Friday, May 21, 2010

One of the Guys: How Beer Advertisements Sell Masculinity

Food and drink products in and of themselves have no relation to gender, and if you had never seen an ad for beer, you might assume it would be marketed based on its taste or other factors intrinsic to the beer. However, anyone who has seen an advertisement for beer knows that this is not the case; beer ads focus on any number of things other than beer. Depicting parties in a commercial for alcohol could make sense, but frequently the subjects of beer ads are completely unrelated; sports, women, and vacations all make frequent appearances. Also, in almost every case these ads are clearly geared toward men.  When beer makers advertise, they are selling a distinct masculine identity; for the price of a six pack—argue the ads—you can be one of the men, whether this means partaking in male bonding, enjoying overwhelming female attention, or simply be a part of a long lasting tradition of masculinity which spurns anything girly.

     The masculinity associated with beer ads is frequently characterized only by its complete refusal of feminine concepts. This actually defines the masculinity shown in terms of femininity, but forges in the minds of consumers a distinct identity for male costumers.  Declaring that men have better taste in drink than females do is a technique that originated at the very beginning of men’s marketing with Esquire magazine. Breazeale quotes an early twentieth century article which states, women say they like men’s parties better—you get better drinks,” and, “women tend to prefer fluffy, multi-colored abominations”. (Breazeale 233) This espouses the idea that women have bad taste—especially where alcohol is concerned—and draws on the stereotype of women being frail to imply that women need to drink weak, heavily flavored drinks. By contrast, it identifies men as strong and in possession of a discerning taste, able to buy and appreciate finer alcohol. This reinforces the sense of a male consumer identity, and is shown today in ads such as the Michelob Ultra advertisement in which the words “Lose the carbs, not the taste” are shown over a background of a strong, muscular man working out.

      Once the male audience is targeted and isolated beer can be sold on the basis that it appeals to the well defined masculine identity, whether or not the ad is actually about the beer. Connecting a beer with other desirable things can push the idea that buying the beer is also buying those things. Jhally describes advertising using perceived wants of the targeted audience as, “promoting images of what the audience conceives of as ‘The Good Life’; beer can be connected with anything from eroticism to male fraternity to the purity of the old west.” (Jhally 251) Tying beer so strongly to masculinity can confuse the consumer base into believing that buying a beer will make them manlier, or help them bond with their fellow men, or even make them more attractive to the opposite sex. These techniques are seen today in virtually all beer ads. However, when the vast majority of an advertisement is taken up by a half naked woman, with a tiny beer bottle or logo shoved into the corner, it is always prudent to wonder: What, exactly, is this ad selling?

Works Cited:
Breazeale, Kenon. "In Spite of Women: Esquire Magazine and the Construction of the Male Consumer." Gender, Race, and Class in Media. 2nd ed. Sage Publications, 2003. 

Jhally, Sut. "Image Based Culture: Advertising and Popular Culture." Gender, Race, and Class in Media. 2nd ed. Sage Publications, 2003.

Images Courtesy of the Following Links:

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Being a Man Down the Shore

The Jersey Shore depicts the antics of a group of twenty-something self described “Guidos” who share a house near the boardwalk of a New Jersey beach for a summer. The lifestyle of these people revolves around frequent trips to the gym and tanning salon and large amounts of time spent on perfecting clothing and hair, all in preparation for nights spent at the club. Here, the measure of one’s success in being the ideal Guido is how well one can attract the opposite sex. The obsession with self image and the preening it results in are not typically masculine characteristics, which contrasts sharply with the hyper-masculinity the men attempt to project. The men place increased importance on muscles and aggression in compensation for this and any implication of femininity is deemed the greatest insult. The season finale shows this clearly, as the cast escalates their childish behavior to an even greater level, as if to say farewell to the audience who loved them for it. To be a man on The Jersey Shore not only means to be muscular and aggressive, but also significantly more obsessed with body image than in traditional stereotypes of masculinity, and very insecure about it.
     The men on Jersey Shore definitely objectify women’s bodies; the attraction to clearly fake breasts, artificial tans, and large hair extensions are shown by all of them men, and “The Situation” describes women who do not fit these qualifications as “grenades”.  This could be expected from such a hyper-masculine atmosphere. The interesting thing is that men’s bodies are placed under just as much scrutiny. The perfect masculine body, as espoused by the men and women of Jersey Shore, is large and muscular, tanned, and hairless. None of these are attributes everyone possesses; the muscles come from frequent trips to the gym, the “natural” Italian tan is a product not of ethnicity or even sun but rather time spent in a tanning booth, and large steps are taken to show the product of this labor off. These methods of showing off include decidedly un-masculine tactics such as hair removal and wearing tight, colorful clothing designed to catch the eye. This keeps intact the stereotype of the masculine body, but places beauty ahead of utility as a goal.

