Gillette, Culture, and Class

I didn’t really want to write about the infamous Gilette #MeToo advertisement, because I didn’t really care about it. I still don’t, personally. But then a Glenn Reynolds piece at USA Today showed me the controversy in a new light.

In his article, Reynolds made the observation that:

… in America class warfare is usually disguised as cultural warfare. But underneath the surface, talk is a battle between the New Class and what used to be the middle class.

This is definitely something that I’ve noticed. It was one of the things I learned when I did the research for the most frequently-read post here at Difficult Run: When Social Justice Isn’t about Justice. And it totally fits with the fallout I’ve seen on my Facebook feed. Pretty much every single person I’ve seen angry or opposed to the ad comes from a blue collar and/or rural background. Why are they mad? Not because they object with the message of the ad per se (who objects to “hey, stop bullying”?) but because they know they are being talked down to, patronized, and scolded. And they’re right.

And all the folks I’ve seen making fun of them and mocking anyone who has a problem with the ad? College educated, often with a graduate degree, and frequently working as a professional intellectuals. They see it as a culture war issue instead of class war issue because that’s one of the most important functions of social justice activism: to cloak class interest in progressive ideals.

Also, the silliness of anti-capitalists celebrating ad campaigns, no matter how superficially idealistic, is pretty amusing.

But, while we’re admiring the nimble messaging of capitalism, here’s a message that might actually contribute to men being good men.

11 thoughts on “Gillette, Culture, and Class”

  1. I get that controversy generates publicity, and in that regard, this is really just Gillette trying to sell more product, and get some free publicity. However, they could have gone the other direction to create controversy. They chose to put out what they believed to be something that some people need to hear. Something that might make the world a slightly better place. Even with the capitalist motive and somewhat condescending tone, hasn’t it still done a little bit of good? They showed examples of men doing the right thing when we all know that most men would not act on what they know to be right in those circumstances. It’s still unusual to get involved that way, even though we all know we should.

    What is the point of criticizing a company for trying to do a little bit of good, if they happen to do it ineffectively or in a way that you dislike? Would you prefer they just stick to the same old sexually-charged advertising that has been the norm? They are not going to stop advertising, how do YOU want them to do it?

  2. Tyler, I don’t really understand your question because I already answered it in the original post. You want me to tell you how I think they should have done it. Look at the video from Egard. That’s how I think they should have done it. That’s why I put the video in the post, to give the example you’re asking for.

    And no, for the record, I don’t think Gillette’s campaign has been a net positive. I’d say it’s been a wash, with a slight bias towards net negative. On top of being divisive, I don’t think it’s productive to try and shame people into better behavior. It’s more important to inspire and encourage them. Which is one reason why the Egard commercial will have a more powerful impact on changing behavior–view for view–than the Gillette one.

  3. I don’t think I agree with your outlook, or Reynolds’. The most telling difference I see between these two classes is whether they think they as individuals ought to improve. If you think so, you think investing in the self-improvement of education is important, and you accept that criticism or your culture and yourself can serve a valuable function which you can appreciate. If not, you think you’re already good enough that, if things aren’t going well for you, it’s someone’s else’s fault; there’s no need for reflection or self-improvement. Indeed, raising the possibility of self-improvement is experienced as condescendingly telling you you aren’t good enough, and reflection is uncomfortable and to be avoided.

    Now, that IS condescending. If you want to tell me I’m contributing to the problem, I’m interested in your view and think your input might help me become better. But the people who see the Gillette ad as offputting don’t show any interest in integrating my views into changes in their behavior. Isn’t that far more condescending?

  4. I think there are some larger points that are correct here. But often when I hear this sort of thing said it doesn’t actually apply to the thing it’s being said about. There was nothing shaming in this commercial. Everyone who is in any way concerned about morality from any direction understands that there are positive and negative aspects to masculinity. I feel like very conservative Mormons that I grew up with would say a lot of the same things about how men should treat other people. I haven’t frame-by-frame analyzed the commercial I’ve only watched it once when it came across my feed a couple days ago but it seemed to have a very ‘strength is for protecting’ feel to it.

  5. you say “You want me to tell you how I think they should have done it. Look at the video from Egard. That’s how I think they should have done it. That’s why I put the video in the post, to give the example you’re asking for.” – in other words, you want men in the spotlight. Again. Always. Whenever the conversation takes a turn away from the male someone sits up and whines, but what about the MEEEEN? Well, everything in your second video may be true. But there is also the quote that applies in that there are lies, damn lies, and statistics. And statistics can be turned any way you want them if you use them in the right way. Have you seen anyone do a video like the second one you post for WOMEN? I can tell you, there are plenty of statistics that apply. Plenty. And yet THAT video, the women video, would immediately be trolled as whiny, self pitying, oh look at the women trying to pull the attention again and #notallmen. No, not all men. But I applaud Gilette for what they did. And what the watch company did is derivative, and a clear cry for the male sympathy vote. Well, what ABOUT the women? are you seriously saying that any conversation that doesn’t start by saying that yeah the male of the species is FAAAABULOUS and should never change no sir not in any way at all not ever… is not worth having? There is a problem with toxic masculinity. There IS. Why not try to address it, rather than (a) glorify it or (b) trying to play the pity card by showing that men can be in difficult positions? Do you understand that women are in difficult positions every day – they live their lives under that spotlight? Can we have a conversation about that? Will someone make a video? Will you watch it? Will there be an immediate bleat of “#notallmen” in the comments, like there always is? Kudos. Gilette. Thumbs down for trying to ride the bandwagon, watch company. And how about we try for a conversation that doesn’t immediately place the male of the species in a privileged position or else?

