The non-gender-role-inverting Superbowl ad
Did you catch this Superbowl ad for Chevy?
On its surface, this looks like a gender-role-inverting spot. The “car wash” setup, of course, is usually used as an excuse to show barely-clothed models, as in this recent spot with Paris Hilton (barely SFW):
…so, the Chevy commercial is a playful inversion, right?
I couldn’t help noticing, though, that most of the men featured in the ad are unattractive, pasty white guys (plus one skeletal senior citizen). I’ve got nothing against pasty white guys per se (I’m not the self-loathing type), but this makes the ad quite unlike the female-models-in-bikinis genre: in the Chevy commercial, the women are decidedly not attracted to the car washers (even though a few attractive men show up). In fact, they’re mortified. The Paris Hilton spot, though, is a gratuitous excuse to show Hilton in a skimpy leather outfit, and ogling her is the whole point. We are meant to take her sexual attractiveness seriously. In the Chevy commercial, the sexual cues are comedic, not serious at all. It’s so impossible to view the car-washer guys as actual sex objects that not even the female characters in the commercial take them seriously, never mind the intended audience.
I think, curiously enough, that this ad, which at first glance seems to be inverting gender roles, is actually reinforcing them. It would be genuinely subversive to actually present men analogously to the hot-babes-carwash setup. Mens’ prescribed gender role is decidedly not that of objectified, depersonalized objects. Men are the locus of sexual aggression and power in a patriarchal society; women are the objectified sexual ornaments.
This ad doesn’t dismantle those roles at all; since the men aren’t to be taken seriously as sexual ornaments, they’re just imitating women, which makes the ad more like someone performing in blackface, or a man being “funny” by putting on a tutu and mincing around. The only acceptable way for men to appear in this situation is for them to be part of an obviously over-the-top spoof; hence, for example, the dramatically decrepit old guy. I actually think that the audience is meant to imagine women in bikinis, since they are the obvious opposite of pasty white guys taking off their shirts. For bonus points, the fact that the men are behaving as women in such a preposterous way conveys, like blackface, that women’s role as ornaments is essentially risible.
There’s another aspect to this, too: homophobia. Imagine what the spot would have looked like if it had actually been analogous to, say, beer commercials: the car-wash men would have been imposing, oiled, muscular guys in Speedos. Wouldn’t that be, well, kind of… gay? Here’s a comment left on YouTube, from someone complaining that not all the guys shown in the ad are completely out of shape:
I would have to agree with Sean. It would have been funnier with all the guys out of shape… What kind of football loving guy wants to watch other guys strip?
I do have to say the old guy was the funniest.
The ad is meant to be funny, not to be an actual presentation of men as sexual ornaments. It’s not funny for there to be any attractive guys in there at all! Besides, no “football loving” (read, heterosexual) male wants to see partially-clothed attractive men; that’s gay!
This ad is like cultural aikido: it lulls you by appearing to be taking apart our entrenched gender roles, but is actually just reinforcing them further.