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Persuasion: Why men in ads are dumb, goofy or completely inept
August 7, 2009 9:47 AM   Subscribe

Persuasion: Why men in ads are dumb, goofy or completely inept. Several YT commercials and a thoughtful essay.
posted by five fresh fish (147 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite

 
On a related note: Sarah Haskins awesomeness
posted by echolalia67 at 9:51 AM on August 7, 2009 [23 favorites]


The Religious Right will have you believe that it's not just ads. It's been the case in all entertainment media since the 1960s. It's all part of a massive secular humanist conspiracy to crush the last vestiges of patriarchal dominance by eroding its esteem and ridiculing and feminizing the holders of power and drain our precious bodily fluids... or something.
posted by psmealey at 9:53 AM on August 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


I am in favor of having my fluids drained.
posted by Mister_A at 9:55 AM on August 7, 2009 [6 favorites]


Y'know, I'm not sure why people can't just accept men and women as people.

It's almost as if the media fetishizes sexism.
posted by kldickson at 9:55 AM on August 7, 2009 [2 favorites]


WILL MEN EVER GET FAIR TREATMENT?!?!?!?
posted by notmydesk at 9:56 AM on August 7, 2009


So the punchline is, silly men can't figure out housework, taking care of basic family needs, and cooking? Huh, things really haven't changed that much. Not sure why that would appeal to women.
posted by Houstonian at 9:59 AM on August 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


It's almost as if the media fetishizes sexism.

The media has been fetishizing the festishizing of sexism for a long time now. Simple solution: don't look at ads.
posted by Burhanistan at 10:00 AM on August 7, 2009


I am of two minds about this.

One mind says, "who cares, men have been at the top of the heap for ages, we're due to take some lumps and this is hardly a big deal."

The other mind says, "this seems harmlesss, but is in fact pernicious and creates a double standard; it's annoying when dads are characterized as incompetent even as growing numbers share domestic responsibilities equally with their partners."

Clearly, the only way to resolve this is for my two minds to go have a beer with Obama and Biden at the White House.
posted by brain_drain at 10:01 AM on August 7, 2009 [7 favorites]


WILL MEN EVER GET FAIR TREATMENT?!?!?!?

I think the lolsexismagainstMEN?!?/lights-and-voids/draining-precious-fluids stance of incredulity is kind of a red herring in this one. The evidence is clearly there that a lot of TV ads are painting men as buffoons in a way that would be so very not cool were the gender roles to be switched; acknowledging that is not tantamount to saying that reverse!sexism is now undermining society, women have the upper hand (!), etc. It's just acknowledging it. So, having acknowledged it, what's it mean?
posted by kittens for breakfast at 10:02 AM on August 7, 2009 [13 favorites]


I think there's a problem with role reversal: having a wife or girlfriend play the role of the incompetent one would be viewed much more harshly. It's already a Man's World (with notions/realities of glass ceilings, stay-at-home moms and soccer moms), and the house is the domain of the woman, even the working woman. Imagine if a lady was to be shown bumbling with a basic house-hold contraption, only to have the man step in?

Using humor of ineptitude is basic stuff, but it relies on an imbalance, and I think a brand would be more damaged to show the woman as the brunt of that humor. Trying to work with more socially level humor takes more work, and physical comedy or slapstick is a broad sort of humor, working on more people even if it offends some. What would be worse would to have an ad (or TV/movie joke) that only gets across to a few, with the goal of offending none.
posted by filthy light thief at 10:02 AM on August 7, 2009


Well, we are kind of idiotic in a lot of ways. We are more likely than women to get a fish-hook in the eye, or antagonize a wild animal, or what have you. I guess what I'm saying is that this stuff just really doesn't bother me in ads, because you've got 30 seconds to make an impression, so you naturally go with really big, obvious broad comedy (if you've decided on a comedic approach).
posted by Mister_A at 10:02 AM on August 7, 2009


This for Verizon could be exhibit A. And a companion commercial could be exhibit B. I have hated these commercials, and this meme is why.
posted by Danf at 10:02 AM on August 7, 2009


"They're trying to be respectful to them and show them these are women's times, but at the same time they're doing a real disservice by disrespecting men, and putting them in this really stereotypical box," she said. "If we ever did that to women, it would be so politically incorrect."

I can't be the only man who doesn't feel the least bit threatened, disrespected, or stereotyped by these sorts of depictions. Unlike with other social groups, a straight male in western society does not view "man" as part of his political identity. Unlike women, the LGBT community, the disabled, or minority groups, we have the luxury of pure individualism. It may be unfair, but the concept of "man" is more easily divorced from its pop culture depictions than any other social identity. Go patriarchy!
posted by martens at 10:05 AM on August 7, 2009 [10 favorites]


And also, with a few exceptions, men are thought of as the "funny" sex. I know women can be funny too, but it's way more acceptable in the popular imagination for a man to play the clown. And that, my friends, may be an example of good old-fashioned regular sexism, if you think about it.
posted by Mister_A at 10:05 AM on August 7, 2009 [3 favorites]


Man, those things they say about guys on TV are terrible. It's a shame we don't own and run everything, or maybe then there'd be something we could do about it.
posted by mhoye at 10:06 AM on August 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


For a group project in a Sociology 101 class, we were given the assignment "find five minutes of TV clips that employ unstated stereotypes or roles." I proposed that we compile a small collection of commercials using the helpless man/competent woman dynamic.

My fellow students had no idea what I was talking about, and were flabbergasted when I brought in tape (actual videotape --- this was ten years ago) of ten common ads showing men who were too stupid [to feed themselves/ care for their children/ do the laundry] and their longsuffering wives. "Oh my god," one of my teammates howled, "I never noticed, but I see these all the time!"

Uh, yeah. You do. How could you not notice?
posted by Elsa at 10:07 AM on August 7, 2009 [2 favorites]


Long-term harm notwithstanding, writing stereotypes is just lazy writing.

It's an easy, formulaic way to get a cheap laugh. And the particular stereotypes that are "safest" to use are generally "pick on whoever is biggest." So these days, that's white males in America.

I don't think these ad writers are evil or sexist. They don't care about any kind of long-term or societal issues, even if they should. They're just lazy. When's payday?
posted by rokusan at 10:08 AM on August 7, 2009


Uh, yeah. You do. How could you not notice?

Because you see them all the time. Repeat the same message enough, and it becomes the norm. Adverts become white noise, and they have to be louder, flashier, or funnier than the rest to make it through.
posted by filthy light thief at 10:10 AM on August 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


"They see movies for free [you fucking poor-providing turd]."
posted by Zambrano at 10:10 AM on August 7, 2009 [5 favorites]


You can't just blame the writers, though–the agencies probably developed a few different concepts for each campaign, and the client picked the "dumb man" one.
posted by Mister_A at 10:10 AM on August 7, 2009


I think the essay is bang on. If you didn't read it — and judging by this thread, a whole lot of you did not even glance at it — you probably should.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:11 AM on August 7, 2009 [3 favorites]


Mister_A: Yeah, I always linked the funny/unfunny thing with the subject in the article. Men goof off until the women come in and fold their arms and look stern. "I Love Lucy" is the only exception I can think of.
posted by Toothless Willy at 10:12 AM on August 7, 2009


How is it reverse sexism to reinforce traditional gender roles? Ads like this reinforce the incredibly old-fashioned view that men can't cook, clean, or take care of children--that's women's work. It's no longer ok (in many circles) to say explicitly that women should be doing all the housewifely things, so it's done through sexist "humor" or just the complete absence of men in ads for household products.

The series of ads for Stop and Shop that have been airing for the past year or so (in NYC) make me crazy. They feature women (almost?) exclusively. Shopping for food and feeding children is done only by women. Some of the commercials acknowledge that women work--the ad will feature a woman talking about how busy she is with work and family and how she needs a store that is convenient and cheap--but never that they might have a partner who can help out with the shopping and cooking.

I understand that ads like this are damaging to men who are trying to break out of traditional gender roles, but they're also damaging to women because they reinforce the idea that some things are just supposed to be done by the ladies. Seems like just another form of straight-up sexism to me and bad for men and women.
posted by Mavri at 10:13 AM on August 7, 2009 [67 favorites]


I take that back. On re-read, it's not a "whole lot" of you.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:14 AM on August 7, 2009


I'm not so bothered about the "sexism against men" thing. In the 20+ years that I've been aware of this particular stereotype, men still seem to be getting the great jobs, etc. It doesn't seem to have done any harm to men on a societal or individual basis.

