The term “controversial” in reference to commercial content has come to be a self-assigned platitude, usually in the place of the more objectively labeled “single-minded and moronic”. When the term is used as a headliner to describe a public utterance, expect there to be little context or merit behind the exasperation you’re told will soon consume you. Feeling ideas long ago replaced the tradition of rationally discussing ideas. Galileo was controversial when he suggested the solar system didn’t revolve around God’s green earth. That’s not the same controversial as sweepingly suggesting men are barely trainable hostile blockheads. One controversy will get you flayed at the stake; the other a “groundbreakers” advertising award at a Portland auditorium.
The new Gillette razor company produced and promoted “short film” entitled, “The Best Men Can Be” ranks up there in the Pantheon of blatantly cynical corporate messaging. Consider the standard bearer to be anything produced by Coca-Cola in the 1970’s. For example, I’d Like to Buy the World a Coke, as the company proceeded to advance its worldwide expansion of childhood diabetes to lands previously operating at normal insulin. In the good old days, Fortune 500 marketing divisions and their Madison Avenue Mad Men produced schlock feel-good commercials to make emotional people fall in love with brands.. Today, the virtue signaling advertisements are of a completely divisive kind. Even a shaving company guilt tripping the men who consume their products. Ballsy, for all the wrong reasons. They’d like to buy the world a cleaver and lop off male genitalia. Not exactly a Coke and a smile.
Imagine Ronald McDonald is no longer helping sick kids; far too trite. Now the iconic clown’s helping to erase the scourge of gender inequality in the workplace by moving female low wage immigrant workers to the fry station. And in the process, Ronald is calling out his own franchise managers for being misogynists? That’s where we’re at with Gillette and their battle call to all men to be less toxic. Because if you shave, you are part of the problem, says the razor company that made it’s name as the primary corporate sponsor of boxing in America.
Consider a world where corporations put serious dollars behind de jour political messaging. A Milton Friedman disciple would insist that the business of the business is it’s only business, but assume a world where corporations can provide a profit rationale to their shareholders for hand-picking charitable and social causes.
Take Wall Street hedge funds and banks for instance. These institutions donate heavily to political campaigns, as is their want and right. Consider if they ran U.S. Army type commercials during football games. Maybe $150 billion hedge fund, Bridgewater Associates, puts out ads denouncing greed, mocking a Gordon Gecko type character who coldly earns yachts full of cash while the employees of affected companies lose their jobs or face decades of stagnant or declining wages. Or Monsanto runs “short films” called “Cop Killer”, denouncing the racism in our nation’s police forces while drawing fortuitous comparisons to their weed killer product line. Now, imagine this is already happening.
Gillette isn’t the first to go patently obviously into the trending corporate morality morass. Sort Gillette into the lemming pile. Faced with the shame and guilt of having not been enlightened or “woke” for their first successful century of existence, American corporations are diving head first into the vacuous pool of wokeness. For those not familiar with the term “woke”, it’s a chic label for being blatantly and publicly sensitive to both real and imagined oppression of peoples. As in, you have now awoken to being a better person, like I am. Though I’m still probably better than you. Man.
Major media and consumer products companies are scrambling to put money into diversity and inclusion programs within their midst, and give their new “Chief Diversity Officers” unlimited power to create anything that (1) doesn’t disrupt the current business models, and (2) can be highlighted in bold letters to the world as to the company’s extreme response to perceived social injustice. It’s a broad mandate that can be summed up as, “Do something that makes us look good to those angry mobs on social media we don’t understand because we’re old and watch network TV.” And the Inclusion Department’s response? You got it, gramps.
In tune with the marketing spends diverted to these clarion calls of humane and trendy corporate values, ad agencies have geared up for big time social messaging spots for their clients. Super Bowl ads are a strong barometer of TV commercial trends as they are widely recognized as the most important and often largest ad spend of the year. Recall over the past several years, Seth Rogen and Amy Schumer in a Bud Light ad excitedly pushing for gender pay equality. Or Budweiser “controversially” suggesting that immigrants have always been the backbone of America (which nobody is arguing against, since 99% of the nation’s population trace their lineage to immigrants, but what the heck, run the ad).
In 2017, Audi ran their “Daughter” ad, which suggested Audi was super seriously behind making sure hip young white girls with cool dads grow up in a world where women are given equal opportunity. Audi let everybody know that the commercial was directed by a woman. Audi spent the rest of 2017 doling out billions in settlement money for being part of the single biggest auto emissions fraud infraction in the history of the automobile industry. Guess they didn’t care if women bought Audis under false pretenses. Or destroyed the environment. It’s okay, Audi. Sports leagues produce similar social responsibility messaging and their employees have a noteworthy history of beating women. You’re not as bad as the NFL.
