Monday, June 28, 2010

I wear no pants

If you haven't checked out Manvertised yet, you really should. Very thoughtful analysis of the role that anxious masculinity plays in many modern advertisements. While browsing the blog, I came across a couple of interesting commercials.

The ad betrays an ambivalence rarely seen in advertising. It's hard not to like the jovial singers, whose pastoral setting, non-conventionally ideal body types, and lack of pants symbolize a freedom unconcerned with social constraints. Yet this freedom is not attained by alienation; solidarity abounds in the well-coordinated chorus, whose performance betrays little lack of skill. This kind of unburdened freedom is the sort of brand association one would expect a company would want to instill, yet after giving us this positive portrait, Dockers tells us it's time to grow up and "wear the pants." The gendered implications of the phrase are obvious. It's not difficult to find advertisements that would paint this freedom as the masculine ideal, away from the feminizing influence of domestic life. Dockers instead sees domestic life as a masculine proving ground, with unfortunate implications. One must "wear the pants" in a relationship, obviously impossible in the presumably chaste bro love of our chorus. In order to attain masculinity, then, a man must abandon his egalitarian friendships in pursuit of dominating romance.

Our singers are not merely liberated from the mundane concerns of domestic life but also from the rigorous gender policing and gender anxiety that would make them strive to "wear the pants." Choirs complete with well-practiced harmony aren't considered the most masculine thing in the world, but our singers seem unperturbed that their sexuality might be called into question by putting so much time into perfecting their singing. Their dress, even setting aside their lack of pants, either subverts traditional expressions of masculinity or eschews them altogether; one man wears a slightly feminine sweater, another a soiled button-down one would expect to see on a person in a cubicle.

Our proud singers are simultaneously enviable and laughable, and their appeal is perhaps meant to redound upon us. Their crude facsimile of freedom can seem, and is meant to seem, childish, and finding them appealing is supposed to be shameful. Yet their pride and solidarity might reflect a deeper ambivalence. It's not difficult to find frustration with the feminizing influence of middle class life, but this is the first time I've seen that expressed alongside a frustration with gender policing. While we're ultimately meant to reject the freedom fantasy as childish, Dockers might be hitting something real here- a frustration with the impossible demands of masculinity in modern society.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for posting this analysis, James. I've seen this commercial several times, and could not make heads or tails of it.