I am however concerned that adverts like this help to reinforce the image of men as unwitting animals that have no reason, etc. That portrayal is damagingly and dangerously anti-woman.
posted by seanyboy at 10:14 AM on August 7, 2009


I am now a Sarah Haskins fan. I lost my shit watching that.

I can't be the only man who doesn't feel the least bit threatened, disrespected, or stereotyped by these sorts of depictions.

I don't feel threatened, but it is kind of weird and bothersome as evidence that we're still culturally comfy enough with the role-assumption imbalance of men and women that this kind of lazy-ass low-rent carnival role-reversal gets a pass as being like implicit Justice For Women rather than the uncomfortable indictment of all involved that it ends up looking like under stark lighting.

It's an easy, formulaic way to get a cheap laugh.

That too, and its a little easier to forgive writers for the material (if not for writing crap in general) with the acknowledgment that there trying to compete for a living and not just writing shitty commercials because it's their personal artistic dream. But "hey, you're merely a lazy hack" is faint praise indeed.
posted by cortex at 10:15 AM on August 7, 2009 [3 favorites]


Related, sorta. My husband and I have been noticing this trope for a while. It's not helpful to anyone, really. It insults the men, sure, and the women, too -- I mean hey, sister, you're the one who married the idiot who's dumping sprinkles everywhere or rummaging in the fridge for imaginary desserts or what have you. Sad.
posted by Ladybug Parade at 10:16 AM on August 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


You will see more jokes at the expense of men on TV than you will jokes at the expense of women. You will see more jokes at the expense of white people on TV than jokes at the expense of people of color. We may even be approaching a time when straight jokes could predominate over gay jokes.

Picking on the perpetual victim just isn't very funny, and as a culture sees how the power balance is stacked, that changes what can be laughed at.

This doesn't constitute social equality, but it is a part of a process that could lead to social equality.
posted by idiopath at 10:17 AM on August 7, 2009 [3 favorites]


It's funny when a guest comes over -- a guy, no less -- and compliments my spouse on the decor of our place (almost entirely picked out by me). Not funny because of the assumption that it's her doing, but -- he's a guy -- what would he know about decor, amirite?!
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 10:17 AM on August 7, 2009


It's part of a phenomenon I kind of think of as the Dominance of Subversion. The dominant culture is patriarchal, so a subversive message paints men as dim. But eventually the dominant culture is that subversive message and you never hear anything *except* that subversive message (at least in a given medium).

The same thing has happened with "just be yourself" messages, especially in kid's movies.
posted by DU at 10:17 AM on August 7, 2009 [2 favorites]


martens- I completely disagree with you. Men do not have the freedom of individualism anymore than any other group of people in that stereotypes inform the perceptions and expectations of those around us which in turn influences and shapes how we see ourselves as agents in that world. Do you think its any surprise that there are so many absentee fathers in a world where everyone is convinced men are completely incapable of raising a child or keeping a home? Obviously its more complicated than this and reductive to blame media portrayals of men but at the same time stereotypes shape how we see the world. I think these portrayals are just as reprehensible as any other in that they encourage laziness and disengagement. Why engage with your world when you can just use this handy shorthand?
posted by zennoshinjou at 10:18 AM on August 7, 2009


should have previewed.. mavri says it all.
posted by zennoshinjou at 10:19 AM on August 7, 2009


How is it reverse sexism to reinforce traditional gender roles? Ads like this reinforce the incredibly old-fashioned view that men can't cook, clean, or take care of children--that's women's work. It's no longer ok (in many circles) to say explicitly that women should be doing all the housewifely things, so it's done through sexist "humor" or just the complete absence of men in ads for household products.

It's just Mother Knows Best, with the men playing a larger child. It really does both genders a disservice. Men are painted as morons, and women are painted as being the only ones who can be responsible for a household. Jeez people, the representation of feminist gender roles isn't an us-vs-them thing.
posted by Jilder at 10:20 AM on August 7, 2009 [2 favorites]


The dumb, goofy, inept routine is liberating. Recently I made Metafilter lemonade. After one botched lemon-zesting routine, I was asked to make the simple sugar.
posted by kingfisher, his musclebound cat at 10:21 AM on August 7, 2009


Women need to get out of the advertising business and back into the kitchen where they belong.

I kid. I kid.
posted by HumanComplex at 10:21 AM on August 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


(The following is just a tangent from some of the above points -- not a criticism of any of the comments in the thread:)

It's important to criticize sexism wherever it shows up. In other words, it's pretty clear that there is plenty of sexism-against-women and sexism-against-men, and it should all be fair game for criticism/commentary. The notion that sexism-against-men should get a pass implies that men should just "take it" because, hey, they have all the advantages. (It also implies some perversely traditional gender roles: men are tough, women are fragile -- women need to be protected from unfairness, but a real man doesn't complain about sexism.) Of course, men don't really have all the advantages, but that's not my only problem with this. The larger problem is that if some sexism is OK, that undermines the very principle underlying the objections to sexism per se: that it's simply wrong to treat people differently based on gender (with the exception of cases where there are demonstrable, relevant sex differences).

Another thing: there's something profoundly circular about laughing off any observation of sexism-against-men on the grounds that "everyone knows it's not a serious problem." If it's simply never pointed out because doing so is considered socially unacceptable, well then, yeah, you'll never even see the evidence of it! So you'll continue to view it as not a problem. If it's not a serious problem, then there should be no objection to pointing out the little evidence that exists (e.g. the ads with bumbling men). One should be very suspicious of anyone who adamantly insists that we not look at the evidence of ____.
posted by Jaltcoh at 10:22 AM on August 7, 2009 [7 favorites]


How could you not notice?

Well, to be fair, TV ads were probably as much of a blur/white noise to most people ten years ago as they are now -- probably more so now. The only time I really notice an ad is if it is unusually irritating or unusually creative. If most ads featuring Family Men are ads that depict them as buffoons, they all blend together into one massive mediocrity. Except, of course, for this ad campaign, which achieves a level of nuisance that is beyond description.
posted by blucevalo at 10:23 AM on August 7, 2009


I don't want to sound like a jerk, here, but I'm getting the same impression fff got. Namely, that a lot of you haven't read the article. Yes, there are quotes in there from professors talking about how it's a bad portrayal of men, but the real point of the article to me seems to be that this is how marketing thinks women want to be addressed. some money quotes illustrating this:

Dads are dumb, boyfriends are bumbling and husbands are utterly hopeless as brands strive to relate to women by showing men as especially goofy or incompetent.

another:
"A lot of the women on our panel have said, 'You know, if you want to make inroads with me, if you want to resonate with me, you really shouldn't be showing my husband as an idiot,' " she said.

"That's really an insult to her intelligence."

It's a sign the trend is getting stale, Ms. Adams said. But that doesn't mean those kinds of ads are going away. As long as advertisers have the perception that mocking men will touch a nerve with women, it's likely they'll be more concerned with doing a brisk business than with shaping identity politics.
yet another: "We are creating a society in which thuggish, piggish men are the dominant images," he said. "Can't you talk to women without insulting men?"

what people seem to be getting at here isn't "how DARE they make fun of a man?! grawwr!" it's "wow, they seem to be using this an overwhelming percentage of the time to market to women. what does that say about gender relations, and how women (and of course men) are perceived by the industry?" the answer may be that the industry is bogged down in tired old sexist tropes that will, sooner than they think, backlash against them. the women they're trying to appeal to seem to appreciate this kind of simplistic pandering less as time goes on.

you know, if you don't want to r the f'ing a.
posted by shmegegge at 10:28 AM on August 7, 2009 [5 favorites]


A while back my girlfriend pointed out that women on TV, whether it be dramas, commercials, sitcoms, even animated shows (think Simpsons, Family Guy, King of the Hill), are always more (conventionally) attractive than their male counterparts. At first I thought she was exaggerating, but now it freaks me out every time I watch TV because it teaches me that women are hawt and men are stupid.

Also, if anyone wants to watch an ad that makes both genders look extremely bad, check this out.
posted by you just lost the game at 10:28 AM on August 7, 2009 [3 favorites]


I've been pointing out these ads to my wife for years. Most of these ads are humorous, and show men as bumbling, and I attributed it to the fact that we're not really allowed to make fun of women or minorities, so the white guy always gets made fun it. It's overly simplistic, but does kind of hit the nail on the head.

I don't know of any commercials that put down men that aren't humorous, and I think people would complain louder if it was a growing trend.

