This is going to be a very brief commentary on the “controversial” Gillette ad campaign called “We Believe: The Best a Man Can Be.”
It calls itself a “short film,” which is insulting. Paying Idris Elba 500k to show up in 30 frames of your razor commercial does not make it a film. That’s not to say commercials can’t be incredibly well done art pieces. They can. But The Best a Man Can Be is art the same way YouTube Rewind is art. Read: It’s not. It is very well-produced, shallow, pandery bullshit though! So it has that going for it.
A while ago, I wrote a post called Rebel Culture Prostitution and Pro-Capitalism Anti-Capitalists, and this new razor commercial is essentially part of that very same trend. I honestly do not understand why anyone is reacting to this, positively or negatively. Can people honestly not tell when something exists for shallow pandering and that the giant faceless company doesn’t actually care about social politics one way or the other as long as they continue selling their totally unrelated product? The Gillette marketing team deserves a collective raise and a golden plaque, because they managed to wring months of free, mainstream advertising out of media and the public when, one month ago, you probably couldn’t name a single razor company off the top of your head. By virtue of writing this post, I am giving them free marketing.
To progressives: One year ago, you fucking hated companies like Gillette because of them charging more for products marketed to women. Their razor prices have not changed since then, by the way. Also, Gillette is a company that works exclusively within the realm of profiting off of strictly gendered insecurities. Hey, women, buy our pink razors to shave your legs and this extra attachment for the armpits and bikini line–you don’t want to be a hairy beast, do you? Hey, men, buy our specialty grooming razors that constantly need to be refilled because women love a man who looks sharp! And I’m supposed to buy that anyone at Gillette gives two fucks about subverting gender norms?
To everyone being butthurt over the video: Gillette cares about toxic masculinity and #MeToo about as much as 1970’s Coco-Cola cared about racial harmony or 1980’s Apple cared about not being an evil technocracy (that’s hilarious in retrospect). Read: It doesn’t, and they didn’t. This is a calculated marketing move designed to associate the Gillette brand with certain ideas and feelings. They had a guy who’s sole purpose in the board meeting was to crunch the numbers and make sure that you being butthurt wasn’t going to effect their bottom line. You throwing away razors that you already bought does nothing. You refusing to buy Gillette razors ever again was leveled out by stupid liberals who now buy Gillette on principle. You making videos about how butthurt you are is giving them more money and more attention and more name recognition, which is what they wanted. Congrats.
As for the contents of the actual video–I actually don’t see anything as all that offensive. Yeah, its self-aggrandizing, overly serious tone is really cringey, but so is every car commercial that uses the exact same formula of “insert: imagery and voice over about something ‘important’ totally unrelated to what we’re peddling.” The thing it reminds me of the most is that one awful Justin Timberlake music video from his horrible last album. Humorless, superficially “woke,” and totally un-self aware.
Some of the stuff just doesn’t make much sense. The bullying segment, for instance, puts a huge spotlight on youth social media bullying, which we now know is something perpetrated by and victimizing mainly tween/teen girls, not boys. I’m fine with pointing out that bullying is wrong, but acting like that specific kind of bullying is a sign of toxic masculinity is kinda losing the plot. It also features “sexist” sit-com antics that haven’t been common tropes in mainstream media since the 1980s, so I’m not sure why that was focused on so much like it’s in any way relevant or up-to-date social commentary.
There’s a quick shot of general spring break-style debauchery, which I would actually agree perpetuates “toxically masculine” behavior. Lonely Island made this social commentary far more effectively and far more entertainingly six years ago, though. A bit late to the party on that one, Gillette. There’s a pretty hilarious shot of a woman thousand-yard staring at the camera like she’s seen war because some guy in a business meeting interrupted her. That is a dick move, and people who monopolize meetings need to learn basic teamwork skills; but that was such a ridiculously overacted and on-the-nose depiction of that issue. Also, the narration itself is very car-commercial-intense in a cringey way, and I actually think the commercial would be much better served if it didn’t have the voice over explaining how we should feel.
Those are really my only issues with it. I actually like the Terry Crews speech they referenced since it’s one of the few instances of anyone acknowledging that men can be sexually harrassed and/or victimized. The context of that speech is him talking about how fathers have a special responsibility to teach their sons not to be creeps since boys model their behavior after the men in their lives in particular. That’s a fine statement to make, and scientifically backed at that.
By the end of the commercial, the “lesson” boils down to” “Don’t approach random women and tell them to do things in a skeevy tone, and if one of your friends does that, tell him he’s being a dick. Teach boys that they shouldn’t automatically resort to violence to get their way. Don’t treat your kids like shit.”
I don’t see much wrong with any of that. My main issue with this commercial is the pretense of Gillette shamelessly marketing itself towards a counterculture it clearly doesn’t have any actual stake in, and people inexplicably falling for it hook-line-and-sinker. The content itself isn’t overly objectionable, though. It’s not like that one horrendous Super Bowl ad whose “moral” was “physically assaulting men and destroying their property is cool because feminism! Now buy our $2000 high heels.” This one is at least more even-keeled.
I’m forced to assume that the people getting up-in-arms about it are reacting to literally the first five seconds where the term “toxic masculinity” is mentioned. I understand that–I too have very, very many problems with how fourth-wave feminists use the term to pathologize maleness as a concept. That being said, though, the majority of specific cases this commercial shows actually would qualify under the genuine definition of “toxic masculinity:” not helping young boys effectively deal with their temper/conflicts because being unnecessarily violent is “just what boys do,” aggressively approaching women who obviously do not want to be approached because brashness is equated with confidence.
I understand the contention caused by mentioning #MeToo. Like I have said multiple times, referencing it is shallow, unanalytical pandering at best. But you can tell that it’s shallow and unanalytical pandering because literally nothing else in the video has anything to do with #MeToo besides some random clip of The Young Turks stating that #MeToo exists and the Terry Crews clip, which is him talking about how he was sexually assaulted. In short: Calm the fuck down. As far as shitty commercials trying to cash in on the hashtag activist crowd goes, this is probably the lease objectionable one. It’s also not some progressive Godsend that shows a company being “woke” either. Pull your heads out of your asses for two seconds, people.