Sunday is Father’s Day. You know … that day of the year in which we honour dear old dad. And hey, we all know how valued fathers are these days, eh? Just consider all those forward-thinking, intelligent fathers who serve as role models in numerous TV shows.
There’s Homer Simpson…and then there’s Peter Griffin.
You get the point. But while it’s been common practice in popular culture for decades to depict the male head of the household as being someone who is slightly less intelligent than your average rocket scientist, the man-as-complete-dumbass theme is now rampant in the advertising milieu too.
Indeed, to adapt that old Molson Canadian tag line: I am … an idiot. You read it right: I’m an incompetent goof. A pathetic primate who can barely function in our oh-so-complicated world.
At least that’s the message from several advertisers.
Want proof? Awhile back, The Menzoid took note of numerous radio and TV ads in which the script called for two characters: one a man and the other a woman. In every spot except one (an ad for FedEx), men were portrayed as complete imbeciles. Even if the script established the male character as a successful business owner, he still came across like the classic Phil Hartman character, Unfrozen Cave Man Lawyer from Saturday Night Live. (The defrosted Neanderthal continually grunted that “flashing neon signs” and “fast-moving cars” would “frighten and confuse” him.)
And hey, in today’s advertising world, unfrozen cavemen abound.
In a Toyota radio ad, a male Toyota owner comes across as virtually brain damaged when he addresses a female Toyota customer-service clerk. He can’t remember (or doesn’t know) what needs to be serviced on his car. He doesn’t even know what he wants to drink. Thank goodness for the know-it-all service rep who tells him what needs to be done to remedy his engine (without even popping the hood, no less!) She also informs him he’s experiencing a craving for caffeine.
A CIBC radio ad establishes “Tom” as a successful businessman. Along comes a female customer who’s not in Tom’s line of business but, naturally, is an expert when it comes to Tom’s trade. She tells him to install a CIBC e-commerce solution in a tone reminiscent of a principal addressing a kindergarten student.
And the worst offender is Tim Hortons, which seems to have a bizarre fetish in terms of depicting men as being wimpy morons.
Of note, a few years ago, one man had had enough of the male-bashing. Peter Regan, a single parent in Calgary, filed a complaint with Advertising Standards Canada (ASC) after he took exception to a Rona ad. The spot depicts a female Rona employee dealing with a female customer who laments that her husband never helps around the house. The clerk responds: “That’s OK. They [husbands] are all like that.”
The ASC eventually decided the commercial indeed contravened regulations and “disparaged men and/or married men” and asked Rona to remove or alter the ad.
Now, don’t get me wrong – I’d never file a complaint to some Orwellian government or industry watchdog about something as trite as a TV commercial. But the Regan anecdote does show you how egregious the dumb male stereotype can be for some folks.
Even so, what is the unspoken strategy of having men constantly cast as dimwits? It cannot be random chance. In fact, it’s statistically impossible that in almost all ad scripts, the male is the one who is dazed and confused while the woman (or child) is portrayed as an oracle of wisdom.
My hunch: When it comes to getting slagged, men tend to take it, well, like a man. Aside from the aforementioned Rona complainer, men tend to be stoic and silent about such slights.
York University marketing professor Alan Middleton adds another noteworthy point: Since women in many households control the purse strings, ad agencies figure it’s not a prudent idea to upset the individual who is likely to make the purchase. Thus, if the script calls for a dolt, it’s a no-brainer the man will play the fool.
Indeed, as long as complainers such as Peter Regan remain the exception as opposed to the rule, expect men to be depicted as dumbbells in advertising for decades to come.
Nevertheless, to all those men who are diligent dads and inspirational role models; to all those men who love their wives and their children and who provide for them and would defend them with their dying breath – Happy Father’s Day.
Despite what the director of marketing at Tim Hortons would have you believe, the vast majority of fathers are not worthless morons.
Then again, what do I know?