The world according to a beer ad is a splendid place where suds flow, women cavort and no one ever gets a hangover. It is a world for men where image makers carefully construct the mythic world of masculinity to win the brand loyalty of the 18-24 year old male beer drinker.
I recently watched a film crew on corner of Blowers and Grafton street in downtown Halifax, constructing this package. The film crew set up the flood lights and fog machine as four handsome young guys-let’s call them the G-4-practised their scene blocking in this version of “the right stuff”. The camera swoops around them as the G-4 four, out on the town looking for fun and frolic and a tall cold one, J-walk across the street. The token desired female pulls up in her 70’s muscle car. She flicks her hair seductively and croons, “Hi Ray.” As she zooms away the others tease “Ray” about his lost opportunity. A minor setback in a world where men usually have few barriers to their conquests.
Have you ever noticed that the colder the beer, the stronger the message about how the world of men functions? One of the first “ice” beer ads featured an actor in his black leather trench coat strutting through a post apocalyptic wasteland of fire geysers towards a lone ice beer illuminated on a pedestal. He imparts the wisdom of the sages, “History tells us that the strongest survive” as he reaches for this gormless symbol of manhood. The history where men compete for power and position is being written daily. Everywhere I look in popular culture there is another reminder that, to be a real man, I must be tough, in control and strong in order to make it. From fights where a hockey games break out to the competitive business ethic underpinning “free” trade or international politics, I see men performing very limited versions of masculinity.
As the G-4 acted out retakes of the same old scene on that Halifax street corner, I thought about another big commercial shoot gearing up for Halifax in mid-June. The “tell-us-what-we-should-care-about-today” news media is dutifully preparing to feed us images and values of another gang of guys-let’s call them the G-7, who have managed to construct a global economy where the strongest do indeed survive.
From the micro world of the beer ad to the macro world of the new world order, the messages are the same, men are the boss and we make everything around us confirm that. Heavy trip on the boys who will be boys? I don’t think so. I’m excited by the potential of exploring this long overdue twist on the feminist maxim, “the personal is political.”
How the men who run the G-7 countries make decisions has everything to do with this, “survival of the fittest” mentality. Men design the tools and the rules, on behalf of democracy, of course, to confirm their ability to control and conquest. The space program, militarism, the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank are constant reminders of who’s power is successful. As this model affirms male dominion it excludes and exploits the planet and most of it’s people.
In order to rethink this global model, we need to rethink the definition and practise of masculinity itself. Men I know are no longer content to just sit back with a tall cold one to contemplate life and it’s infinite possibilities for profit. I feel encouraged by other men who are challenging the narrow repertoire of masculine values presented in beer ads and G7 policies.
Many men are exploring a fuller version of masculinity and accepting the invitation to participate as equal partners with women. The challenge for us all is to create a new world community based on the strongest things that will help us all survive, and thrive. The more I embrace values like cooperation and compassion as vital to the richness of my masculinity, the more I emerge from the cold isolation of that ice age ethic where the strongest survive. As men warm up to this possibility, our roles as a lovers, workers and maybe even as leaders of nation states can only be enhanced for the best.