Cultural Critique & Gender Identity

How do we identify ourselves amidst the incessant negative images and messages perpetrated by our ever-loud media culture? I think about this a lot. I show my advanced composition students the Missrepresentation documentary, and I ask them to write a cultural critique based on an advertisement of their choosing. From a pedagogical standpoint, in a world where sexism is so blatant, I feel responsible for guiding students in their analytical quest to uncover what is overt and implied. Again and again, I come to the construct of gender. I come up against that dreaded statement: “That’s so gay.” As teachers, how do we have these conversations without alienating the students who need to hear this message the most? How do we create a safe, inclusive space for everyone? I believe the conversation must be made personal. Political and social efficacy must come from within. We are the roots of the weed. I believe the unspoken social contracts of acceptability must be defined in order to be broken and freed.

I challenged my students to make it personal. I really loved David Bache’s essay; I wanted to share it with you.

A brief description of the assignment.

Courage Is The First Step Into Nonconformity by David Bache

Every time we gather around our television screen, we are bombarded by advertisements for America’s finest products. Each of these ads has an agenda to not only sell their product but to form societal rules for its viewers. Nearly every commercial that hits the air features beautiful people, in beautiful clothes, living their beautiful lives with the aid of the company’s product, of course. The constant visual assault of what the media deems normal and beautiful has had an extremely negative effect on it’s viewers. One ad campaign in particular, Old Spice, targets men who don’t fit into society’s definition of masculine, by exclusively representing a muscular, womanizing type of man. Old Spice targets these men by assuring them that after the use of their product, they too will be as masculine as “The Old Spice Guy” and, therefore, be rich, famous, have sex with beautiful women and, on occasion, defy the laws of physics. Unfortunately, what Old Spice, and the general population of the United States, do not understand is that being masculine has nothing to do with being a man; a man is quite simply a human being who identifies as male.

Men today are belittled by the media. Every father and son who are subjected to today’s advertisements are being subliminally told that if they do not look, act and talk a certain way they will live a less than satisfying life. Old Spice pitches in on this objectification in the form of promotions for their mens grooming products. In the television commercials, the muscular and ‘manly man’, Isaiah Mustafa, informs the female audience that unless their man uses Old Spice products, he will never be able to live the exciting and adventurous life that a man who does use the products could. Another depicts a young man with little muscle mass, who starts using Old Spice products. The young man is instantly blessed with large biceps and a beard and eventually goes on to “cure all the worlds problems”. This over exaggeration has become extremely detrimental to the vast majority of men in our country.

Men are now, more than ever, feeling the pressure to conform to the unrealistic identity of being the type of man the media wants them to be. As many informed Americans know, the number of girls who develop eating disorders, in order to obtain the media’s version of the perfect body, is appalling. Men, too, are affected negatively, but instead of eating disorders, they develop unhealthy habits, such as the usage of steroids to achieve the overly muscular body of many celebrities. Other unhealthy habits brought on by media pressures include: unhealthy relationships towards women, unhealthy obsession with money and any of the prior could cause depression in men unable to meet these standards.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, perhaps Old Spice is trying to do good for America. As a whole, the United States is the most obese country in the world today. Perhaps Old Spice advertisements are an attempt to subliminally encourage exercise among its male viewers. They certainly do an outstanding work of excluding overweight citizens in their ads. Another outlook on Old Spice advertisements is that they may be attempting to lower the divorce rate in America. The vast majority of their commercials have an actor speaking directly towards women, speaking of how their husband/boyfriend should act and treat her. It isn’t completely out of the realm of possibility that Old Spice is, indeed, trying to educate men on how to treat their female counterparts. In the same light, the advertisements may be an attempt at humor. Its rather obvious, that on the surface, the Old Spice commercials try to appeal to our sense of humor, what with their depiction of a man with broken legs flying, movie tickets turning into diamonds, and puppies jumping out of an acoustic guitar.

Despite the prior evidence implying that the Old Spice ads are harmless, I, as a young man behind the screen, can’t help but see the underlying message. In my opinion, the Old Spice ad campaign is trying to sell masculinity to the masses by sending a subtle message that if men don’t look or act a certain way, they are somehow less than a man who does conform to these rules. What they apparently do not grasp is that being a man is not a goal one has to work for or achieve after a certain period of time. Being a man is a mind set. If anyone has the desire to identify as a man, they are by choice a man. Superficial characteristics and traits such as musculature, alcohol consumption, and an insatiable thirst for Monday Night Football has absolutely nothing to do with how much of a man someone is. In fact, no one person is in a sense more masculine than another. Every human on planet Earth is vastly different than their counterparts; we, as a society, must cherish our differences, not go to extremes to conform.

All media has a plan to subject its audience to something other than its product. As a slave to societal trends, the media must stray from what is considered taboo and conform by exposing us to today’s trends. Old Spice is no exception. They play along with the media power houses and refuse to include any form of individuality in their product promotions. I, as a consumer, find it rather mundane that nearly every commercial that graces my television has a subliminal message, usually pertaining to sex and sexuality. Unfortunately, the opinions of a single thinker are not enough to end the reign of terror the media corporations have over how our society works. If change is indeed necessary for generations to come, the good people of America need a wake up call; a realization that every man is just as masculine as the man on television, every women is a beauty queen. Courage is the first step into nonconformity. With that courage one must look society in the eye and ask “Is this ok?”

1 thought on “Cultural Critique & Gender Identity”

  1. This essay is truly inspiring. I am in awe of it’s capacity to really make the reader think. David Bache should be very proud of this work.


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