Tuesday, November 2, 2010
Okay, so right now you’re probably wondering why there’s a body wash commercial on this queer theory blog. Stay with me!
Old Spice’s newest line of commercials, all in the same vein as the one posted above (more are available on youtube), advertise their product as a solution to overly flowery and perfumed soaps and body washes; a solution proffered not to a modern Everyman (in a general and wide sense), but to specific enactment of masculinity and manhood. Old Spice’s commercials market themselves specifically for the “man’s man,” a mythical ideal directed at exemplars (and aspiring exemplars) of masculinity.
This got me thinking about previous discussions we’ve engaged in, both on the blog (namely, here) and during class, about the creation of strict definitions of difference, and how this creation of rigid boundaries serves as a method of bolstering systems of dominance. In Berila’s discussion of ACT UP and the construction of the “toxic” bodies of folks living with AIDS, she argues that the construction of a “toxic” body works as a way to strictly compartmentalize the sectors of American population which are “pure” and “toxic.” Thus, the construction of the “toxic” body is necessary, because through this continual process of constructing what is “toxic,” what is “pure” can be upheld. Berila argues that bodies are constructed as “toxic” so that the “pure” of the nation can define themselves by negation: the dominant group is “pure” because it is not “toxic.”
So, what does this have to do with hygiene products? Old Spice, in its assertion that (real) “men” should only smell like “men,” polices the boundaries between masculinity and femininity and creates these strict barriers between the masculine and the feminine specifically to uphold what is “manly.”
And what is manly? Not womanly. Specifically, Old Spice’s commercials ensure that the “manly” and the “womanly” stay far away from one another, rigidly enforcing gender codes. The commercial opens with an overly hairy chest—immediately connecting manhood to testosterone and giving the man’s chest an animalistic, bearlike presence. Not only are “men” only allowed to smell like “men” (which Old Spice identifies as overtly masculine, intimately connected to brute strength and uncontrollable aggression), but “men” stampede through anything even remotely connected to the feminine. More specifically, men stampede through items often seen as gifts “men” usually give to “women” they are romantically interested in, which suggests how much value Old Spice (and “real men”) find in these tokens.