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Knowing How To Be A Real Man

April 29, 2010
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It took many hours of clipping, splitting, and repositioning, and even more hours watching educational films, and their inherent unintentional comedy, but here it is – my social commentary on what we think it takes to be a real man, and how we were thought to think that way. In the process of putting this video together, it dawned on me as to how the messages of misogyny, homophobia and sexism were embedded in the Super Bowl commercials. At first, I assumed the spots were continuing old stereotypes. But after paying close attention to the content of the educational films, I realized the ads were hyperbolic and ironic messages echoing from America’s “golden age.”  In some cases, the traditional role of a man is set to the extreme to give adequate attention to what men “really” go through. In others, gender roles are flipped which then causes anger and strife. Using a series of vignettes, I tried to depict the hyperbole and irony within the  expectations and roles of men in certain situations.

Here’s a brief breakdown on the semiotic properties found within each vignette.

Knowing how to fit in.

The story begins with Ralph talking to his father about being unable to fit in his new school. To add an element of tension within the audience the footage is distorted, and then the voiceover explains to us that Ralph suffers from the “sickness” of homosexuality. Ralph’s father, either unaware of his son’s illness or actively ignoring it, decides to give him some cryptic advice. The audience is then allowed to see the father’s actions are less than “manly,” but get the job done.

Knowing how to pick a date.

With the knowledge that homosexuality is a sickness, we are told that picking a date is about choosing someone who’s company we would enjoy. Ironically we are told this while seeing two men practically kiss. The voiceover then explains that looks is a good way to pick a date. Images of women depicted in recent Super Bowl commercials is interrupted by what we are told is a pretty girl from the 1960s. The differences are obvious, but the message remains the same; looks are important. The voiceover then explains that even good looking girls can be uppity, and could cause a man to have a bad time. This is juxtaposed with a scene from a modern date, where the man has fallen victim to the temptress who doesn’t know what men need to have a good time.

Knowing how to be agreeable.

Young men were being taught to be agreeable for their own benefit and for those around them. But what happens when being agreeable goes too far? In this vignette, the tension builds as scenes switch back and forth from women being agreeable to the wishes of their men and men being agreeable to the wishes of their women. The scenes depict happiness when women are subservient, and anger when men are placed in that role. The vignette culminates in a montage of juxtaposed images of men in traditional roles, and how those roles are depicted in modern time. Set to Billy Joel’s “We Didn’t Start the Fire,” the message is intended to remind the audience that while certain themes are prevalent in today’s media, it isn’t a recent epidemic. They have been ingrained in the American male for quite some time, and it may take some time before those ideals are altered or expunged.

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Miles Away from Fair

April 28, 2010
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In this spot for Corona, a man ogles a bikini-cladded woman as she passes by him and his assumed girlfriend. In retribution for his actions, his girlfriend squirts the lime from his Corona in his face.

Recently, Corona has rolled out a complementary spot to this one. Unfortunately, I can’t find it online. But the commercial follows the same premise as the spot above, but instead of a blond bombshell gracing the screen, its a shirtless male with all the requisite muscles and definition. As the woman in the beach chair gazes at the beefcake, her presumed boyfriend reaches over and shakes up her Corona bottle. But instead of being hosed down in beer, the girl picks up her boyfriend’s beer and opens it. Thus foiling his plan for vindication.

Visually, both spots are very much in-line with the simplistic though exotic look of the Miles Away from Ordinary ad campaign created by The Richards Group and Cramer-Krasselt. The deadpan humor and comedic timing work great, especially when you consider no words are uttered in either case.

What strikes me as odd is that in both situations the male plays the role of the fool. It’s a common role for men in commercials. But in a culture where women are often subjugated, objectified and rendered to be little more than a piece of art; why are men often the victim or the punished? Granted, the frequency of women being objectified is much greater than that of men being victimized. But from my own recollection,the occasions in which men are the patsy outweighs the times women are found in that role.

Even when I create a TV or radio spot, I often use a male actor to be the funny and a female to play the straight “guy.” I think I do it because, from a comedic standpoint, it’s just not as funny when women are penalized for their actions. Maybe, with many women activist groups and other watchdogs keeping an alert eye on how women are depicted, the chances of an outcry would be greater.

One episode from Family Guy, The Simpsons, Home Improvement, or I Dream of Genie, and you can see it’s having leading men play the buffoon has been popular for years. Maybe it stems from a feeling of guilt. Most of the writers on those shows are male. So, maybe the thinking is,”It’s bad enough we have them walking around half naked, we shouldn’t humiliate them too.”

In any case. and especially since I just wrote a radio commercial where a man is publicly criticized for not knowing his wife’s favorite perfume, the tradition of a man being a fool is here to stay.