Gillette has upped the game of corporate must-have trendy virtue signals with their “The Best Men Can Be” short film. As you might anticipate in these times, directed by a woman. That’s worth pointing out only insomuch as Gillette is pointing it out with every press release. A woman directed this. Hey, did you hear? They’re shouting out their Procter and Gamble parent company’s noble efforts to bring female directors into the advertising world. The director, Kim Gehrig, happens to be white, similar to the Audi commercial director, which is only important to note as you walk through the diversity efforts of big business and government to ostensibly limit intersectionality to college educated white women. You can only go so far in your efforts to affirmatively activate. (You ought read my piece on how white educated women have been the dominant beneficiaries of Affirmative Action. Ought is like a kind version of must.)
A female director with activist credentials on women’s rights is directing this Gillette public service announcement kindly pointing out how masculinity is inherently and historically destructive. Worth considering in an age of demographic identity real politik. There’s no way in any version of heck a man would be considered an appropriate director for a social messaging video at a female consumer base. The ad agencies in Portland and San Francisco that genius-up these project understand this without it even needing to be mentioned. Sexism only goes one way in this nation. Whoever has the power shall play the role of the oppressor. The concept of the actual elimination of bigotry is for soft-science classes when apes run this planet.
“The Best Men Can Be” short film, and it’s heavily paid promotions hashtag on social media, the sign of certain absence of integrity, derives from the longstanding Gillette slogan, “The best a man get get”. That tagline was introduced by Gillette in a 1989 Super Bowl commercial. Look, the modern man holding a baby while not being an astronaut of an athlete. It’s the perfect kind of empty slogan that lives in the slogan Hall of Fame. The ad copy versions of a jingle. It helped sell a ton of overpriced, cheap disposable razors to men. And higher priced similar cheap disposal razors to women, because not all gender equality missions are created equal. Oh, Gillette, you slippery corporate minx.
In line with the zeitgeist of intelligentsia bubbles on the coasts, Gillette’s “The Best Men Can Be” introduces the chic social science suggestion that masculinity itself is basted in a primordial ooze of hostility, violence, and toxicity. It’s a nice bit of reverse sexism that like most latter day liberal arts college liturgy, has its roots in 1960’s counterculture academia, but took another 50 years before people in power decided to pretend it was suddenly fresh. No, women didn’t start marching and yelling and crying after Trump was elected, sweet child. Outraged white women were burning bras and carrying shoddy illustrations of vaginas from a time before the guy who started Twitter was even born.
Any modern sweeping attack on social norms, let alone broad paintbrush derision of 49.2% of the population (yes, it’s true, men are the minority gender, don’t pass this on if you want to live) relies heavily on surrender of thoughtful people to emotional people. A leap of faith that, this time, the mob really has the answer. Such as this cynical capitulation to wholly unsubstantiated science by a razor company. The visual imagery, shots, and cuts of “The Best Men Can Be” film belie it’s believability, credibility, and chance to potentially succeed in any manner in its very overt social goal. Nobody will be made better by this. Though that wasn’t the point.
The simpleton premise of the spot is that men need to “lean in”, literally and figuratively, to stop the male-fueled social ills of bullying, fighting, sexual harassment, and sexual assault. If you read the latest manifesto by the American Psychological Association report classifying masculinity essentially as a mental health disorder, you’ll see the pattern of “men as the problem” talking points for an age of brand new discrimination. Are we truly a nation if we don’t minimize somebody’s civil rights?
The first visual accusation in the video indicts boys for bullying a boy with nasty text messages, calling him a loser and a freak. Anybody who was once a child and attended a school of any kind understands this type of bullying takes place on the yard. Anybody who is a parent of a child in the digital age knows this same aggression now takes place heavily via text message and social media. However, what perhaps isn’t clear in the Gillette spot maligning boys inherently horrible masculine behavior is that young girls in school are far more likely to be cyber-bullied by peers, or be those who commit cyber-bullies, more so than boys by good margin. Certainly, boys engage in more physical acts of aggression during their pubescent years. You could classify this as evil, if you were so inclined to boil down complicated anthropological theories to convenient hashtags, but the very acts portrayed in the short film involve very real and very harmful activities engaged in more often by girls. While boys jockey for face-to-face dominance at recess, girls are far more likely to engage in “speaking-ill” activities of their fellow female classmates. In 2019, that’s almost exclusively via text. This is a real problem. For boy and for girls, both of whom are both showing much higher signs of depression and anxiety largely related to digital media’s ability to both expand and concentrate the power of derision. None of this a concern for Gillette, naturally. Toxic masculinity is such an intense and present terror, it supersedes facts.
