading killer among all males aged 1 to 44 in the United States (CDC 2010).
‘Guidelines for the Psychological Practice with Boys and Men’ – American psychological association
Men and boys’ disadvantage in life-expectancy is immediately explained by ‘a sex difference in risk-taking’ rather than, say, referring to structural problems in society – which would likely be used to explain inequalities that disadvantage women and girls.
When you look at the CDC figures for leading causes of deaths in the US for 2010 you find that ‘unintentional injuries’ are also the leading killer amongst females, ages 1-34 (falling to second place in the 35-44 category). Likewise for the most recent figures available, 2015.
So it is only in the 35-44 category that there is a ‘sex difference’ in the sense that accidental deaths are the main cause of male deaths and not for females. The total number of deaths by accident for each sex will likely be different.
But probably not as different as the figures for occupational injury deaths. In 2016, there were 4,803 male and 387 female occupational injury deaths in the United States.
Note how the total numbers fall around 2008, when the financial collapse occurred and the property/construction bubble burst. Men are of course hideously ‘dominant’ in the construction industry – and also in pretty much all the other most dangerous and often poorly-paid low-status professions, such as fishers, loggers, roofers, farm workers and refuse collectors.
Maybe this is down to the ‘sex difference in risk-taking’ of this ‘socioeconomically privileged’ category called men. Or perhaps it has something to do with structural inequalities in society, a lack of provision for (non-rich) boys’ educational needs – and the ruthless, ‘toxic’ way capitalism screws labour, whatever its gender.
But let’s not dwell on such quibbles, or question too closely the newly dominant stereotypical notions about men and masculinity. They are the correct stereotypes, after all. Gender studies has shown us this. And today’s corporate capitalism has taken these lessons on board and selflessly liberated us from boring old class conflict, replacing it with uplifting messaging around gender politics.
I’ve yet to see it, but the just-released Stan & Ollie film about Laurel and Hardy’s disastrous, almost-posthumous tour of postwar Britain seems to be about their love for one another – or our investment in the idea of it.
Back in the no-homo early 1990s me and my pal Nick Haeffner wrote a newspaper piece on the ‘queer’ appeal of their touching on-screen relationship and of male comedy duos in general – but it was cruelly spiked. I expanded it and included it as a chapter – ‘Funny Men’ – in my 1994 book Male Impersonators(which is, clutch the pearls, twenty five years old this year).
To celebrate the release of Stan & Ollie and also a quarter of a century of Male Impersonators, ‘Funny Men’ is available in full on my Patreon page, unlocked for a short time so non-patrons can access it. (Apologies in advance for the mention of Judith Butler – it was the early 90s and Male Impersonators was commissioned by an academic publisher.)
Unable to hold down a job for the length of a film, irresponsible, cowardly, living in the shadow of their Amazonian wives and regularly given a good pasting by them, our heroes are wonderfully, thrillingly catastrophic failures as men. Which is of course why we love them — gay or straight.
I’ve made liberal use of stills and gifs, but unfortunately Patreon doesn’t allow embedding of videos, so here’s what may be my favourite Laurel and Hardy Clip Of All Time. It’s a scenario I think we have all experienced at some point:
Also currently unlocked on Patreon is ”Oneymoons & Bloody Deviants’ an extended essay on how gay love stories lost their way at the movies – and how a tiny ‘for schools’ film made three decades ago was much more worthy of the praise and plaudits heaped on spectacularly mediocre films like Call Me By Your Name and God’s Own Country.
A sentimental, soapy love story isn’t enough to carry a movie now, just because your lovers both happen to have penises. Or are highly unlikely characters. No matter how beautiful or brooding or straight acting they might be, or how impeccably metropolitan and liberal the sympathies of the impossibly rurally-located film might be.
Oh, and remember, for as little as $1 a month you can become a patron and get access to my premium postings, early access to work and news about new projects. I can’t promise you a Scudder will climb a ladder to your bedroom for that kind of money – but hopefully you’ll get an occasional treat or two.
Traffic lights are now 150 years old. Is it time to unplug them?
Are you sitting uncomfortably? In an endless queue for your local traffic lights? Lights that seem to multiply in numbers weekly? Good. Here’s a fairy tale that will brighten your dreary day.
