The blogger Shakespeare’s Sister wrote recently of a favorite tactic in commercials, setting up situations where manhood is proven by disdaining women by using the advertised product.
Burger King: A guy and a girl sit at a table together. The guy throws down his fork and jumps up into a song-and-dance routine, braying about how he’s not going to eat “chick food” anymore. He sings and dances his way to Burger King to get a ginormous burger, joined by other men who are all doing the same. The refrain of this song is “I am man, hear me roar, I’m incorrigible, I eat meat.” Spray-painted signs declaring “I Am Man” are unfurled from overpasses. An Asian man in a business suit collapses onto the sidewalk, hungrily tearing into a Double Whopper. “I’ve eaten quiche, but I won’t anymore,” the men’s chorus sings. The men riot and toss a mini-van off a bridge, which lands in the back of a dump truck being towed by an old man clad in leather, who’s being led forward by a woman bearing a burger on a silver tray, just out of his reach. “I am man! I eat meat!”
I used to resist the idea that there was something sexist about pro-meat and anti-vegetarian sentiments, but no more. What I find interesting about this is that the consumption of meat as a way of homosocial bonding through the disdain of women fits really neatly into other media portrayals of how men are supposed to bond – generally by a shared loathing and/or objectification of women. In this commercial, women are so contemptible that anything associated with femininity, even something as mundane as eating vegetables, must be harshly and loudly rejected. And the object that men bond over in this case isn’t a woman’s body, but a greasy hamburger.
There’s no doubt that this sort of message is hateful to women. But it’s definitely not doing men any favors, either. It’s a nasty trick to play on men, trying to persuade them that the path to manhood requires consuming great quantities of artery-clogging beef, especially since men are more prone to heart disease than women in the first place. It’s also a terrible message about the qualities of American men, who are portrayed as stupid, destructive, greedy, and childish. If I were a man, I’d be deeply insulted. My gut feeling is that there are plenty of men who are insulted.
The pitch is boiled down to this:
“Hey guys! Eat our food! Your health will suffer, you’re wrecking the environment, subsidizing animal cruelty, contributing to vile labor practices, and besides that our food doesn’t even taste very good. But what’s the alternative? Being a girl?”
The desperation behind the tactic is understandable. People are waking up to how destructive fast food companies are, not only to our health but to the environment. The sheer numbers of cows that are required to sustain the beef and dairy demands of fast food companies have severe environmental consequences. Cattle pollute rivers and streams from the giant quantities of fecal matter that’s collected in the cramped factory farms they’re raised in to meet the high demand from fast food companies. Much of the depletion of the Amazonian rain forest is caused by tearing it down to make even more room for even more cattle. Cattle consume a great deal of the world’s grain resources, much of which could be eaten by humans directly, a far more efficient use of farming land. In the American West, overgrazing and the soil erosion it causes is a continuous problem. Bovine stern emissions, which produce methane, are even contributing to the greenhouse effect.
With all this destruction directly caused by over-consumption of beef, the fast food companies have to go to great lengths to convince people to eat it anyway. This commercial demonstrates they’re willing to resort to childish taunts about how to be a man in order to do it. So what men watching this commercial are left with is not just the message that they have to oppose women to be Real Men, but also the implication that Real Men destroy the environment.
Freelance writer Amanda Marcotte runs the popular political blog Pandagon (www.pandagon.net.)
She lives in Austin, Texas.
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