“The Best Men Can Be” next tees up the idea that men see overt sexual harassment as either normal behavior or even worse, something comedic. It’s inexorably related to the male desire to be Satan, or something approximating the Dark Lord’s penchant for making others suffer. The first example in the short film being a fake sit-com where a male “businessman” character pantomimes grabbing the ass of a female maid in his home. Oh, how the sick men in the audience laugh and laugh, well, sickly. But who are these men and what are these shows? This appears to be a throwback to 1970’s “jiggle TV’ sitcoms like Three’s Company, which despite being condemned by both the religious right for its sexually provocative premise, and feminists from the left for it’s blonde cheesecake stereotype of Suzanne Somers character, was widely popular among a male and female audience alike.
Despite revisionist history’s take on 70’s shows such as Three’s Company, these were progressive creations produced by progressive people who insisted on moral tales that mocked stereotypical male behavior and punished the characters who insisted upon it. They followed creatively from the same people who produced All in the Family and M*A*S*H. Three’s Company pushed a rather obvious gay-character friendly agenda which at the time was beyond controversial. Not to mention nobody actually got laid. Look back. Mrs. Maisel gets more action than Jack Tripper did.
Without breaking into a wholehearted course lecture on Three’s Company as gender progressive content, understand that regardless of subtext, shows like this no longer could exist in the modern entertainment fare world. There are bona fides of political correctness that cover all major media outlets in 2019. The new normal for corporate produced content, be it TV or commercials, is to mock idiotic beta male characters, with smarter more grounded women being forced to carry the burden of their boss/husband/boyfriend/brother being such a dullard clown. What is this sitcom they are portraying in the Gillette ad? And who are these men guffawing at a man treating a woman’s ass like a Christmas ham? I’ve seen drunk men at bachelor parties be all kinds of rude. I’ve seen the same at bachelorette parties of the women. If you know the answer to these questions you just might be nearing “The Best Men Can Be” optimization.
In the next enlightening segment of Gillette’s Citizen Kane light, a man is belittling, inappropriately touching, and mansplaining to a poor woman at a corporate meeting. Hard to say which of these three acts is more heinous. Go for all of the above.
Naturally, of the umpteen men at the table, she’s the lone woman, and now she’s being humiliated by her male boss who obviously thinks she’s a small child and he’s her far wiser daddy. Does this go on at Gillette meetings? Maybe. It’s certainly how Gehrig envisions corporate meetings. As a creative myself, I can tell you, we really have no idea. Feminist cartoons and HuffPo opinion pieces have to stand in for real experience. It’s a burden.
At these sexist office meetings, should Bob stand up and tell Dan to let the lady speak for herself and stop diminishing her inherent talents simply because she doesn’t wear a tie like the guys? Maybe. What is universal is that bosses are jerks. Well, not all, but many, and certainly the ones portrayed in fiction. I’ve worked three real not pretend jobs in my life and had three horrible bosses. Two of them were female bosses. They were all three needlessly authoritarian weasels who led by org chart rather than personal accomplishment. It’s quite likely that the men (and women) who rise to the tops of large organizations are the more ambitious, aggressive, and uncaring among us.
That’s certainly how it works in the rest of the animal kingdom. Nobody is chosen to be the wolf pack leader based on their thoughtful plans for more generous maternity leave. Should you stand up to your dick boss no matter who he or she is humiliating at the office? Yes, you should. What percentage of men are dick bosses? Not many. What percentage of women are dick bosses? Perhaps less, not sure. Still, it’s a good idea to hate your boss. It’s very American.
“The Best Men Can Be” cuts to the next huge issue with men — they condone and promote violence. If you own an NFL licensed jersey, you’re part of the problem unless it’s a Kaepernick, then you’re exempt. Gehrig chooses the artful imagery of cliché men hosting cliché backyard BBQs and as all men do, working the grill. Remember, you can’t be sexist against men. It’s a great loophole in the bigotry rules.
The grill dads are watching two boys in fisticuffs rolling around on the lawn. The dads repeat the mantra, “Boys will be boys”. Because you know men think this, and often mumble it in rote manner when shamelessly watching violence unfold before them as live entertainment. Of course men love targeting in football and UFC and watching people fight and a bunch of other gland-fulfilling gladiator sports that stand-in for actual violence that has long since been removed from the culture. What they don’t do is watch kids punch each other on the ground during backyard barbecues. I’ve been to a bunch. If a fight broke out, nobody says “boys will be boys” and keeps on charring the meat product. Understanding this isn’t meant to be literal in the scene, still, there’s simply not a time when boys fight and men encourage or indulge it.
My middle school gym coach was the most masculine man I know. Perhaps toxically so; he did die of liver cancer at a young age. It might be related. He broke up all fights and made the altercation subjects run laps until they shit blood. That last part isn’t true, but I bet he imagined doing that.
