An Ad I Hate
I feel like I SHOULD be offended by this commercial. But it’s so bad that I’m not sure I even understand it well enough to be offended.
It’s a commercial for muscle milk, a product that I presume is one of those high-protein workout drink things. (I am too tired to be bothered to look up what it actually does.) Safe to say it’s a product that’s associated with traditional masculinity. (Because it’s for muscles, and ladeez totes don’t have those!) This ad plays the same game that we’ve seen in countless other ads targeted at the “traditionally masculine” man; it shows us how a particular product can muscularize, masculinize, pornify, and legitimize (and therefore make desirable) any man (or lady. Or sperm.).
The formula for these commercials is pretty straightforward. We meet a man. We learn that something is preventing that man from being a fully actualized traditional American male. Maybe he eats vegetables. Or his penis isn’t rarin’ to go. Or he is Betty White. Whatever the condition, our product promises that it can cure the male of the species. And the result of the cure, of course, is that he will get women. (Except when he thinks women are bringing him down. In which case, he gets a car?)
I’m pretty sure that’s the message that Muscle Milk is attempting here. And of course, I always hate ads like that. I hate any ads that presume there is an “appropriate” performance of masculinity. And I hate ads that suggest that I, as a woman, would only desire men who fit advertising’s definition of “man.” (Sometimes, I desire people who aren’t men at all!) The problem with the Muscle Milk ad is that I can’t even identify the “problems” that the product is supposed to cure. And if I can’t figure out the problems, I can’t figure out what kind of man I should be looking for!
Let’s examine these problems one by one:
1. I assume, first of all, that Chet’s outfit is a problem. Pink is usually a no-no for traditional masculinity, and that is one pink polo shirt. And I think we’re supposed to be upset by his sweater-around-the-neck look as well. The problem is, I thought that those sweaters were supposed to be masculine. Not Harley-Davidson masculine, but at least preppy masculine. Has traditional masculinity rejected preppiness now? I had no idea. Does this mean that they’re also rejecting greed, country clubs, and golf? Because that would be fun.
2. The voiceover tells us that Chet “believes comic books count as literature.” What does literature have to do with stereotypical masculinity? Is that something I missed? When dudez gave up greed and golf (see above) did they also suddenly get really into Italo Calvino? (How about Charlotte Bronte?) I would think that Chet’s preference for comic books would actually make him more traditionally masculine (unless you are asking Norman Mailer who, again, is not the target market for Muscle Milk). I still seem to be missing the boat somehow.
3. ”He fantasizes about fantasy football.” Can somebody please explain this to me? Aren’t dudez supposed to like fantasy football? Or are you supposed to be so masculine that you play sports rather than watch them?
4. In addition to the above incomprehensible offenses, Chet has “been ejected from several co-ed softball games.” WHAT DOES THIS MEAN????!!! Ejected for what? Wearing a pink shirt? Is his ejection from the games the problem, or is it the fact that he’s getting cooties by playing softball with girls?
5. I guess none of this really matters. Because Chet is riding on a tandem bicycle with several women. And in the end, all you need to be a “valid” man is a lady. Or, even better, more than one lady. And they had better be instantly recognizable as “hot” by all of your traditionally masculine friends.
Actually, I think I’ve just uncovered the reason why this commercial offends me. Because it doesn’t matter that the commercial makes no sense. It doesn’t matter that I cannot comprehend what offenses Chet has committed against the sacred Order of Teh Menz. All that matters is that Chet has pretty ladeez. It doesn’t matter that I, as a woman, can’t understand this commercial to save my life. Because, as the Harpies put it during their wrap-up of the Superbowl 2010 ads, the point of ads like this is that “Men talk a lot more. Men do more things. Men are the people whose talking and doing matters.”
And they’re right. This ad is the patriarchy. Because it’s telling me that all I am is a fixture for Chet’s tandem bicycle. And that’s B.S.
But I’d still really like it if somebody could explain the fantasy football thing to me.