I simply worry that by pumping the image of man as "useless" into our collective psyche we seriously lower our expectations of all men. Isn't that a fairly well-known phenomenon that if you tell someone they're useless enough times it becomes sort of a self-fulfilling prophecy?
posted by taumeson at 10:31 AM on August 7, 2009 [2 favorites]


It's important to criticize sexism wherever it shows up. In other words, it's pretty clear that there is plenty of sexism-against-women and sexism-against-men, and it should all be fair game for criticism/commentary.

While this is true, I think it's important to fight demonstrably harmful stereotypes more vigourously than the irritating-but-largely-benign stuff under discussion here. I would venture to argue that far fewer men's careers have been limited by stereotypes than have any other group's. And sure, it may suck that there's a stigma attached with being a stay-at-home dad, but no one is stopping men from taking care of the kids the same way our corporate system is stoppiing women from becoming CEOs.
posted by martens at 10:31 AM on August 7, 2009


Hmm. Do ads like this work? I'm guessing the stereotype wouldn't be so established if they didn't. So...why does advertising like this make people want to buy the product?
posted by Go Banana at 10:31 AM on August 7, 2009


The Religious Right will have you believe that it's not just ads. It's been the case in all entertainment media since the 1960s.

I haven't bought in to the RR's idiotic "wussification of America" theories, but...it's not just ads. Watch just about any "relationship themed" situation comedy and the most common setup is clueless husband, exasperated (yet understanding and competent) wife, and - if there are any - precocious kids. According to Jim, Eight Simple Rules, Yes Dear, King of Queens...and that's just going back a few years.

Now, if I actually thought sitcoms generally presented anything besides the lowest of low-hanging fruit for jokes, I might be more annoyed by the phenomenon than I am. Frankly, I'm more aggravated by the fact that 90% of commercials during televised sporting events are for drugs to alleviate "erectile dysfunction."

Come to think of it, I guess we don't need massive secular humanist conspiracies to emasculate the American male; nature's doing a fine job of it on its own.
posted by total warfare frown at 10:32 AM on August 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


Oh, and Marvi's point is well-taken in this case. It may be that part of allowing more women to become CEOs is convincing society that it's okay for men to take care of the kids.
posted by martens at 10:33 AM on August 7, 2009


In the Sarah Haskins video, she points out the disparity between how single and married men are portrayed, too. Like they turn from Mr. Suave Guy on Motorcycle to Mr. Can't Work A Blender. Which is a pretty dramatic shift, if you choose to view commercials as magical glimpses into hapless consumer worlds.
posted by redsparkler at 10:33 AM on August 7, 2009


Wonder how many people in advertising grew up reading the Berenstain Bears?

...or how many of their mentors were fans of Blondie...
posted by rahnefan at 10:34 AM on August 7, 2009


This bothers me less than the pernicious trend of feminizing male consumers through ads touting body sprays, hair gels, diet plans, and the like. I predict the next big psychosocial trend will be male anorexia/bulimia and body dysmorphia. Hell, it worked for half the population, why not target the rest?
posted by BitterOldPunk at 10:35 AM on August 7, 2009 [3 favorites]


edheil made an excellent comment in the thread called "End Disposable Marriage" which encapsulated this issue for me:

But the "fathers are idiots on TV" thing might be different....

It might actually be a sign of remaining male chauvinism. You get comedy by inverting expectations, and if the expectation is that men are competent, authoritative, and with-it, then you get comedy by showing an out-of-it, incompetent, blundering male.

Ancient (Greek/Roman) comedy is full of "wise slave, stupid master" stories. That's not because they thought freemen were idiots and slaves were smart, it's because it's an inversion of expectations to put the power and competence in the hands of the slave.

posted by katemonster at 10:37 AM on August 7, 2009 [11 favorites]


The Religious Right will have you believe that it's not just ads...

That might be the record for quickest random diversion into LOLXIANS. Judges?
posted by rahnefan at 10:38 AM on August 7, 2009


As a man, this trend bothers me a lot less than ads like this. How goddamn stupid do you think we are, Degree? IT'S JUST FUCKING DEODARANT.
posted by The Card Cheat at 10:38 AM on August 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


"dumb, goofy or completely inept"

we want you to believe that.... it gets us more sex!
posted by HuronBob at 10:40 AM on August 7, 2009


Hey, I'll be back with a comment after my wife reads the article and explains it to me.

Naw, seriously- I find it hard to be offended by these types of ads, because some of them are funny. Now whether or not they're a good idea from an advertising/ marketing perspective, I don't know. If they don't work, eventually the themes will change to something that does work. My default assumption is that stuff like this is more reflective of society- so maybe people really think that men are bumbling incompetents. But I might be wrong.
posted by Shohn at 10:40 AM on August 7, 2009


Eh, they're also trying to exploit natural male competitiveness. "I'm smarter than that guy! Watch me get [product]!"
posted by Eideteker at 10:41 AM on August 7, 2009 [2 favorites]


So men aren't reading anymore, enrolling in university, or buying consumer products. Just what are we doing these days?
posted by Kevin Street at 10:41 AM on August 7, 2009 [3 favorites]


I was actually surprised to hear that there is a "disorder" (I use quotes not to mock but because I question the idea of the concept) called bigorexia.. that being men who are obsessed with being as muscular as possible. If its enough of a trend to get a fad name you can bet that the other aspects of that spectrum that BitterOldPunk mentioned are on the rise as well. This is no surprise really though. Consumer good sales require all of us to cultivate a self-hatred founded on a sense of lack so that it can conveniently offer us products to fill said lack and make us whole. I can't point to links at the moment but there have been studies showing that in places where television made new inroads body dysmorphia was soon to follow.
posted by zennoshinjou at 10:41 AM on August 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


the answer may be that the industry is bogged down in tired old sexist tropes that will, sooner than they think, backlash against them.

I think most people here rtfa, shmeggege. Chill.
There may be backlash; there may not. I tend to agree with Go Banana. People enjoy lazy stereotypes. Those stereotypes will be designed according to who is expected to be watching and who will spend the cash. Period. There was a backlash on material marketed to children that presented adults as blithering idiots, but not by the children -- no, the adults took offense and hey, the adults control (more or less) kid content and spending on kids. Not very effective. But insulting men while marketing to women? I'd like to think it isn't eaten up but I'm not so sure. The latest super-invincible-martial-arts-superpower grrrrl hero just reinforces my suspicion that pandering beyond any sense of reality doesn't offend the target group, though it may irritate others.

And hey, were I born 50 years ago, and every aspect of culture designed to flatter my ego, I'd probably be just as succeptable. It ain't pretty, but it's human.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 10:44 AM on August 7, 2009


Men! Shave and get drunk!
posted by The corpse in the library at 10:44 AM on August 7, 2009 [40 favorites]


It's a reaction to, not the cause of, who still retains power: white males.

You can attack the powerful, because they are strong enough to take a hit. And the jokes won't be reversible until the power equalizes.
posted by jfrancis at 10:46 AM on August 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


I think the advertisers are behind the curve on this one. It's really lazy and borderline insulting. It turns me right off any product that uses it as a meme. The men I know are not like that.
posted by unSane at 10:47 AM on August 7, 2009 [2 favorites]


Ads like this are the result of a long process. It starts with a creative brief cooked up by an account person on the agency side, who doesn't want to be hassled by the client who insists that Product A be portrayed in a family friendly way. Keep in mind that said client often talks about you, "the consumer" with a mixture of contempt and fear - they think everything will upset you and that you have, oh, about a grade 3 reading level.

The creative team gets handed the brief, complete with a set of mandatory requirements, like Product A must be talked about in such and such a way. Creative team does their best to create witty, intelligent ad about Product A - something that manages to sell/demonstrate the benefits of the product but still manages to be charming, maybe even really funny. Believe it or not, they're aware that they're interrupting your day with this shit and would actually like you to be okay with that.

Presentation day arrives. Agency plays show and tell with their ideas. The client, who as often as not is not the actual decision maker, considers the ideas before them. What will the boss think? What will the dreaded consumer think? They provide feedback that drains concepts of all life. Agency slinks back to the office and starts over. This cycle can last for weeks. Finally, team throws arms up in air and skips down the path of least resistance. Make fun of the dad. Client laughs and laughs.

And then it goes to a focus group made up of people who have two hours to spare on a weeknight. The beating continues. The ad gets worse. Now the dad isn't just being made fun of, he's a drooling Neanderthal.