I didn’t grow up in The Great Santini home where perhaps blind aggression was rewarded and encouraged, but I have been a Little League coach, attended many a barbecue, and been involved in all types of classic masculine activities and nary once seen men simply stand back and watch boys beat each other up. Anytime I write about what happens in exclusively female environments, many a woman lets me know I have no idea what I’m talking about. They’re probably right. This feels very much like the same situation in reverse gender. I’m not sure these female creatives understand male culture in the least. Would Gehrig direct a film about the black experience in America? Probably not.
(Side story: it’s not just women who don’t understand classic male culture. I once pitched a scene at Disney where a father and son (albeit animals) were going to play catch in the yard. One male executive at Disney rose and denounced this idea as antiquated Americana that hasn’t happened in fifty years. There was concurrence around the table. Who are these people?)
This is not to deny the existence of men who dig violence and possibly, in small numbers, promote it to their children. It is to suggest it’s not a sweeping phenomenon. A gender-wide illness that could be cured if only men opened their eyes to Gillette commercials on the matter, they’d see the massive error of their ways. It’s also not meant to suggest that masculine aggression is directly comparable to viciousness and wanton destruction. The modern day pulpits from which people safely preach their modern day beliefs in the comfort of their climate controlled environments is the end result of masculine aggression channeled for communal good. We don’t have this glorious relative life of leisure and dominance over all other species and nature without this very same drive. What can destroy also creates. There’s a real zeal these days to toss out the bathwater without any care for the baby when the baby doesn’t fit the talking points. That twist in the adage doesn’t end well for the continuation of the human race. Look around, we’re doing pretty okay with tens of thousands of years of this apocalyptic testosterone.
Next, this film in the mode of a Vassar-visual-arts-thought-piece teaches us we are in the midst of revolution of mind, body, and spirit on the devastating consequences of masculinity since Harvey Weinstein was outed by Woody Allen’s illegitimate son and the #MeToo hashtag was birthed. It’s a convenient plot device in a bit of fiction. That idea that decades upon decades of sleazy Hollywood behavior everybody, including women, kept secret, now exposed, would ignite a universal cry for gender justice. That’s a fine conceit. What Alyssa Milano has engendered, let no toxic male put asunder. Not accurate, but a movie does need plot devices.
Suddenly, brooding, violent, abusive men, all four billion of them on this planet, are woke. Search back for the definition. Men were never chivalrous or standing up for what’s right or defending women through the first several eons of civilized human history, but now, it’s game on. Men are leaning in, hard. Why, simply look at Terry Crews. He’s big and muscular and used to play football and now he’s speaking to Congress about sexual assault. Though he’s speaking about his own assault, as he describes it, at the hands of a drunk Hollywood agent cupping the Brooklyn-Nine-Nine actor’s genitals at an office Christmas Party. So nothing to do with women, and hardly anything to do with a genuine reality of sexual assault, but still, look, Terry Crews. The Uncle Terry of toxic masculinity. He’s denounced porn!
There’s enough crock in these several seconds of Gillette’s non-answer as to why they rip off the world with their massive markup on cheap blades to form a crock party. So much revisionist fiction rolled into one. Man as caveman. Man as self-interested gender dominator. Man as President of rape culture. Man as ignoramus with no ability to self-control, self-reflect, or commit acts of selflessness. Eat, rape, shit, sleep. You know how men are. Oh, also shave.
In a burst of cosmic gender evolvement, the final stretches of this simpleton’s cinematic clam of male bashing, men are finally stepping in to help the cat-called woman, the bullied boy, and to let the boys know it’s not acceptable to punch one another in the face at poolside summer get-togethers. Thanks to Gillette, their attempt to make sure white women have a seat at the table, and one unsettling piece of corporate moral preaching on matters for which Gillette has (a) zero expertise, (b) zero history of combatting, and (c) a blind desire to dumb down rational, science based debates on gender norms in a modern culture, men have now been woke.
Do they still need to shave? Would it be okay if they purchased through Harry’s or Dollar Shave Club that offer superior products for far less money than Gillette has been using its duopolistic power to gouge the market for decades? These are questions that must be answered in the follow up video, The Best Men Can Be, Part 2: The Return of the Trainable Toxic Male. I for one can’t wait. Now I must watch the Domino’s Pizza short film belittling our nation’s obesity rates. At some point we might just remove the word “hypocrisy” from the dictionary. “Woke” can take its place. This is no way to fix a broken world.
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Lex Jurgen is the co-host of the universally popular Last Men on Earth podcast, the author of Man Rules: The Beginner’s Guide to Manhood, the former editor of WWTDD and current owner of CaseyAnthony.com, and a regular social and media commentator on radio.
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