I’ve only just seen this Australian viral ad for Maxibon ice-cream from last year, and have to say that’s some manwich.
It’s as if they decided to satirise the intensely annoying – and self-defeating – MANly strap-on theme of a lot of very bad recent men’s advertising by taking it to the ultimate Desperate Danni absurdity. They really take the pistachio out of machismo.
Beer, as everyone knows, was invented so that men can touch and hug and kiss – and sometimes shag – one another. And not have to talk about it or even remember the next day. ‘Oh boy, was I drunk last night!’.
Beer was invented in other words to allow men time off being MEN. While still being manly. Because drinking beer was what guys did, as well as the reward for being guys. No wonder we drank it so much, even if much of it tasted like wee.
In fact, the general nondescript awfulness of beer was part of its oblivious male appeal.
But most of us don’t drink it like that any more. If at all. Beer consumption in the UK has been falling for some time, both at home and in the pub. Young male drinkers are more inclined to sip ‘girly’ alcopops than beer. And if they drink beer at all it frequently has to be lah-dee-dah strong imported premium beer in a bottle. ‘Beer’ is no longer this tasteless, undifferentiated, unreflexive, uniform substance – like ‘regular guys’.
Perhaps this is why beer has become something laughably self-conscious. Painfully straight-acting. Both Fosters and Guinness, representing almost opposite ends of the beer market (Guinness a premium beer and brand, Fosters… not so much), have recently released ‘jokey’ beer ads that talk about the things men used to drink beer so they wouldn’t have to think about.
Both ads are based on the homo-panic of the ‘man code’, those prissy-missy list of ‘manly’ – i.e. fagly – ‘do’s’ and ‘don’ts’ that America produced a few years back as part of its backlash against metrosexuality. So the Fosters ad advises their customers about the etiquette of applying sun tan cream to another male without getting an erection, and the Guinness ad discusses how to hug another male without him feeling your erection.
Both have been accused of being homophobic. I’m not sure that this is what they are exactly. And in fact, calling them homophobic is almost to let them off the hook. ‘Homophobic’ almost sounds reassuringly traditional – and it also suggests that we can assume the sexuality of the men in these ads (who don’t seem so sure about it themselves).
In fact, what’s remarkable and slightly disturbing about these beer ads is that they are very faggy. Both in terms of the straight-acting anxieties they play with and how they look.
Essentially they assume that men in general are so gay these days they need advice on how to butch it up. Girl. Beer ads used to always have three men so that no one would think for a moment they were a couple. But both these ads feature male couples (two male couples in the case of the Fosters ad). And in both ads the male couples are so parodic of masculinity that they appear gay.
The Guinness ad couple are particularly easy to imagine fucking (the little skinny nerdy flannel shirted one, of course, topping the big bald leather guy).
And, deliberately or not, the ironic advice they offer ends up looking way gayer than hugging or budgie-smuggling. The nice Guinness guys embracing with their bums stuck out looks more like an invitation to the scally Fosters couple than anything else.
A while ago this blog took a look at the sticky relationship that exists between American men and food — and the way that obesity, oral insatiability and a weakness for Whoppers is marketed as ‘manly’.
In an excellent post by Holly Richmond at The Grist about the US media’s current appetite for features on s0-called ‘manly vegans’, dubbed – and honestly, I’m not making this up – ‘hegans’. She gets right to the ribeye of the matter:
The subtext of all three stories is essentially, “See, veganism isn’t gay!” The Post and Courier piece is most explicit on this point, spotlighting “high-profile alpha males” who’ve given up most animal products, including Bill Clinton, hip-hop mogul Russell Simmons, and a handful of professional sports stars. None of the articles mention the Long Island man who was “mercilessly mocked, labeled ‘a homo’ and canned for not eating meat.” God forbid the pieces actually examine the complex issue of masculinity in our culture.
How about instead of “hegan” trend pieces, media outlets publish stories that don’t confine men to rigid, outdated gender stereotypes?
You might as well ask for a slice of the moon, Holly.
Fear of The Fag Within still dominates most American media discourse about masculinity. It’s what prompted the backlash against metrosexuality in the mid-Noughties, around the time America realised the sexual ambivalence inherent in it – and its queer provenance.
It’s why for the last few years the word ‘man’ and ‘he’ has been strapped on to anything that without them might look a bit… faggy. Or not phallic enough. Manbags. Manscara. Mandates. As a way of saying, yes it’s a trend, men’s behaviours are changing and that’s why it’s newsworthy – but don’t worry! Men are still MEN! And this isn’t about a niche! It’s about NORMAL GUYS!!
That kind of thing.
While the manly strap-on was always a tad self-defeating – could anything, in fact, be faggier? – ‘hegans’ really does sound like the end of the road for this particular trope. It is so not hitting the spot. In fact, it’s impossible now not to point and guffaw – loudly – when you see or hear one of these joke codpieces.
So here’s a red-blooded idea. From now on, whenever you hear ‘man’ or ‘he’ strapped onto the front of something in a desperate attempt to try and butch it up and banish the inner sissy, just replace it with ‘fag’.
It’s a fun game, but you’ll also be doing everyone a huge favour by outing The Fag Within and letting him swish around giddily to his heart’s content. Getting it over and done with so we can talk about other stuff, instead of fixating over not mentioning this fucking boring pink elephant in the room.
And who knows? It might even finally make a man out America.
POSTSCRIPT: DAKrolak also kindly sent this new ‘strap-on’ ad for Dr Pepper’s manly/faggy diet drink. I guess the name ’10’ is meant to imply ‘inches’. Or as the butch man in the ironic-but-not-so-ironic ad puts it “…with 10 manly calories”.