Posts Tagged ‘Advertising’

By Michael Stelzer Jocks, History Faculty.

The other day on Facebook, a friend of mine posted a gun ad that had him a bit perturbed.  He commented on the ad, “Actual ad. Speaks for itself.”  It most definitely does. The ad is obviously speaking to a certain type of bushmaster_desktop_1024x768American who equates firearms with masculinity.  Nothing new here.  Masculinity in American culture (and many others, including Western Civilization generally) has long been identified with weapons.  Guns are just the latest incarnation. For some, guns equal aggression, and aggression is a predominately male dominion in these peoples’ minds. For others, guns equal protection of oneself and others, and protection is a predominately male dominion in these peoples’ minds. And for still others, guns may represent individuality and freedom.  The ability to control one’s own life and interests is best displayed by a holstered .45.

In post-Newtown America, guns are once again in the political forefront. Though it may not seem like it so far, this post is intended to focus upon more than simply the place of guns in American society. Instead, I believe that ad from my Facebook friend points to a troubling aspect of our culture that seems to be getting more pervasive as the years pass.  America has created what I am labeling a ‘culture of self-destructive masculinity’.  What I mean is that masculinity in our society is becoming portrayed more and more often with life-threatening danger.  This ad is just an extreme example.

I realize that the fact that I have equated guns with self-destructiveness would make many people very upset.  But, I intend this statement to be as non-controversial as possible. However you look at guns, there can be no denying that they are deadly weapons. Having a gun in your pocket increases your chances of being shot in the leg in the same way having a kitchen knife in your pocket would increase the likelihood of being stabbed.  Nothing more, nothing less.  Of course, knife manufacturers would usually not campaign on the ‘man card’ platform.  The fact that gun manufacturers felt this was an effective ad says a great deal about how we view masculinity.

KetelOneGentlemen2But, let’s look beyond guns because this culture of masculine self-destruction goes much further. How about alcohol?  Alcohol companies portray certain drinks as manly.  We know what alcohol does to the human body, but this is not supposed to be a concern for the ‘manly’ man.  Of course, the type of alcohol you drink is still based upon class distinctions, but each class has its masculine identity.  A certain vodka is manly.  Cheap beer is also manly.  One is for cultured barflies, the other for tailgating bros. But both are poisons that can cause self-destruction.

Manliness is also often defined by your vehicle.  Quickness, speed and power are portrayed as manly concerns.  Safety and dependability are not masculine.  I believe you can see the cult of self-destruction in the fact that for many, fast cars are not dangerous enough anymore; instead even more dangerous ultra-fast motorcycles are the symbol of manliness.  In this culture of self-destruction, protection becomes a weakness.  Helmets and seat belts are actually a burden that must be thrown off.

This culture of self-destructive manliness is noticeable in even more common arenas.  One is fast food.  The fast food industry fights against healthy foods by making our ingestion central to our gender, as this disturbing Burger King commercial illustrates.  And if fast food has become America’s meal, then football is America’s manly passion. The game is the epitome of manly interest.  It represents war for spectators in an age when war is never real (for average Americans at least).  Of course, football has always been about aggression; but we now know that football is not just ‘other’ destructive, it is also self-destructive.  Every year, ex-NFL players in their 40’s and 50’s can no longer walk, speak, or think because of the hits they have doled out to others.  Suicide and brain injuries are becoming common for ex-pros. But the ethos of manly self-destruction will not be done away with.  Bears Linebacker Brian Urlacher said just last month he would lie to cover up a concussion so he could stay in the game, or play the next week.  Self-destructive manliness epitomized.

Now the question that many may be asking: Is this new?  Or is this an aspect of history that has been with us for centuries?  I think it is new and it is old.  It is old in the sense that Western masculinity has always had a bit of self-destructiveness about it.  Two differences should be noted however; earlier self-destructiveness had traditionally been the realm of young men.  Also, this was not destructiveness for the sake of destructiveness.  Young men did not want to die in war.  They wanted to experience life. They wanted glory, nobility and heroism that purportedly came from the supposed selflessness that communal battle created.  What is new about this is that the self-destructiveness is now not aimed only at the young, but at all men.

But why is this?  That is the tough question. One reason may be that Americans have all been trained into believing that being young is ideal, and old age should be avoided at all costs. If it is self-destructive to be young, then the middle-aged want to reach this goal as well.  Additionally, this self-destructive masculinity seems to be spreading with America’s growing deification of libertarianism.  As American culture has become more and more individualized, direction or advice from others is often seen as overbearing and paternalistic.  Hence, helmet laws are despised.  Speed limits are increased.  Concealed weapons are normalized. Such libertarianism has become an aspect of almost all political hues in modern America.

How do we end this?  I don’t know.  Is it a fad?  I hope so.  Is it dangerous?  I think so.