Words can not truly express how little I care for Men. There are individual males who I care for very deeply, but as far as the fate of Men as a whole, what is happening to Men, where have Men been going and where have Men been? Yawn. Gender roles have changed and evolved an awful lot in the last 50 years, and for the better, I’d say. But even if you think not, getting upset about it seems as pointless as yelling at the weather.
For a long time, I thought most folks felt the same way, even accounting for the fact that I live in the grand pansexual paradise of New York City. The grand debates of What Is Man? had largely disappeared from public discourse, I thought, banished to the same dusty corner of the intellectual attic as “Who lost China?!”
But apparently I thought too soon, because lately I’ve noticed a severe flare up of the mentality of WON’T SOMEBODY PLEASE THINK OF THE MAN-CHILDREN?! Or, at the very least, segments of the media that hope to capitalize on that sentiment. And sadly, I don’t think it’s a coincidence that this has happened just as gay rights have made their biggest strides in maybe forever. It seems a very calculated move to prey on the fears and hates of people who are worried that someone somewhere may be doing something that makes them uncomfortable. All while employing a notion of Manliness that would be unrecognizable to previous generations of men.
Case in point: Dr. Pepper 10. Look, this isn’t some pink, frilly diet soda, you dumb women. This is a 10 calorie soda with some balls on it. And if you ladies can’t handle it, that’s too damn bad.
I like to think of myself as a commercial aficionado, and I can say there were many, many ads from yesteryear employing overt sexism that would be unthinkable nowadays. But I can’t recall any that had a tagline so exclusionary as IT’S NOT FOR WOMEN. And yet, watching this commercial, you can’t help but feel that it’s not really women they want to exclude. Rather, it’s men who they see as acting like women. Because the kind of moron who would make fun of another guy for drinking a diet soda wouldn’t call him a “woman”; he’d probably go for a much more hateful word.
You see the same attitude in those reprehensible Miller Lite commercials that tell guys to MAN UP. That doesn’t mean “don’t be a woman”; it means “stop acting queer.” They never use those words, of course, but that’s the clear implication of ads where men are mocked for crying in front of their girlfriends, or wearing clothes that aren’t jeans and a t-shirt with a huge meatball stain on it.
Even apart from the barbarian sexual politics they espouse, these ads are some of the worst things ever, disembodied Scene Salads whose individual parts fail to add up to a cohesive whole. For instance, the mockery is usually initiated by some bartender who acts snarky toward a customer in a way no bartender ever would, at least not one who lives on tips. Manliness is equated with a desire for More Taste (TM) in a leap of logic that is never fully explained, as if it should be obvious to everyone that a Real Man would demand More Taste. Which is ironic, since Miller Lite is unadulterated swill without a drop of taste, good or otherwise, in a whole keg of the garbage.
You may think this is nothing new, since beer advertising has gone straight for the Man-Jugular since time immemorial. They’ve jammed bars full of yelling old sports figures. They’ve fostered dumb catch phrases. They’ve resorted to fart jokes. And they’ve slid pretty ladies into bikinis and made them hang out with dogs, for some reason. Miller Lite is far from the first beer to play the Manly card. When Rheingold was relaunched in the late 1990s, they tried the “this ain’t no girly beer” bent for a while. I have an ancient Piels vinyl sign I got off of eBay, the kind a bar would hang in their window, that proudly says THE FIRST LIGHT BEER BREWED FOR MEN. The phrase “lowest common denominator” was practically invented to describe beer ads. (Well, that and math.)
No matter how stupid these ancestors might be, however, there’s something extra gross about these Miller Lite commercials. They’re suffused with the proscriptive idea that 1) there is only one way to be a man, and 2) those who do not conform to this way must be mocked and shunned. It’s one thing to show dumb guys trying to sneak beer into the opera. It’s something else entirely to say guys who wouldn’t go to such ridiculous lengths to drink a certain beer are gay–which is, of course, the WORST thing a man can be–and must be ridiculed (or worse) for said gayness.
