The Penis has the Floor

The irritation with the Dodge commercial from the Super Bowl
has been one of those things that I can both sides of the coin. From the
perspective that A laid out earlier in the week, this makes complete sense. I
can’t imagine it being OK to have a commercial with a bunch of black guys
saying, “I will shuffle and grin when you tell an N joke. I will not mention my
penis is three times larger than yours. I will speak ghetto when you ask me to.
Because of this…” and then fill in something horribly racist afterward. So
why is it OK to basically say, “The bitch I married, the job I’ve taken and the
life I lead has neutered me. Here’s the car that comes with a nice set of brass
truck nuts on the tow hitch to get me back in the game?”

The answer is two-fold: One part is simple, while the other
is complex.

The simple answer is that advertising appeals to an audience
in order to create a shared understanding that is used to sell a product. To
that end, that’s why crappy beer often has very good-looking people in
swimsuits breaking into beach volleyball games at the drop of a hat. This is
why commercials for watches rarely show the watch but instead show a guy with a
tux, way too much gel in his hair and a shit-eating grin on his face. He’s then
draped by a blonde in a red dress, all of which seems to say, “If you buy this
watch, you will get laid.” Dodge’s commercial is one more attempt to appeal to
a market that is under-tapped: guys hitting a mid-life crisis during a time
where you’ve probably got a fuel-efficient hybrid or a mini-van (or both) in
your garage and the last time you saw more than six-cylinders, it was in a
12-pack of beer. You don’t like your job (much of that was job stuff, not wife
stuff), you thought your life would be different and you’ve really got a sense
that there are more days behind you than in front of you. That’s

The more complex answer is in the societal shift we’ve seen
over the previous four decades. Good, bad or whatever isn’t what I’m going for
here, so please don’t deluge me with a ton of comments that argue things
weren’t as great in the ‘50s or ‘60s as we’d like to believe. That’s not the
point. The point is that societal norms have changed and there has been a
steady erosion of what was once the province of men. However, that change has
been something that not all generations who are alive have experienced and
there are still plenty of pockets of neo-traditionalism that leave many people
feeling like the guys in “Men of a Certain Age.”

People see their lives turning out certain ways. They
imagine themselves to be something specific by the time they are X age. The
line from “Reality Bites” comes to fruition for most of us: “I really thought I
was going to be something by the time I was 22.” However, at the age of 22,
you’ve got a lot of innings left to play. However, once you get married, have
kids, get a mortgage and so forth, you find the strictures of life tightening
around you. You can’t just say, “Fuck it. I’m doing X.” There are consequences
and repercussions for every action. We are afraid of everything now. What they fail to see is that you’ve traded in bits of yourself for
other bits of yourself. It’s like having $20 and spending it on a baseball card
you always wanted. You can bemoan the fact you don’t have $20 to spend on lunch
or on something else or you can enjoy the fact that you’ve got something you
always wanted.

When give up the life of a single guy for the life of a
married guy, there are trade offs, regardless of if you’ve got the best, most
understanding wife ever. (Sorry, you can’t have her. She’s mine.)I listen to kids all the time talking
about the random hook ups they’ve had or the dates that have gone to shit of
the “Why isn’t he calling anymore?” conversations and believe me, I’m grateful
as hell not to be in that boat anymore. However, that means that I don’t get to
hang out with a group of guys at a bar for 10 hours after work and ogle the
waitresses or come home at 4 a.m. without any kind of consequences. That’s a
trade off.

Before I was married, I made about 1/3 of what I do now.
However, there was always a ton of money to blow on worthless crap because all
I had to care about was me. However, that was a pretty lonely time and it meant
always going home to an empty house. Now, we watch cash like a hawk watches a
rodent. We’ve got a mortgage, a kid to put through private school and a ton of
other responsibilities. Sure, I get horribly wistful when I’m looking at a
Borla dual exhaust system for the Classic and I can’t just buy it because it’s
not just my money, but the car can’t hug you when you buy it a McNugget kids
meal. It’s a trade off.

However, the problem for most guys is that the pendulum has
swung so far against the life they thought they should have or the one lived
out by their parents and grandparents that it’s sometimes tough to reconcile
these issues.

For years, the workplace was like the office in “Mad Men.”
You could smoke (sometimes drink), tell off-color jokes and have cheese-cake
photo calendars on the wall. I go back to the line from “Hoffa” that DeVito
issued about a community home for Teamsters that Hoffa was trying to build:
“It’s a place where broken down truckers can drink beer, fart and lie about the
waitresses they fucked. If you want to make truckers feel at home, put a condom
machine on the wall of their living room.” Eventually, the smoking and drinking
disappeared (which was probably good). The calendars became more and more taboo
and the off-color jokes became frowned upon. This continued to swing further
past the “Hey, Frank, you wanna put that Playboy away?” era. Suits became
filed, many of which were necessary (I’ve seen “North Country.” I get it.) and
things got cleaned up even more. However, once that line had been crossed, the
fear of suits, the fear of being labeled as “anti” something or other and just
general fear made for the type of environment you were seeing typified in the
Dodge commercial. You tell a joke that someone doesn’t like? Sensitivity
training. You say someone looks nice in that outfit and they take it the wrong
way? Suspension and sensitivity training. You decide you don’t want to answer
the phone on the first ring? Firing squad. (OK, I made that last one up.) The
tension between what was and wasn’t acceptable became more taut and the
penalties for failing to see the line were more severe.