On shoot day, the client wants to play director - make the joke broader, dress him like a slob. And on, and on, and on.

It's not always like this. There are tough account people who stand up to clients, and there are clients who want to do great work. And yes, there are hack creatives who never put up a fight in the first place.

But when you see a stupid spot for Product A that reinforces some tired cliche or stereotype, this is probably how it came to be.
posted by theinsectsarewaiting at 10:48 AM on August 7, 2009 [19 favorites]


It's a reaction to, not the cause of, who still retains power: white males.

This may or may not be true, but the ads in question do not satirize powerful white males. They satirize powerless white males (generally fat and uncouth JSPs with no lives and no interests in anything but sport and beer).

What really perplexes me is when you see the approach adopted by products which are targeted at men, such as beer (looking at you, Coors).

I blame Jackass for extending the lifespan of this exhausted meme.
posted by unSane at 10:51 AM on August 7, 2009


From the early days, the main reason why the men were buffoons in television programs were because the male actor comedian had more star power and wanted to get more laughs and the buffoon gets more laughs. Life of Riley, Great Gildersleeve, Bob Hope, the shows were named after them and the audience expected the star to be in the center. You needed a straight woman (often wife) to be the foil or simply the set-up. The women were portrayed as reason. This continues in male star vehicles. Home Improvement,

You did have the other extreme: wise dad shows (Family Affair and all the widower father shows (My Three Sons, The Courtship of Eddie's Father, My Three Sons, many others), Cosby, Brady Bunch). Here the male actor didn't get his ego boost from hogging the humor, but rather from being the sage.

When you had exceptions like Burns and Allen or I Love Lucy, Gracie or Lucy were considered to be the star.
posted by dances_with_sneetches at 10:51 AM on August 7, 2009


I understand that ads like this are damaging to men who are trying to break out of traditional gender roles, but they're also damaging to women because they reinforce the idea that some things are just supposed to be done by the ladies.
------
I am however concerned that adverts like this help to reinforce the image of men as unwitting animals that have no reason, etc. That portrayal is damagingly and dangerously anti-woman.


Excellent points, and the way the female characters are portrayed in these ads, the whole dynamic between men and women (and the children, for that matter) is just as disturbing. They're the (tolerant or exasperated) Mommies of their befuddled infantilized partners, completely and smugly unsurprised by the men's ineffectuality. Yeah, Woman the Civilizer, calling all the shots. Somebody really ought to put her in her place. . . .

The one currently making me twitch: "Shut Up, Steve". And then there's this kneeslapping battle-of-the-sexes spot, which appears to be lifted directly from a 1965 Borscht Belt stand-up routine: Merging.
posted by FelliniBlank at 10:51 AM on August 7, 2009


I think there's a problem with role reversal: having a wife or girlfriend play the role of the incompetent one would be viewed much more harshly. It's already a Man's World (with notions/realities of glass ceilings, stay-at-home moms and soccer moms), and the house is the domain of the woman, even the working woman. Imagine if a lady was to be shown bumbling with a basic house-hold contraption, only to have the man step in?

It's not a Man's World. It's Some Men's World. The most powerful positions in society are still filled disproportionately by men, but it's a big mistake to regard this as the dominance of "men" generally. The worst positions in society are also disproportionately filled by men. Men are much more likely to be the victims of violent crime, to be incarcerated, to commit suicide, and to be lonely and friendless at any stage of their life. Men are more likely to drop out of school at most stages. I think it's a decent guess that men are usually less happy, though I don't know what the research says. We could have a debate about whose "fault" this is and whether it's the result of "sexism," but that doesn't matter.

This matters because when you target men monolithically, you're not only targeting the winners of sexism -- you're targeting a huge boatload of losers. If you say it's okay to portray "men" as buffoons (etc.) because they benefit from sexism, you're saying it's okay to heap punishment on a huge crowd of human beings who are losing, who do not reap significant benefits from sexism and who need help, not punishment.

Women and feminist ("sensitive") men are believed to be more compassionate, but they (along with society broadly) tend to share this blindspot for the suffering of the worst-off males, of losers. "Loser" actually is a curious expression -- it has no inherent gender, but it's almost exclusively applied to men. If you are a man and your life is in bad shape, and you're not achieving anything, you are a target of contempt.

Let's not build our sexism-free utopia on the backs of the worst-off.
posted by grobstein at 10:55 AM on August 7, 2009 [278 favorites]


I'm not sure I'd put Cosby in the Wise Dad Show bin, so much as just putting it out there as a bit more balanced in the handling off the Doofy Dad dynamic. Felicia Rashad certainly seemed more the grounded, practical one in general, with Cos less Superdoof than just charming, occasionally-in-trouble dad with some sagacious moments of his own. But it's been a long time since I've seen the show.
posted by cortex at 11:03 AM on August 7, 2009


Christ. This is not about "reverse-sexism" or men having to suffer through negative stereotypes.

These images perpetuate the patriarchy by reinforcing gender stereotypes. Is that so hard to see?
posted by mr_roboto at 11:03 AM on August 7, 2009 [6 favorites]


the ads in question do not satirize powerful white males. They satirize powerless white males (generally fat and uncouth JSPs with no lives and no interests in anything but sport and beer).

No, they satirize white males by portraying them as powerless, fat and uncouth
posted by jfrancis at 11:04 AM on August 7, 2009


I would suggest men who are unconcerned about these particular stereotypes involve themselves in a custody battle for their kids.
posted by digitalprimate at 11:10 AM on August 7, 2009 [8 favorites]


I find this sort of bufoonery a lot less insulting than the infomercial-type that suggest that the average person, and more often than not being a woman, is incapable of operating such mundane appliances as containers, can openers, screwdrivers and kitchen knives.
posted by Ogre Lawless at 11:13 AM on August 7, 2009


Who benefits from the stereotype that men are too incompetent to do simple housework? Men who don't want to do housework!
posted by Cookiebastard at 11:15 AM on August 7, 2009 [12 favorites]


Aren't these just a logical extension of the numerous Fat Slob/Hot Wife sit-coms? The men in those are usually bumbling morons - outside of the house/kitchen - also. As mavri and katemonster said these seem to be a kid-gloved or sideways way of perpetuating traditional gender roles rather than subverting them.
posted by R_Nebblesworth at 11:16 AM on August 7, 2009 [2 favorites]


If your daughter said, 'Daddy, I hate you!' during an argument you'd ignore it. Can you imagine if you said the same thing back to her?

If you were say to your buddy the superb athlete, 'Gettin' a little gut, there?' it's ribbing. It's not at all the same if he does it to you.

Same thing with your friend the beauty queen. If she shows up with windblown hair and you say something jokey about it it's completely different than if she does it to you.

One day I was walking down the campus with my girlfriend hanging on my arm. I was curious to see what it would feel like to reverse our roles. As soon as I took hold of her upper arm it felt not like I was clinging, but like I was directing or coercing her down the quad by her arm. It didn't reverse.
posted by jfrancis at 11:16 AM on August 7, 2009 [3 favorites]


FelliniBlank: I can't tell you HOW MUCH I HATE that shut up Steve commercial. Even you mentioning has raised my ire a bit.

on preview, I'll have to give props to digitalprimate for the comment above. Indeed.

I'd also like to say, I think for the most part, comments in this thread have been very good, from a variety of angles. I don't know if others would agree, but I'll give the blue a quick pat on the back.
posted by indiebass at 11:17 AM on August 7, 2009


Huh. We got the "Shut up Steve" commercial in original British accent up here in Canadia. It's still the WORST COMMERCIAL EVER!!
posted by Go Banana at 11:26 AM on August 7, 2009


Nthing what folks like fff, Mavri, grobstein, mr_roboto, and a few others have said so well.

And I'll add that while some adult males may dismiss these commericals and sitcoms because men really do suck amirite, keep in mind that children don't interpret these things the same way you do. I'll always remember a letter sent to Salon.com a few years ago, and the reaction it got. I forget the topic of the article that precipitated the response, but the letter writer discussed how disturbed her young sons were by these kinds of commericals. The response was dismissal and invalidation of her sons' feelings using the same reasoning some are using here: men are at the top of the heap, so who cares how her sons feel, they'll get over it. I found that sentiment jaw-droppingly disrespectful.

I also think there's sexism in proclaiming that males shouldn't mind these kinds of media representations. I sense something along the lines of "Well, we can't depict women in a certain way, even in jest, because they can't handle it. But men should be able to cowboy up and ignore these ads and get back to farting, drooling over sexual images of women and making a mess of the house."