  6. What I’d like to push back against is the idea that the behavior portrayed in the ad (leaving aside the scattershot nature of its production, which is a sin against art in itself) is entirely negative. The boys at the barbecue “fighting” are clearly playing, learning what their limits are, fulfilling a deep biological urge, and studies seem to indicate that boys who grow up with the kind of dismissive parental attitude praised by the ad do not come to know social limits, do not develop the same deep friendships, in general are all-around lesser men for it.

    That’s the most glaring example of female chauvinism in the ad, and it hurts me the most because of my deep concern for our nearly male-free early education system, but some of the other behaviors were also not worth demanding men stop from on high. I hear complaints from all sides on how bad modern men are at courtship, and rather than, I don’t know, showing a good example of how to hit on girls at parties, the ad shows a wicked straw misogynist commit the unpardonable sin of asking a woman to smile – we’re all supposed to condemn that and keep our hands in our laps when females are present. The CEO that mansplains for his female executive might be demeaning her intelligence and experience, or he might be genuinely concerned and trying to help. The ad doesn’t explain, it merely condemns (and before you say there wasn’t time to explain, this was six or seven different ads crammed into one long, long hundred-second ad complete with sound bites awkwardly pasted in to glue it together).

    As far as gangs of boys chasing another down to bully him – for one thing, that wasn’t the focus of the ad, the ad was equating roughhousing with your cousin at a barbecue and asking girls to smile with it, and for another, maybe bullying wouldn’t be so bad if there were positive male role models in our schools and if boys were enabled to find their place in a group through play-fighting.

    I can see the vision this ad had, to be the best men we can be. I understand that. But its vision of the best men we can be is not something that is uniquely masculine but a feminized version of ourselves, and that doesn’t make anybody happy.

  7. Nora, I agree that it’s lamentably common for the interests of the more privileged to crowd out the interests of others in virtually any forum which attempts to address issues from the perspective of the less privileged. But this seems like rather a strange objection to an advertisement for a product intended for use exclusively by men.

    Jesse, if your understanding of the psychological literature suggests to you that men don’t thrive unless they’ve been beaten or delivered beatings as children, you should correct that misconception. Further, it cannot have escaped your notice that we have other deep biological urges. Teaching people to be moral often involves teaching them to resist them rather than extending them unlimited license. Your idea that bullying wouldn’t be so bad if only children were allowed to beat each other until everyone knew the hierarchy seems as unrealistic as demanding greater male representation in early childhood education while also demanding that they be socialized to support their authority with violence.

    The problem with asking a woman to smile isn’t that it’s the wrong way to court, it’s that it occurs in a wide variety of circumstances in which courtship is unwanted, and it devalues the woman’s wishes. If she wanted to smile, she’d be smiling.

    You’re right that it’s possible to explain someone else’s statement for easier comprehension by others. It’s also possible that the ladies draped around the men in many commercials are in fact scantily-clad federal marshals escorting a prisoner. The commercial doesn’t give more context because there’s no need; anyone who wants to understand the point of the story Gillette’s trying to evoke in that segment has no difficulty.

    The vision of men from the ad–more interested in justice than in abusing others to achieve higher status and able to take a wide enough view to consider other people–makes me happy. I find it bizarre that not only does it not do so for you, but you think everyone else is of the same mind.

  8. Beaten? You think roughhousing between boys is… delivering beatings? That’s called “play” and it’s essential to human development, especially for boys. The most emotionally stunted men I have met were raised in feminized, violence-free environments, where they grew up with no way to handle the inherent violence in the male psyche. If the message of the ad is “strength must be used to protect” it shouldn’t disparage the way men learn, instinctively, from earliest childhood, to properly use that strength. I refuse to accept your repugnant framing.

  9. So, Nathaniel, case in point here. Jesse appears to think that people are inherently violent, and that attempting to change this is not only unnecessary but bad. He’s described various aspects of what he disagrees with as “feminized”, “emotionally stunted”, “repugnant”, “lesser”, ignorant of social limits, and incapable of friendship. His views, in my experience, are extremely common among the more rural, less educated “class”, and have been for literally centuries. I’m deeply suspicious of the suggestion that such people have a principled objection to condescension, given how happily they dish it out.

  10. I think the ad is stupid, but I want to push back on your suggestion that this is “about” class in any meaningful way.

    Obviously there will always be cultural disconnects between people from different classes or regions of the country, so it’s no surprise that often cultural disagreements will play out across that divide.

    But if this were really about class, the social justice crusaders would find a way to show disrespect to members of the rural/blue collar class, even when those people agreed with their cultural values. Instead, a rural/blue collar person who agrees with SJW values will be showered with praise, in my experience. This means it really is about culture, and it isn’t a covert way of attacking people from a different class.

    Think about it this way. If you see an argument between a climate change denier and a climate change believer, 90 percent of the time the latter will be more educated and white collar than the former. That doesn’t mean the climate change debate is secretly about class.

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