     The ways in which the women of the show deal with the men’s appearances show how the male body is actually objectified equally with the female one. The men are frequently seen and heard describing women’s bodies in terms of breasts, butts, and tans.  However, the women also participate in this; J-Woww describes seeing “…a bunch of gorilla juiceheads. Tall, completely jacked, steroids, like multiple growth hormones. That’s like, the type that I’m attracted to”. What is telling about this is the reference to steroid use as part of the attraction. The “juiceheads” in question are assumed to have used steroids as an aid to make their bodies more visually appealing. This accomplishes the same body type as traditional values of masculinity prescribe, but the goal here is looks rather than utility. This implies the steroids in use are akin to beauty products, used to make the body more attractive.

     The men of Jersey Shore show how important they consider being manly to be by their use of insults which imply the worst thing someone can be is not a “real man” and the extreme aggression they show when their own masculinity is called into question. At the start of the season finale Ronnie is being picked up from jail, where he spent the night due to punching an aggressive drunk in the face and knocking him out. The reason he did this was not self defense, like in his other fight on the show, but merely that the man was harassing him in front of the cameras. Furthermore, it has recently been reported that MTV edited out a tirade that Ronnie unleashed on the man, calling him a “faggot” and “queer”. Newman notes that “often slurs become more pejorative when applied to people who are not even members of the group the slur identifies”, (Newman 76) and that homophobic name calling is a common method of insulting someone or “whipping them into an aggressive frenzy”. (Newman 76) Implicit in these slurs is the accusation that the recipient does not conform to standards of masculinity; that Ronnie thought this is the worst insult he could throw at someone clearly identifies his priorities.

     The self conscious effort of the men on Jersey Shore to be as “manly” as possible is definitely not meant to go past the viewer unnoticed. Pozner argues that the goal of reality TV is to display a set of preexisting stereotypes for the purpose of mocking them. She says, “The formula for every successful reality show is an easily understandable premise steeped in some social belief that provokes an audience reaction of ‘Oh my God…What is wrong with you?’” (Pozner 97) The way in which the male characters accidentally violate the traditional definition of masculinity provides the “What is wrong with you?” requirement of the show. This reinforces traditional gender roles by accepting the ideal image of man as muscle-bound and violent but depicting the steps taken to try and mirror this norm as ridiculous and even feminine. Statements by the characters about tanning, hair extensions, gel, or going to the gym are invariably placed in the final cut of the show. Any time the camera lingers on the twenty minute process of Pauly D sculpting his hair, the absurdity of a man spending so much time on grooming is emphasized. In doing this the producers push the image of masculinity, but argue that you should not take any steps to fit this image; you should be manly already.

     Jersey Shore exhibits a group of people who possess firm ideas of what it means to be a man or woman and place paramount importance in conforming to these stereotypes. However, in their pursuit of this they often paradoxically cross traditional gender boundaries. The makers of the show present this deviation from the code of masculinity as an inside joke with the viewer, mocking the men on the show who can’t seem to live up to our definition of what being a man is.

Works Cited

Jersey Shore: Season 1. MTV, 2010.

Newman, David M. “Race, Class, Gender, and Sexuality in Language and the Media”.  Identities and Inequalities: Exploring the Intersections of Race, Class, Gender, and Sexuality. Boston: McGraw-Hill, 2006.

Pozner, Jennifer L. "The Unreal World." Learning Gender. 2004.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Link Hunt: Assignment 1- Brendan O'Donnell

Deconstructing Lady Gaga's Telephone Video
Mar 15, 2010
Aylin Zafar

The Man Files: The Hurt Locker Blows Up More Than Bombs
Mar 1, 2010
Shira Tarrant

MCSR's College Chapter Breaks Down "Jersey Shore"
April 9, 2010
Jared Watkins

New Moon, Same Old Sexist Story
November 23, 2009
Katherine Spillar

Cosmopolitan Magazine and Gender Stereotypes
August 20, 2009
Tara K

Link to Blogging in College: the main Gender & Pop Culture blog

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