As was said in the messed up letters from men thread, misandry is not the proper response to misogyny.
posted by lord_wolf at 11:28 AM on August 7, 2009 [10 favorites]


I'm of the opinion that ads like these portray, very well, a raw truth behind them: Advertisers despise their audiences. Absolutely loathe them.
posted by odinsdream at 11:28 AM on August 7, 2009 [9 favorites]


numerous Fat Slob/Hot Wife sit-coms

The what now? (gratuitous self-link)
posted by uncleozzy at 11:30 AM on August 7, 2009


This is not only happening in advertising. Look at nearly any family-centric sitcom in the past 20 years, and they've all had the same formula. Father is a bumbling oaf who makes bad decisions, Mother is the patient knowing type, kids are only present if it serves the plot... I can probably name ten of these shows off the top of my head without even trying. The rare show does break out of this mold, but they are very rare indeed. That we find the same tropes in our 30-second spots as we do in our 30-minute spots is not surprising.
posted by hippybear at 11:32 AM on August 7, 2009


These images perpetuate the patriarchy by reinforcing gender stereotypes. Is that so hard to see?

Exactly. People complaining that men are the "targets" of the humor in these kinds of ads have it exactly backwards. These ads are far more anti-women than anti-men. Because the message is this:

Woman - It's your job to clean the house, take care of the kids, feed your husband, and look beautiful. Don't expect any help from the man because he's self-centered and incompetent. The only help you're going to get is if you buy our product.

Man - Don't feel guilty, all guys are self-centered and incompetent by nature. Indulge yourself: buy our product. Let your wife take care of the housework and the kids. If you give her more help than the dudes in these commercials, you're doing more than your share and she owes you big time, and you deserve to treat yourself: buy our product.
posted by straight at 11:32 AM on August 7, 2009 [12 favorites]


It's not just in household ads that men are patronised...
posted by litleozy at 11:33 AM on August 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


it teaches me that women are hawt and men are stupid.

I can't decide if that's the plot of every Woody Allen film or every Seth Rogen film.
posted by potsmokinghippieoverlord at 11:41 AM on August 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


I wish I could favorite Mavri's comment a million times. This is the kind of humor that appeals, most of all, to women in traditional roles. It's the kind of humor I hear all the time from women in the conservative, rural area in which I work. (When they find out my husband actually does the grocery shopping and the laundry because he's better at it, they get real confused.)

And it's not just commercials; it's been done to death in movies. The Rock is a babysitter! Daddies run a daycare! This brand of humor doesn't do anyone any favors, but it does serve to enforce the stereotype that men are incapable of caring for children and managing the home, leaving women to fill those roles.
posted by threeturtles at 11:44 AM on August 7, 2009 [5 favorites]


Only a mild derail, as it was the first comment on the thread, but I can't stress this enough:

EVERYONE should be watching Infomania. Everyone everyone everyone. The only thing I can fault that show for is that they sorta stole the MeFi logo. It's easy to write it off as yet another ripoff/spinoff of The Soup, but it trumps the original, even back in the Talk Soup days, by leaps and bounds.

Thursdays at 10PM on Current, and the website updates with the full episode, commerical free, usually an hour or so after it airs.

Sarah Haskins is one of at least three people vying for funniest person on that show, which should tell you something.
posted by SpiffyRob at 11:45 AM on August 7, 2009 [3 favorites]


The what now? (gratuitous self-link)

The hey what? (mmm, gratuity)

posted by cortex at 11:50 AM on August 7, 2009


"We are creating a society in which thuggish, piggish men are the dominant images," he said. "Can't you talk to women without insulting men? (from article)

See this isn't how I see it. Men aren't insulted. The ads present a world view where women are empowered and men are emasculated, hence encouraging women to by their products but, this isn't troubling really to either side because it reinforces stereotypes and doesn't challenge anything.

When it's going to get interesting is when this starts happening in a professional context. Although there is most likely to be the goofy male boss with the knowing female secretary, again stereotypes surviving.
posted by litleozy at 11:51 AM on August 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


I find this sort of bufoonery a lot less insulting than the infomercial-type that suggest that the average person, and more often than not being a woman, is incapable of operating such mundane appliances as containers, can openers, screwdrivers and kitchen knives.

I'm not sure where the idea came from that this is limited to Men in the Domestic Sphere.

Have you somehow not been exposed to the warmed over trope of "Honey, just call a professional"? Plumbing, wiring, soldering, and even changing a tire. It's all beyond men. It's the kind of stuff men should know, goes the stereotype, so so much better the mocking when they can't be relied on to do it in your sitcom or ad. This isn't about men not knowing which end of a vacuum is up, though it's about that, too.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 11:54 AM on August 7, 2009


And flag-worthy (excellent) comment, grobstein.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 11:55 AM on August 7, 2009


I can't decide if that's the plot of every Woody Allen film or every Seth Rogen film.

Both -- except that in Woody Allen's case the women always get younger and younger with each film.
posted by blucevalo at 11:55 AM on August 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


I know people who buy into the laziest sorts of guys/girls standup comedy shticks and use them in their own lives. This includes couples in which the wife publicly treats the husband like a stupid child. This includes guys who do a million "you know what guys are like" routines — power tools, "yes dear," heh heh. It really does pervade how they view their own lives.

I've never been much of a guy in any publically recognizable sense: Not a sports-loving jerk, not a husbandy doofus, not a tough guy, not any particular thing. I think I'm pretty specific and so are nearly all the people I know — except the ones who seem desperate to be like the people they see on sitcoms.

I just despise the world of TV commercials and sitcoms: The childishness is terrible for everyone I see in that world. This is not a world of people who can build worthwhile lives, ask good questions, act as leaders. It's an infantile world. And people imitate it!

And guess what infantile people do: Buy lots of stuff without thinking clearly.
posted by argybarg at 11:55 AM on August 7, 2009 [8 favorites]


Also, I think this is a great example of why Sexism Hurts Men Too by limiting men's roles just as sharply as it has limited women's roles. Unfortunately there are a lot of people in power invested in the status quo who prefer to make life a fight between god-loving men and women versus feminazis and queers.
posted by threeturtles at 12:01 PM on August 7, 2009


This bothers me less than the pernicious trend of feminizing male consumers through ads touting body sprays, hair gels, diet plans, and the like.

Look at some advertising from the first few decades of the 20th century: pomade, talc, spats, cologne... Male preening aids were once huge business. It's not so much feminizing, as an attempt at refopification.
posted by Lentrohamsanin at 12:06 PM on August 7, 2009


Unfortunately there are a lot of people in power invested in the status quo who prefer to make life a fight between god-loving men and women versus feminazis and queers.

Again, only if the stereotype is one of general incompetence. The equivalent isn't "Oh look, she't can't use a power drill"; it's "She's so dumb she can't even do women's work". Men aren't credited with skill in doing "men's stuff", except to the extent it's limited to sitting on a couch and not listening to what their betters are occasionally saying to them.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 12:14 PM on August 7, 2009


Aw, you crankypantsers! Cheer up! Some of you stereotypes could be Dodge material!
posted by Skot at 12:17 PM on August 7, 2009 [2 favorites]


I know people who buy into the laziest sorts of guys/girls standup comedy shticks and use them in their own lives. This includes couples in which the wife publicly treats the husband like a stupid child. This includes guys who do a million "you know what guys are like" routines — power tools, "yes dear," heh heh. It really does pervade how they view their own lives.

I went to an academic workshop on brain chemistry, gender, and learning styles (a whole can of worms in itself) last year, and the presenter totally unironically began the session with this classic as a professional, inoffensive icebreaker, chuckle-chuckle. He even read it to us to drive home that dry humor.
posted by FelliniBlank at 12:19 PM on August 7, 2009


I will admit to being part of the problem; sometimes I'll tie one on and pull this out at karaoke. I know it's wrong, but it usually gets a chuckle from the old folks.
posted by uncleozzy at 12:23 PM on August 7, 2009


Some of you stereotypes could be Dodge material!

Wow, John Hodgeman hasn't aged a day.
posted by cortex at 12:24 PM on August 7, 2009 [2 favorites]


> Men aren't credited with skill in doing "men's stuff"...

