If you’ve got a good memory, you may recall the last time I was at the podium, that in addition to country music and death metal, I talked about how the wider culture can sometimes narrow our understanding of masculinity. Sometimes this is done with great skill and subtlety, and at others times, well… This morning I’d like to show you two recent TV ads promoting “Buffalo Wild Wings.”
Let me admit up front that the marketing team at Buffalo Wild Wings is having some fun with us, and the fact that I’m even talking to you about their ads suggests that their campaign is working. But as you watch these 30-second commercials, think about what each reveals about manhood.
First off, I’m not all that comfortable hanging out with any guy who spends his time counting chicken wings. This behaviour betrays a certain nutritional fastidiousness — a quest for poultry parity if you will –that leaves me wondering why I’m socializing with this guy in the first place.
And did you notice that the gravelly voiced “manhood coach, ” a Vince Lombardi look-alike, is deliberately dressed in a fedora and boxy suit, like someone out of the 1950’s? His mode of dress reflects the world-view of that era.
According to our coach, being a man is about claiming what’s rightfully yours. (That 8th wing, for you chicken counters out there!) And he deliberately taunts our feckless protagonist, as he plays on his — and perhaps our own — sense of fear. Clearly, bad things can happen if we won’t grab our grub. If the domino theory still holds, we will face a growing sense of loss. “A chicken wing today. A seat at the table tomorrow.”
By the way, as uncomfortable as I am hanging out with guys who count chicken wings, I never EVER want to spend time with someone who stands up in a crowded restaurant and shouts, “I’m a big strong man.”
Let’s take a look at ad # 2. Ordering for others:
This piece starts with a question, “Brian, what are you thinking?” This is clearly a question that makes our hero struggle. He looks completely perplexed, and the fear here is that he may lose face in front of both his significant other and his politically correct demographic of friends.
But thank God for the manhood coach. “Loligaging – (what others might call reading the menu) ain’t for leaders.” Leaders, according to the coach, “are too busy making plays happen. Answering the call. Earning their big boy pants.”
After this inspirational pep talk, our formerly mild mannered Brian is, as they say, a changed man. Now that he has strapped on his psychic testosterone patch, he orders, not just for himself, but for all of his friends, as he boldly snaps the menus from their unwilling hands.
Both of these ads focus on a 30 something every man, a man with the socially approved degree of un-shaveness, a man who is unsure of himself, a man who doesn’t quite know how to act, a man who is uneasy in the presence of others, a man who can’t quite handle things, or even himself, at the table.
In each case the man’s fears are addressed openly, if somewhat aggressively by the man coach, and the result is instant change. The bullied becomes the bully. Our hero can now grab a chicken wing or master a menu, without of course, ever asking anyone about anything. Because a man is always in control.
What doesn’t happen in either ad? Nobody asks, “Hey, does anyone want that last wing?” No one wonders, “What would you like?” It’s as if men — and we’re talking real men here — don’t ask questions. They don’t need to. They already know all the answers.
But man is a social animal, and if these were longer commercials, I’d like to see the next 30 seconds to see how our protagonists’ friends respond. What do you say when a friend yells out in front of a crowd that he is a “big strong man”? Do you assume onlookers will see you as a big, strong man, too? Or do you see yourself blushing, as you slink out the backdoor of that restaurant? And what do you do if you really didn’t want “natchos, fried pickles and pretzels, buffalitos, honey barequed wings and waters all around”? These important questions remain unanswered.
We are left to wonder, too, if the other characters actually see the man coach, or is he available only to the eyes of our protagonists? If so, is the man coach a sort of conscience? Do his instructions about how to act, how to respond, how to lead — are they the inner stirring of 1950’s manhood, or do they spring from our collective DNA? Are we all hard-wired to grab that wing?
It is worth noting, though, that we, the viewers, also see the man coach, and that’s important because he clearly is our coach, too. (So I hope you were all taking notes!)
We should recognize that these Wild Wing ads are part of a 30-year tradition of defining man as an idiot. In this spirit, man is nothing more than a boy-child, suffering from a severe case of arrested development. Even as we laugh at his primitive lunacy, we recognize that these ads may appeal to the deeply hidden longing some men have to be more assertive, to be the king of the jungle. It’s just that these yearning are made ridiculous in the context of chicken wings.
Finally, we may be drowning in a cultural swamp of TV commercials, that overwhelm our collective psyches. We can’t tell the dancer from the dance or the chicken wing from the chicken. (Ouch.) We can just chuckle and move on. But every once in a while, it’s good to step back and ask ourselves, “What is the real message behind the message?” Can we see these advertisements with our third eye?
With this in mind, I invite you to send me commercials or ads from newspapers, magazines, or television, along with whatever insights on manhood you think they reveal.
If we come up with something worthwhile, I’ll show them during an upcoming assembly. Faculty, staff, and students are all invited to participate by sending me artifacts by October 15th. The author of the most interesting artifact and observation will receive the second annual Principal’s Cup Award, an award dating back to 2012, an award that virtually guarantees acceptance not only to Queens Commerce, Yale, and Oxford, but into sacred manhood itself. But remember to follow the coach’s advice: send me that ad and “Get in the game!”