Macquarie dictionary the other day announced their new word and phrase additions to the Australian lexicon. Favourite for 2015 was the much mocked ‘captain’s call’. My personal favourite was ‘lumberseuxal’ (see above photo) which is a person who puts a lot of effort to look all macho but has no intrinsic macho characteristics. Words are fascinating. Watching television lately brought to mind for me a word that has been around a long time but has fallen out of favour – gormless. According to Wiktionary it means ‘Lacking intelligence, sense or understanding; foolish’.
Have you noticed the portrayal of men in advertising lately? If grasping for one word to describe how men are being characterised you could do worse than use the word ‘gormless’. It is right and proper that the objectification of women as chattel, sex object or lesser sex is called for what it is and is well on the way to being phased out. However the way men are now being presented to the television audience is a growing concern. Some might say I’m being over sensitive, or tilting at windmills, but consider this range of current adverts playing in your living room right now.
- The iSelect ad with the main actor acting well below the normal IQ level. Sure it can be funny but does it add to the credibility of that brand?
- The Colourbond advert with the self-professed ‘tool’ who makes everything out of corrugated roofing;
- The new Compare the Markets advert with the be-speckled curly-headed bloke doing the piece to camera.
- The AHM health insurance adverts featuring Brett Lee with a gormless ‘dad’ who is looking for tips.
- The Sportsbet adverts, especially the ‘cashout’, with more than one gormless bloke – in fact they all look gormless;
- The Matador BBQ advert. Finger-licking cringy.
- The husband in the supermarket who says ‘sweet’ in the Celebrations – ‘What you bring when you are told to bring nothing’ advert.
- The M&M advert with the guy opening the cupboard to find food only to have stuff thrown at him by the M&Ms – his partner sitting bemused in the living room.
- Captain risky in the Budget Direct insurance ads.
- The two gormless besties in the AAMI adverts especially on their way to the fancy dress party.
- The over the top power walker on the Subway ad.
- The new dad standing aside his wife and new born who is all excited only idiotically to be announcing the stats of his VW.
I’ve done those off the top of my head. I bet if you took a pen and pad to this evening’s viewings you would find many more examples. It is clear that there is a reluctance to portray men in a much more nurturing and thoughtful role.
The stereotyping of fathers in advertising is perhaps the worst advertising crime of them all. Buffoon seems to be the mould from which most male characters are cast, but even where this is not the intent the casting of men as unintelligent or unskilled in certain areas is a common theme . Think back to the myriad of adverts of Dad’s not knowing how to put nappies on a baby, cook a meal or mind rowdy kids etc.
Moving on from men as clowns, then, appears to be men as sideshows. So when we are not being complete idiots we are somehow patronisingly clueless. Adverts aimed at mothers because they are the parenting lead do a disservice to men who are equal partners and provides fodder for men who aren’t. Research conducted by Saatchi and Saatchi in 2014 indicated that sixty percent of women say their partners are a just as involved in parenting as they are. Seems advertisers are slow or unwilling to pick this up.
Where to for young men? Perhaps we can be grateful that the younger male demographic are getting their role modelling elsewhere – but if that’s just from the net then this is probably not ideal either. Television certainly does not help through its advertising in providing role modelling that suggests to young men that the pursuit of intellectual endeavours is something they shouldn’t aspire to. Is it any wonder that in many schools boys are under-achieving? In many schools, both elite and otherwise, studying and caring about academic results is regarded as unmanly and those that do so are ridiculed.
Seldom can you pick up a newspaper or magazine and fail to read about a young woman who is a role model for her gender. All power to them! The self-help books that might well have inspired such young women are almost all targeted at them and to read them is something that is encouraged embraced rather than denied. There has been a dearth of books to assist in the positive development of young men since perhaps Baden Powel’s time when men were men and women were well…? You have to search long and hard to get something that might be a good read that will equip our young men with the right compass setting to even know that TV is treating us poorly. Two books I can recommend though are The Way of the Superior Man by David Deida, King, Warrior, Magician, Lover: Rediscovering the Archetypes of the Mature Masculine by Robert Moore and Douglas Gilette and Fire in the Belly: On Being a Man by Sam Keen.
The promotion and advocating for both sexes is an important role that managers, mentors and coaches play in the workplace. Getting this balance right is not always easy. Rectifying imbalance and injustice in the past by turning the tables, while being momentarily salutary, is not a recipe for a happy workplace or a happy community. It’s time advertisers in a time of big data and mass customisation gave us a blend of archetypes and personas that reflect the rich diversity that makes up 49% of the population. And yes there is space for the gormless, but let’s make that the exception not the rule.