These days, men often don't even get to do "men's stuff" in the ads:

"He's soooo handy!" (can't find the actual ad on YT)
posted by you just lost the game at 12:27 PM on August 7, 2009


Also, even if both men and women hate and are irritated by this stuff -- avoiding hatred and irritation from the buyer isn't always a goal for advertisers.
posted by jfrancis at 12:42 PM on August 7, 2009


It's not a Man's World. It's Some Men's World. The most powerful positions in society are still filled disproportionately by men, but it's a big mistake to regard this as the dominance of "men" generally.

Please re-read my comment. My focus was on what would happen if the roles were reversed, if the female was the bumbling fool of the joke. I was thinking more along the lines of jfrancis' comment: the "bumbling man" adverts are playing off of well-tread stereotypes in comedy, which are secure with the given history of the comedy of bumbling men. The role cannot be given to women in the same scenarios unless they are crafted really well, and even the people will be up at arms for the portrayal of an "idiot housewife" or whatnot.

The men in ads are clearly not amongst the worst off. The settings are hip, urban places, or cozy suburban lands, with no threat of violence or worries about making ends meet. I understand your comment, but it is a tangent to the primary discussion and my comment in particular. I wrote generalizations that were overly broad.
posted by filthy light thief at 12:43 PM on August 7, 2009


Like the article says, it is all about flattery. If you want to sell something to a woman, you make them feel better about themselves by exaggerating their good qualities in a way that is related to the product, and ridiculing their male counterparts in a patronizing way.

Considering how much influence the media has on people these days, I think it has to be damaging. A few decades ago I am sure that TV/film has a hand in perpetuating many negative gender and racial stereotypes -- and it easier to see it back then, instead of trying to think about its impact today.

I suppose it really should not come as a surprise that what people tell you when they are trying to sell you shit tends to be damaging precisely because it appeals to the most basic instinctive reactions people have.

That is why I often find Age of Persuasion such a great show: it reveals the thinking behind these ad campaigns, how easily we are toyed with.
posted by TheyCallItPeace at 12:45 PM on August 7, 2009 [3 favorites]


I think one effect all these commercials have is to teach men (and single women who aren't even present in the ads) that advertising is Not To Be Trusted. Except for the beer and car ads, of course, which become even more powerful since they're the only ones where we see a more positive representation of ourselves. When all the commercials with bumbling husbands and helpless boyfriends become a kind of colourful blur, anything different tends to stand out by contrast.
posted by Kevin Street at 1:00 PM on August 7, 2009


Exactly. People complaining that men are the "targets" of the humor in these kinds of ads have it exactly backwards. These ads are far more anti-women than anti-men. Because the message is this:

Woman - It's your job to clean the house, take care of the kids, feed your husband, and look beautiful. Don't expect any help from the man because he's self-centered and incompetent. The only help you're going to get is if you buy our product.

Man - Don't feel guilty, all guys are self-centered and incompetent by nature. Indulge yourself: buy our product. Let your wife take care of the housework and the kids. If you give her more help than the dudes in these commercials, you're doing more than your share and she owes you big time, and you deserve to treat yourself: buy our product.


So if the gender roles were reversed in the current ad trend (knowledgable husband who saves/loathes his inept childlike wife), women (overall) would be less upset about the ads? Because ads depicting women as inept, childlike, and loathesome would be less anti-woman than the current trend of ads, right?

Bah. It's not about who gets the short end of the stick here, men or women, because it's not a contest. These ads are poking fun at BOTH men and women, just in different ways.
posted by 23skidoo at 1:01 PM on August 7, 2009 [3 favorites]


Something I've noticed in relationships as time wears on is that the woman slowly becomes mommy. They start phoning it in a little with each other. It's a drag to talk about your workday every day. You always have the same complaints. You both commute forty five minutes to get home. You're a little strung out when you get there. You've talked about your parents and friends a hundred times, you've told your anecdotes and used up all your A material, you're having sex for the 300th time and you've used up all your special occasion freaky moves. You start withholding in the car, daydreaming, start focusing more and more on what you need from Target. You feel far away from each other, but it's comfortable. It's like you're in space. He pulls back a little, starts building something in the garage. Or he's playing drums in the basement. She starts working a little later. Laundry's piling up and she's the household manager, because she's the household manager, because 'she' usually is. She comes home, the laundry's not done, he bought the new iPhone, she asks him to put the laundry in, starts making dinner, they both walk away rolling their eyes.

Later on some advertising genuis tries to sell her furniture polish by telling her that her marriage is soulless because she's married to a big galoot.

It's a lot more palatable to hear that then the truth.



Also, I love the word preposterous.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 1:02 PM on August 7, 2009 [9 favorites]


Let me jump right in to say I don't mean to imply that this happens in all relationships.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 1:03 PM on August 7, 2009


This for Verizon could be exhibit A.

Also, there's no way that's 80 million sprinkles.
posted by Bonzai at 1:10 PM on August 7, 2009 [3 favorites]


So I guess it's a step forward that the Healthy Choice ads are willing to make Julia Dreyfus unattractive, but she's SO obnoxious that I change the channel when they come on. Also, that woman who Hoovers the yogurt out of it's container like a Star Trek monster got me to actually squeal in disgust and reflexively turn off the TV.

Can someone explain how romantically attached stalker cleaning implements are supposed to get me to buy something new? Ew!
posted by small_ruminant at 1:15 PM on August 7, 2009


1. I have noticed this trend in ads and hate it even more than I hate talking about identity politics. Don't try to control my mind, advertisers, just tell me what's good about your product, please.

2. I was told there would be fluid draining and fetishes.
posted by vibrotronica at 1:29 PM on August 7, 2009 [2 favorites]


A coupe of months ago, a friend of mine was laid off from the L.A. ad agency where she'd worked for the past two years. She's been doing advertising for a while, and has been dismayed about the dearth of women in the field... there's definitely been a locker-room vibe at places she's worked, both here and in the Midwest.

Anyway, the job market for advertising has been especially dismal, but last month a recruiter landed her an interview with an agency that does national advertising for a company that will not be named here... one known for its somewhat sexist ads. My friend is a feminist and tries to do cool, quirky things with her work, but figured she'd go on the interview anyway because, hey, rent in Santa Monica is high and who wants to move to Koreatown, for god's sake?

She sent over her portfolio, and met with the head people a couple of days later. They started out by praising her work, and suggested that she'd be a good fit with the company, but their first question blew her away:

"So, how do you feel about misogyny?"

This was the person in charge of hiring who was asking the question, mind you. She ended up taking a pass on the job.

When advertisers use sexist/misogynist/patriarchal imagery in ads they know exactly what they are doing, and don't care that they're reinforcing some negative patterns regarding the way men and women relate.
posted by the_bone at 2:05 PM on August 7, 2009 [4 favorites]


Ads nowadays (see The Century of the Self) target the unconscious. The goal is to create an emotional response and associate it with the product.

So, the obvious answers start here:

1. Because the ads are targeted at women and make them feel joyfully superior.
2. Because the ads are targeted at men and we find stupid dudes funny and therefore memorable.

Feel free to add your own.

I highly recommend the ingenious and revealing Century of the Self by Brian Curtis.
posted by andreinla at 2:31 PM on August 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


There is good reason for marketers to target women, who account for 80 per cent of consumer purchases

Isn't that reason enough. Plenty of that boys-vs-girls mentality sticks around though adulthood. Or what A Terrible Llama said.

The ads aren't mocking men. The woman is the "straight man," and the man is the comedian. As Mister_A said. Or Mavri. Such ads actually reinforce traditional stereotypes of women as no-nonsense, capable, stay-at-home moms.
posted by mrgrimm at 2:41 PM on August 7, 2009


... and what about the most interesting man in the world?
posted by mrgrimm at 2:42 PM on August 7, 2009


Can someone explain how romantically attached stalker cleaning implements are supposed to get me to buy something new?

Those commercials make me feel bad for the dumped mop! Poor sad mop... Baby come back! You can blame it all on me....

I hope the mop has moved on to a more loving floor. I'll never buy any of that tarty plastic Swiffer crapola. HOMEWRECKERS!
posted by potsmokinghippieoverlord at 2:46 PM on August 7, 2009 [2 favorites]


I'm of the opinion that ads like these portray, very well, a raw truth behind them: Advertisers despise their audiences. Absolutely loathe them.