For those who agree with that statement, there’s a brand new sitcom that’ll be straight up your very narrow alley: Tim Allen’s Last Man Standing. (Working title: Help! Vaginas!) In it, he plays a man who has to live with his horrible family full of women! Can you imagine anything worse for a brawny, hairy, two-fisted, rip-roarin’ Man Specimen like Tim Allen? You can’t!
But it gets worse for this manliest of men! In the pilot, he has to endure kids with two dads, almost driving a minivan instead of his big honking pickup truck, and a daughter whose boyfriend goes to the tanning salon. How long can manly manliness endure such insults?!
This is obviously meant to be an extension of Allen’s character from Home Improvement, and his grunting manliness. Granted, even that version of Allen made fun of his Tool Time partner for a lack of man-itude, but overall Home Improvement was a far more goofy show. Allen’s efforts to ramp things up to a manly 11 almost always backfired, and there was at least a pretense of growth when he would seek advice from his wise, unseen next-door neighbor.
Was Home Improvement a good show? Not really, but it was far more light-hearted and harmless than Last Man Standing, which is like a teleplay of your crankiest, most Neanderthal relative’s Facebook posts. If this show had a Facebook wall, it would be filled detailed critiques of “Obama’s so-called birth certificate.”
Last Man Standing has an enormous undercurrent of monstrous anger and hate, directed almost exclusively at anything remotely fruity, though he does take some time out to hate Muslims, too, to the point where even Archie Bunker would say, “Hey, tone it down dere, fella.” On TV, this is supposed to be charmingly curmudgeonly. In real life, he’d already have driven everyone–man and woman–from his life, and be sitting on a barstool somewhere mumbling to himself about socialism.
What I find most ironic about the Miller Lite ads and Last Man Standing is how truly unmanly they are. They’re an outgrowth of the Lad Mag explosion of the last decade, which introduced the notion that there are certain things Men like that they should be able to enjoy all the time off in some cave somewhere (namely, boobs, booze, and terrible food). Granted, that is a very old impulse, that men go over here and do this and women go over there and do that and never the twain shall meet. But this idea that men should be allowed to pursue pure id is, I think, a relatively new and gross notion.
This is completely antithetical to the classical ideal of manhood. Of course, I am talking of the sepia-toned, sun-dappled ideal that may have been more goal than reality, but that’s why they call it an ideal. It’s the ideal of a man as exemplified by my grandfather, who is the most truly manly person I’ve ever known. This ideal says that a man–which is to say, an adult–should do what he has to do to maintain his own life and not give two shits about what the next man is doing to maintain his, because in 99.9% of all cases, the way another man lives his life has zero impact on your ability to live yours the way you want.
A man works. Working does not mean furrowing your brow and huffing and cursing when things change around you, because that is selfish and men are not selfish. It means adjusting to your environment and finding ways to work with what you have.
The people in the Miller Lite ads are children, and the worst kind of children, nyah-nyah lizard-mind children who gang up on those who are different. The same goes for Tim Allen, or his character anyway, who whines WHAT HAPPENED TO MEN?! without realizing he too is not a man, but a child. He wants the world to resemble his idea of it, which is exactly what a child wants. A child doesn’t have to adjust to the world; the world has to adjust to him. And if the world can’t bend to his whims, to prove how wrong we are, the child will take his ball and go home and then we won’t have him to play with anymore and won’t we be sorry then?!
A child will refuse to eat lunch because the crusts of his sandwich weren’t cut just the right way. A man will be thankful for a meal.
Do you lament some John Wayne style of manhood? Well, John Wayne was an enormous asshole and a fraud and a coward who couldn’t be bothered to serve in WWII, so he spent his whole life making movies about war heroes because deep down in his heart, he knew he was a fraud and a coward. The man-children behind Dr. Pepper 10, Miller Lite, and Last Man Standing are the same way: so deeply insecure about their own manhood that they must cast a fence around their idea of it and stay there. They’re welcome to that tiny patch of land. I prefer the universe.