Once upon a time in Wales, a set of lovely brand new traffic signals were installed by those clever wizards in the traffic engineering department at a tip-top cost of £800,000.
However, instead of thanking the council for their kindness and thoughtfulness, the ungrateful residents and businesses whinged and moaned about the severe congestion which descended on the town after this upgrade.
The council, naturally, took no notice and refused to admit any error on their part – until the lovely new lights failed for a few hours. And, like a bad dream fleeing with the arrival of the dawn, the traffic jams that had plagued the town, simply evaporated.
The council was forced to agree to something incredible. Something quite unheard of. A lights-off trial.
There was a miraculous and immediate drop in congestion and journey time, queues disappeared on all the approaches, and the predicted chaos and anarchy of the doom-merchants failed to materialise. Instead drivers were observed being courteous and slowing to allow pedestrians to cross.
It’s a lovely fairy tale isn’t it? We all know that it couldn’t happen in real life. Traffic lights once installed are never removed – they only breed.
Except it did actually happen, in Portishead, in 2009.
Similar successful schemes in Drachten in the Netherlands and Bohmte in Germany scrapped over 80% of their traffic lights.
It estimates that a two minute delay to every car journey ends up costing the UK about £16B every year.
It also argues that traffic controls don’t increase road safety but have in fact the opposite effect, by making road-users rely on third-hand instructions rather than first-hand judgement: ‘The most obvious example is the traffic light: in taking our eyes off the road, it flouts the fundamental principle of road safety: to watch the road.’
While it should probably be remembered that the IEA has an right wing ideological axe to grind – and seems in its report to regard traffic lights and speed humps as Stalinist symptom of ‘command and control’ – they do have a point.
In the town where I live a key roundabout on the ring round was recently replaced – after enormous and year-long disruption caused by the roadworks – by a set of blindingly expensive, blindingly complicated and blindingly bright traffic lights.
There are so many of them – and of course they’re LED – that when you approach, even in what passes for daylight in the north east, all you can see is RED!!!!. Or GREEN!!!!. Or ACCELERATE!!!! (as some people seem to understand amber).
And naturally, traffic queues are much worse than they were before. You have to admire the council’s persistence. They introduced a universally-loathed ‘throughabout’ at another location a few years back. A throughabout is an ingenious piece of traffic engineering. Essentially, it’s a perfectly good roundabout ruined by an unnecessarily complicated layout and… traffic lights.
Traffic lights are the triffids of our road network, mushrooming regardless of utility or popularity, or the nightmares they can cause. From 2000 to 2014, when there was little growth in traffic volumes, the number of traffic lights increased by 25%. The number of junctions controlled by signals has risen to c. 15,000 with a further 18,000 pedestrian crossings.
The world’s first traffic light was installed in London in December 1868, near the Houses of Parliament. It was gas-powered and manually operated by a policeman. Based on railways signals (complete with semaphore arms), it was not a great success – it exploded after a month, injuring the policeman operating it.
The first (again manually operated) electric traffic light was installed in 1914 in Cleveland, Ohio – with two colours, red and green and a buzzer to warn of changes.
Los Angeles installed its first automated traffic signals in 1920. Manufactured by Acme, and immortalised in Looney Tunes cartoons, they combined semaphore ‘Stop’ ‘Go’ arms with red and green lights. A loud bell played the role of today’s ‘amber’.
Acme Semaphore Traffic Signal (Fully Restored Original)
In 1967 Toronto succeeded in computerising, with the help of pressure pads and the telephone network, all the city’s traffic lights, essentially inaugurating the modern system of traffic control. And our current traffic nightmares.
Perhaps though we’ve finally reached peak stop signal. As Hans Monderman, the famous Dutch traffic engineer pioneer of shared space schemes, said: ‘We only want traffic lights where they are useful and I haven’t found anywhere where they are useful yet.’
The IEA clearly agree with this sentiment. They advocate that a high proportion of traffic triffids should be replaced by filter-in-turn or all-way give-ways. ‘Many bus lanes, cycle lanes, speed cameras and parking restrictions should also go. Culling such traffic management infrastructure would deliver substantial economic and social benefits.’
Yes, that’s all very well. But one, vital question remains unaddressed: with all those traffic lights gone, where will we find the time to pick our noses?