Why wouldn't they when there's so much to abhor? Close your eyes and imagine what the life of an advertiser is like, trying to convince pot-bellied dolts to eat more fast food slop. Contempt would be letting them off easy.
posted by belvidere at 3:31 PM on August 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


Based solely on American TV advertising, I have elected to never have children; it is clear that, as a father, I cannot ever possibly be competent to raise my own children, and so to attempt to do so seems like folly. I obviously am too inept to prepare even the simplest meals for them. I cannot put a load of laundry into the washer correctly; I will not remember their hobbies and I cannot comfort them when they are hurt. I have no hopes of even loading the dishwasher without some great disaster intervening. I can only ever be a burden on my wife, and add to her workload tremendously. This seems a poor way to live, so I will not inflict it on a woman I otherwise care about, and will not so damage children I might love, but can obviously never actually raise. Because I am a man.
posted by Tomorrowful at 3:44 PM on August 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


The ads aren't mocking men

Non-rhetorically speaking, if ads like these aren't mocking men, what would an ad that DID mock men look like?
posted by 23skidoo at 4:04 PM on August 7, 2009


From the early days, the main reason why the men were buffoons in television programs were because the male actor comedian had more star power and wanted to get more laughs and the buffoon gets more laughs. Life of Riley, Great Gildersleeve, Bob Hope, the shows were named after them and the audience expected the star to be in the center. You needed a straight woman (often wife) to be the foil or simply the set-up. The women were portrayed as reason.

On the other hand - Lucille Ball, Gracy Allen, Imogene Coca. And even Mary Tyler Moore had her moments of buffoonery in the Dick Van Dyke show.

One solution to the buffoon trope might be the the Everyman Character against the insane world trope. Such as the current Julie Louis Dreyfus ads for some sort of health food. She's the desperate normal one surrounded not by buffoons or even necessarily fools, but by - oddities.

Or that's my take, anyway. Others might see it differently.

(Imagine taking years of your life studying such things. Odd.)
posted by IndigoJones at 5:13 PM on August 7, 2009


My take on this is a little different. The situation is pretty much on par here in Australia, where the ad shows that the husband can't figure out how to use the amazing new dishcloth. What a clown! The wife and kids all laugh at him. Silly daddy! Eventually, beaming, the wife snatches the dishcloth away, leads the sheepish man to his favourite armchair, and plants him in front of the telly. "Don't worry that you're a fucking moron," she seems to be saying, "Because at least you tried." Then she goes back and cleans up the original mess, as well as undoing the mess the dimwit husband has created with his well-intentioned approach.

Wives are meant to chuckle along at home and shake their heads knowingly, because all their husbands are like that: intrinsically stupid. Problem is, they're simultaneously acknowledging that they - the wives - are the only ones who should ever be doing the housework. The husband's just going to fuck it up, right? A woman's work should be left to the woman, after all! And a woman's work is never done. Which is why they get paid less.
posted by turgid dahlia at 5:26 PM on August 7, 2009 [2 favorites]


Yay for the return of Mad Men! Wherein we see what it was like when a man knew how to keep the little woman in her place!
posted by fuse theorem at 5:34 PM on August 7, 2009


am I the only one who feels like I've been waiting forever for Draper's wife to actually rebel, instead of just SPOILER ALERTING? I feel like the entire run of the show has been hinting at maybe one day depicting some inkling of a future part of her gradual awakening, except it never. fucking. comes. the most that happens is she SPOILER ALERT.
posted by shmegegge at 6:06 PM on August 7, 2009


Note that a lot of these ads don't fit into the crypto-patriarchal category of 'man useless in the kitchen' but do instead to 'stupid clumsy dork useless at everything'.

Given that advertisers prefer to not spend money and get nothing in return, a lot of women out there must respond depressingly well to this trash. If you resent your husband that much, will you a) talk to him and work it out b) DTMFA or c) let yourself gradually identify him with a bunch of caricatures you can feel superior to?
posted by Anything at 6:14 PM on August 7, 2009 [1 favorite]


Elsa's correct in recognizing the number of ads where men are too stupid to take care of themselves. Yes, sexism in media (and everywhere) affects women more often and more consequentially than it does men. But sexism feeds off itself. If you don't want a media which says its woman's work to clean clothes and make the food, than you want a media which doesn't consistently argue men are too stupid to do those things. If you don't want a media which shows women as sex objects to be bought and sold, than you don't want a media that tells men the only way to a woman's heart is to buy her off with diamonds. This shouldn't surprise us.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 6:35 PM on August 7, 2009 [2 favorites]


The good old CBC did a show on this last Tuesday. Not up on DNTO's list of archived podcasts just yet; give it a day or two.

There was an interesting point of view from one contributor, the gist of which was something like this (paraphrasing from a poor memory): "The 'dumb/inept/helpless guy' in ads in a way gives permission for guys to not do the tasks sometimes though of as traditionally feminine., and excuses them to stick with what are sometimes thought of as the masculine activities. And in this way it is a harmful portrayal."
posted by Hardcore Poser at 7:12 PM on August 7, 2009


I've always seen such commercials as tiny horror films. They show a world where women are so burdened with responsibility that they don't have time to eat
posted by debbie_ann at 7:34 PM on August 7, 2009


"The 'dumb/inept/helpless guy' in ads in a way gives permission for guys to not do the tasks sometimes though of as traditionally feminine., and excuses them to stick with what are sometimes thought of as the masculine activities. And in this way it is a harmful portrayal."

In that way? Of course, how it affects women dictate whether it is benign or harmful. Silly me for thinking otherwise.
posted by Durn Bronzefist at 9:17 PM on August 7, 2009


... rummaging in the fridge for imaginary desserts or what have you. Sad.
posted by Ladybug Parade at 10:16 AM on August 7 [1 favorite +] [!]


I actually just saw a new version of that commercial, with the roles reversed: dude on phone, lady eavesdropping and searching the fridge. Can't seem to find it online, but I do remember it keenly as it made me happy to see a reversible ad like that.
posted by luftmensch at 5:42 AM on August 8, 2009


If I could favorite straight's comment a bajillion times, I would.

The fact is, these ads for household products are still targeted towards women. The expectation is that this is all still "women's work." Except now we're insulting men in the process, so in effect we're really regressing.
posted by AV at 6:54 AM on August 8, 2009


For some reason i still can't take the accusation of "misandry" seriously even considering the targeting of the ads. The damage done to everyone by sexism, in general, is a real problem but I doubt these ads are anything more than symptoms of the benefits accrued from pandering to the tensions caused by more pervasive gender issues.

It seems to me that if women's buying power is actually as high a percentage as the article suggests (~80%) then they have the power to change this (again, as the article suggests is the direction things are moving, if the dissatisfaction they reported is widespread enough). I'm hoping, maybe naively, that the representations will follow the money. I guess I'm also hoping that whatever bad feeling these ads generate doesn't just amount to brand recognition in the aisles. ("no such thing as bad publicity", etc...)

The "men's movement/misadry" angle seems, to me, less pertinent than a "responsible consumerism" angle would be.
posted by ServSci at 8:07 AM on August 8, 2009


The ad I want to see is the one with the bumbling guy who is too dense to find his own ass with both hands and a flashlight, but the ad is for Viagra or Cialis.
posted by Daddy-O at 8:28 AM on August 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


What would that look like?

*fumbling under sheets*
(female voice) Owwww!
*more fumbling*
(female voice) Ouch! Stop it!
(male voice over) For when the time is right for you... and might be okay for her. Cialis.
posted by hippybear at 8:56 AM on August 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


IMO, the worst aspect of all this is what it teaches our children to think about themselves.

Fifteen to twenty years of childhood television programming, with endless negative messages about the role and abilities of men and women in our society, during the most susceptible periods of learning, is certain to fuck-up most any person's view of self.
posted by five fresh fish at 10:37 AM on August 8, 2009


These ads are written by men--the ad industry is one of the most disproportionately white, disproportionately male, and disproportionately straight industries in the US.

These ads are approved by men--almost all corporate liaisons with advertising agencies are male, because the advertising industry is disproportionately male.

And these ads are broadcast on TV networks run by men--one of the few industries as disproportionately white and male (though a bit less disproportionately straight) as advertising in the US is broadcast media.

So how is this unfair to men? Men are creating these messages. If men want to stop depicting themselves as hapless, fat bumblers who just happen to have gorgeous, hyper-competent wives they can stop doing it anytime they want.

To requote edheil:

Ancient (Greek/Roman) comedy is full of "wise slave, stupid master" stories. That's not because they thought freemen were idiots and slaves were smart, it's because it's an inversion of expectations to put the power and competence in the hands of the slave.

