April 15, 2011

What Is A Real Man?


"Real Men Don't Buy Girls" pretends to be a PSA against child sex slavery.  What it really is an effort in rebranding.

In this clip, you see Ashton Kutcher.  If you had to find 300M Americans to be on a list of "Real Men," and every person in America except for Ashton Kutcher had been eaten by a giant squid, Ashton Kutcher would still not make that list, ever.  This isn't to say he's a bad person-- he stuck with Demi (admittedly, not hard to do) and seems to have done right by the Willis kids-- but he's not in Jung's Psychological Types.

In the clip he's disheveled, unshaven, he's wearing a knit cap, he has dirty socks-- real men  don't care about their appearance.  But he can't even fake it; his stubble is carefully maintained, and I don't know any guy in the world who has an extra pack of socks available "just in case."  No guy buys socks unless they need them right now; if you see a guy picking up a pack, he stepped in a river.  You see a guy buying underwear, he's going to put them on in the car.  

Real Men, as defined in these ads, means 35+yo men acting like 10th graders.  All of the men in the PSAs-- Justin Timberlake, Jaime Foxx, Bradley Cooper-- are unmarried. Kutcher is technically married, but in the PSA he "isn't."  Yes, he's wearing a ring, but the room is obviously only for him.  There are no decorations;  the only visible book is "Travel As a Political Act" which they give you free at high school graduation.  There's a crumpled shirt in the corner, waiting for Saturday when he can take it to his mom's.

Here's Bradley Cooper reprising his Hangover look, and you can tell he's a Real Man because he eats breakfast cereal.  Meanwhile, he eats it out on a deck that no guy has and crosses his legs the way no man ever does. 

I know Jaime Foxx is a real man because I saw him in a Kanye West video pretending to be Ray Charles singing about bitches.  Also, he drinks beer because that's what real men do; never mind he puts the beer to his lips like he's a bulimic actress fumbling her way through a Doritos commercial.

All of these "real men" are pretending to be what they think a "real man" is.  But it's clear that they have no idea what that means-- so they go for image. 

The end of the ads puts each actor's face in a picture, and then cuts to other real men-- Die Hard Bruce Willis, Cowboy Tom Selleck, Han Solo Harrison Ford.  Those are all fictional portrayals of real men.  But by putting Jaime, Bradley and Ashton next to them, they inherit the branding.

All of this is conscious, purposeful emulation of images.  If I don't shave; if I act like John McClain;  if I am single-- then I am a real man.  It doesn't work.  The ads grossly reveal how obviously they are faking it-- even though they actually are real men.  What makes them not real men is precisely the conscious pretending to be a real man.

That last part is the important piece.  Here's an example: the one thing Ashton Kutcher has done in his life which is indisputably evidence of being a real man is that stayed with Demi and helped raise and support her kids.  Say whatever else you want about this egomaniac, that is a real behavior that is of real consequence, that is the essence of "real man."   But Ashton himself doesn't see that-- he even tries to hide it.  None of these people do.  Maybe because they're actors, maybe because they are part of The Dumbest Generation of Narcissists In The History Of The World-- they cannot help but put appearances over behavior.  

Note also that at the end, it is a woman, a super hot It-Girl like Jessica Biel or Eva Longoria, who judges what a real man is.  That gives them considerable power.  We the viewers  understand that it is their sexiness that lets them be the judges of men, but did anyone notice that they also become the ones to judge who is a real woman?  Hence their endorsement of Arianna Huffington and Randi Zuckerberg(?!)  And in that endorsement, the It-Girl brands herself as not just a pretty face-- smart by association-- after all, she was smart enough to choose Randi Zuckerberg and not some dumb model.  It's transparent and patronizing, and a lie.  Does she actually believe she can convince men that Randi Zuckerberg is a "real woman" just because she said so?  The answer is yes, she believes it.  Since she can judge men, she can also judge women.

So what have we learned from these ads?  Real men are image; real women are hot, or liberals.


See also Does The "Real Men" ad work?