The Marlboro Man Meets the Campaign for Real Beauty

Just in case you thought that only women were subject to media judgment, San Francisco Chronicle columnist Mark Morford takes a look at the marketable male. Read the whole column: it’s brilliant.

Men are no longer neatly divided — not that they ever really were — into two types: a) the new breed of metrosexual, trim and healthy and urban-bred and yoga-ready, … able to cook a five-course gourmet meal and satisfy his women using 102 variations of expert Tantric oral sex …. Nor is he necessarily b) The Great Beer-Swilling Slob, … unsightly as an overfed gopher in his XXL bathing suit and blissfully addicted to … sports and beer and especially sports involving beer, all while remaining entirely unable to tell a clitoris from a lawn mower….

Well, yeah. The media is completely incapable of focusing on the complex, elusive realities of masculinity. And Morford, at least, is clear on that. He’s reporting on a survey by the Leo Burnett Worldwide Advertising Agency (creators of the Marlboro Man), in which they posed loaded and unfair questions (would you rather stay at home with the kids and a higher standard of living or go to work yourself and live less high on the hog?) and got provocative results.

The ad agency survey looks a lot like the “Campaign for Real Beauty” quiz. Two false choices are posed as the only options, and whenever we pick one or the other to be pigeonholed for the marketers, we lose. In both cases, the marketers are frightened because their stereotypes are slipping. They react to the fear by trying to remaster their market. Because feminism is more established and better understood, Dove is about two years ahead of Leo Burnett Worldwide. Dove is experimenting with marketing to a changing culture, while Burnett is trying to shove men back into the old boxes.

However, as Morford says, “men aren’t exactly conforming to typical behaviors and stereotypes and maybe, just maybe, there’s some sort of evolution going on, some progress, intermixing, some sort of slightly deeper shift, and it’s all about goddamn time, too.”

What will contemporary masculinity look like if the refusal of individual men to be oversimplified becomes visible in the wider world? Morford is posing exactly that question, and so are we. And, as he says toward the end of his column, “I do not have a clear answer, just yet. Perhaps this is the best news of all. … The possibilities are like a New York whorehouse during the Republican National Convention. Which is to say, wide open, and pumping hard.”