Seriously, folks, whoever's putting those messages out there, it's not women. If you've ever been to an advertising agency, you know this.
posted by Sidhedevil at 11:53 AM on August 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


Sidhedevil: These ads are written by men ... These ads are approved by men ... And these ads are broadcast on TV networks run by men ... So how is this unfair to men?

Fashion models are all women. Paris Hilton is a woman. Cosmopolitan magazine is run by women. Do these organizations / individuals not set back gender equality in significant ways?
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 12:57 PM on August 8, 2009


Do these organizations / individuals not set back gender equality in significant ways?

Yes, but that's not really a counter. They're house slaves who cling to status over the field slaves.
posted by i_am_joe's_spleen at 1:45 PM on August 8, 2009


i_am_joe's_spleen: Yes, but that's not really a counter. They're house slaves who cling to status over the field slaves.

My point was that there's nothing which says inherently that one gender will always or even often make decisions which save them from negative stereotypes, just as my initial point was that stereotyping of any kind has negative consequences both ways. Just because one kind of stereotyping has more vicious consequences does not mean that the other kind is inconsequential or that we should play some sort of zero-sum game between the sexes.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 2:34 PM on August 8, 2009



The series of ads for Stop and Shop that have been airing for the past year or so (in NYC) make me crazy. They feature women (almost?) exclusively. Shopping for food and feeding children is done only by women. Some of the commercials acknowledge that women work--the ad will feature a woman talking about how busy she is with work and family and how she needs a store that is convenient and cheap--but never that they might have a partner who can help out with the shopping and cooking.


These ads aren't leaving out men to be exclusive or imply that men are incompetent, yo. It's pretty obvious that they are targeting single mothers, women who actually, um, don't have a partner who help out -- a powerful and significant group of consumers in NYC, and all over the country.
posted by thinkpiece at 5:47 PM on August 8, 2009


Cosmopolitan magazine is run by women.

For values of "run by" that do not include "controlling money" and "hiring and firing the editor in chief." When female editors at fashion magazines think too far outside the box of corporate misogyny, they get fired.

So not so much, really. And yes, I think Paris Hilton promotes negative gender stereotypes and I wish she'd stop doing it.

Fashion models, on the other hand, are hired hands who don't get any say in the creation of the images in which they appear.
posted by Sidhedevil at 5:59 PM on August 8, 2009


My point was that there's nothing which says inherently that one gender will always or even often make decisions which save them from negative stereotypes

That's absolutely true.

My point was that the critique of this goes very often from "Men are depicted as lazy slobs who have gorgeous brillant competent wives" to "RAWR FEMINISM" as though feminism had the slightest thing to do with it. It does not. This kind of shit is anti-feminist as well as anti-masculinist and anti-humanist.
posted by Sidhedevil at 6:01 PM on August 8, 2009


It seems that what a lot of people are talking about here is the detrimental nature of advertising which purports to promote a lifestyle rather than telling us about the product. It is when a product is being offered to us pushed at us as something OTHER than a product to buy, that's when all these messages about gender roles and such start to get tangled up into potentially negative subliminal whatnot.
posted by hippybear at 6:07 PM on August 8, 2009


Sidhedevil: It does not. This kind of shit is anti-feminist as well as anti-masculinist and anti-humanist.

We absolutely agree on that. I don't blame feminism for "men are stupid" ads, I blame corporations. I think there's a point where some people stop worrying about the social implications of their actions for their gender (or, really, for anyone) and care only about the money.
posted by l33tpolicywonk at 6:40 PM on August 8, 2009


Just because (some) men created the ads does not mean that (all) men are responsible for them.

Most serial killers are men; does this mean that men (in general) are responsible for, or could stop, serial killing if they just tried a little harder? Does it make all men potential serial killers?
posted by unSane at 6:56 PM on August 8, 2009 [1 favorite]


I really don't think sexual politics has much to do with it at all -- I don't think it's a failure of feminism or a triumph of patriarchy. I think we live in a world where many of us have disconnected relationships because we devote an appalling amount of time to work and commutes in order to pay outrageous prices for things we don't necessarily need (and things we do need, very badly, like health care), and it's more palatable to present those hostilities as slapstick then to say, maybe this isn't the economic system that is going to make us happy.

In fact, the message is, buy more. I think it's actually beneficial to companies for the debate to be about whether the ads are sexist than whether the lifestyle they depict is valid. Nobody wants anyone to ask the question, is it a stupid thing to spend $500 on a vacuum, or have a house so big it's hard to care for and requires either additional time apart or the additional expenditure of a housecleaning service. And how all of those choices (my examples aren't real subtle but I'm only halfway through my first cup of coffee so bear with me) support a system that draws people away from each other and keeps us buying more stuff.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 2:41 AM on August 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


Or another question, why is it considered acceptable to draw adult relationships in parent/child terms? And it's not just ads, it's sitcoms and movies, too. Seth Rogan is pretty much the perfect man-child. No way is Katherine Heigl ever dating him. He looks like he forgets his PIN number on a weekly basis.

And I know an awful lot of women who talk about their husbands like they're morons, and a lot of men who talk about their wives like they're nagging harpies. It's always in a har har context, but the message is 'this person is NOT my best friend', and I wonder why? And I think it's because they work so hard they barely have time to enjoy each other.


I do really like Seth Rogan/Judd Apatow movies--that genre. I do like the funny. I don't walk around all the time handing out leaflets or squishing together slivers of soap to make larger bars or whatever.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 2:49 AM on August 9, 2009 [1 favorite]


Just because (some) men created the ads does not mean that (all) men are responsible for them.

Most serial killers are men; does this mean that men (in general) are responsible for, or could stop, serial killing if they just tried a little harder? Does it make all men potential serial killers?

posted by unSane at 6:56 PM on August 8

Eponysterical
posted by echolalia67 at 11:48 AM on August 9, 2009


Men! Shave and get drunk!

From experience: do not attempt this in the reverse order.

Also, a relevant TV Tropes page.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 5:19 PM on August 10, 2009


For me, the sad part is that I hate supporting bad advertising by buying their products but because I have pretty much eliminated all advertising from my life (except for the aforementioned Age of persuasion on CBC) I have no idea if the soup I am buying because I like the flavour has a really crappy ad behind it.
posted by saucysault at 9:50 PM on August 10, 2009


cortex: "Haskins"

cortex: "I am now a Sarah Haskins fan. I lost my shit watching that."

Agreed. Here's her video RSS feed.

And I notice she's a Chicagoan:

Sarah hails from Chicago, IL where she performed improv and sketch comedy at i.O. Chicago and with the Second City National Touring Company.

and, hey, we know that the subjects of threads sometimes end up reading them, so, Sarah, stop by a Mefi meetup one of these days.
posted by WCityMike at 6:18 PM on August 15, 2009


what would an ad that DID mock men look like?

* A softball game that descends into a drunken brawl
* Woman laughing at man who can't get an erection
* Woman laughing at man who has a small cock
* Asshole boyfriend sexually assaulting a waitress
* Asshole boss calling his employee "sweetie" or "cutie"
* Two men running out of gas and freezing to death in their Dodge Ram because they refuse to ask for directions

There may be a lot of male bumblers in ads, but how many assholes? And what's biggest negative stereotype of men: we are assholes.

In most of the "bumbling dad/guy" ads, the action at which the main character bumbles is generally considered to be insignificant, or not something that anyone mainstream consumer would think is terribly important, *or* they bumble at something not specifically associate with male behavior (i.e. either a man or woman could be the bumbler and the ad would still "work").

Compare to that commercial for Black Angus or whatever chain buffet restaurant, where the boss asks 3 employees if they can work late this week. The black guy and the woman grudgingly say yes, while the white, married, family man says, "Oooh, no can do. Tonight's beef night at McSharkey's" - the two colleagues get stuck with the work and the man goes off to McSharkey's with this boss ... who will also be joining him on future beef nights.

The guy is a comedic actor, and he's obviously meant to appear as sort of a doofus: "No, I can't work late, I've gotta go to Black Angus!," but at the same time it projects a man who is independent with strong convictions and can handle his boss to his favor.

So yeah, advertisers make men look like bumblers in order to sell products to women. And advertisers make women look like fuckable sluts to get men to buy all kinds of shit. (Compare the number of prone women or women in submissive poses in ads to the number of submissive men. Would Michael Jordan ever get down on his knees to sell his cologne?)

Which stereotype is more offensive? (You can tell I've been thinking about this for a little while ...)
posted by mrgrimm at 12:18 PM on August 26, 2009 [2 favorites]


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