Home, family and other aspects of life all started following
a similar pattern: simply being a guy didn’t give you the right to do what you
wanted. In fact, in many cases, the opposite was true. Being a guy meant you
were supposed to sit down, shut up and take it, lest societal scorn and other
painful consequences befall you. Eventually, like a beaten dog, men were just
doing it to themselves. Thus, tapping into a potential dying ember, Dodge put
out the commercial. It’s not the first time someone tried going against the
grain for a commercial: The Harley campaign of “Screw it. Let’s Ride!” was a
failure during the core of the recession, as it seemed to promote irresponsible
spending on luxury items. Still, it tapped into something people wanted to
feel: freedom.

Is it a good commercial? Not really. Most men who are that
hen-pecked aren’t buying the car. However, men on the border of a mid-life
crisis are likely to at least look at this and say, “I want to be happy again.”
Maybe it should come from a wife or a child or a job. However, if there’s
potential to use an item to jumpstart the happy and watch that happy wash over
the rest of your life, hey, there are worse things.

16 thoughts on “The Penis has the Floor

  1. You know, I would never argue that men don’t give things up in relationships. What I would argue is that EVERYBODY gives things up in relationships. My problem isn’t with the idea that other people can be a burden. It’s with the prevailing sensibility that only men’s sacrosanct freedom is curtailed by relationships.
    Case in point: Women have EXACTLY the same feelings of fear and ambivalence and OH GOD IS MY LIFE GONNA BE OVER NOW? about getting married and having kids and buying a house that men do. EXACTLY. We are not hard-wired to want this shit, not all of us, and even those of us who do want this shit sometimes think it sucks and wonder if we shouldn’t be living alone making billions fucking Christian Troy every night. Yet where is the avalanche of movies about middle-aged women worrying that they have wasted their lives by getting married and having kids? I cannot tell you how many whiny “Where’s MY LIFE, huh?” movies I’ve sat through, and the protagonists? All male. Or an ensemble of men.
    If you want to buy a car, you should buy a car. If you want to change your life, change your life. And yes, actually, it is that easy, you just have to decide how bad you want it. Do you want to be free of your wife and kids and house more than you want to be with your wife and kids in your house? I think a lot of people don’t actually ask themselves that question. And I think a lot of the middle-class male oppression comes from really, deep down, not wanting to admit they LIKE comfort and LIKE safety and LIKE being just okay, as if there’s something wrong with contentment.
    Everybody wonders. Men, women, everybody. But at some point you either decide to stay where you are, or you decide to go for what you really want. Either way, you stop wondering.
    I’m not telling anybody not to do what makes them happy or have what makes their lives feel fun. What I was saying is that pretending to overcome some nebulous middle-class suburban oppression by making a purchase is being characterized as an act of courage (a “last stand, actually), and that’s a level of melodrama a teenage Twilight fan would find overwrought.
    Yeah, lots of people in the world aren’t living the lives they want to live, and they feel shitty about the lives they are living. They feel powerless and confined and stifled and sorry. I agree with that 100 percent. But I don’t think their lives suck because Frank can’t read the Playboy at work anymore and their wives want them to put the seat down. I think their lives suck because at some point they decided all they needed to do was read the Playboy and buy a car and that would fix it. And then they look around, and everything that was pissing them off is still pissing them off, and they’re STILL. NOT. KING. and it doesn’t make any sense. And their powerlessness is so completely paralyzing that they either don’t blame the right people for it, or don’t realize they aren’t powerless at all.

  2. Thankfully, when I decided to buy my mid-life car to replace the gray Ford Escort station wagon we’d had for a decade, my wife was more than happy with my choice:
    Personally, I don’t think middle-aged male feelings of emasculation or powerlessness are any more of a modern phenomenon than teenage angst.
    The real workplace for most people was never like “Mad Men.” Most guys didn’t ever wear suits to their jobs. Even in New York City, fewer than half the jobs in 1960 were white-collar jobs. Not that that would stop prospective truck-buyers from idealizing the era, much as ’50 sitcoms have been turned into a template for How Things Used To Be.

  3. The tension between what was and wasn’t acceptable became more taut and the penalties for failing to see the line were more severe.
    Yeah, Southern slaveowners were sad when they couldn’t whip their slaves, too. I feel so bad for you. No, I don’t. For every poor guy who can’t tell a joke he wants to tell, there’s a woman able to go to work and not be harassed.

  4. So glad I don’t watch TV, even happier that I don’t give a fuck about football.
    This ‘Mad Men’ show people keep going on about, it sounds like total shit.

  5. The real point is that major companies should be able to put commercials out there that don’t offend large segments of their consumers. Women buy trucks, too.
    Focus groups, anyone? Come on, this shit is so obvious these days. Why piss people off?

  6. It sounds like Peter Pan syndrome to me. An awful lot of guys want to keep on being guys, and not growing up and becoming men. They don’t want the responsibility, and they don’t want the power. In the real world, if you want to move past a certain point you have to exercise your own will. It usually takes some effort, and you aren’t the same person afterward, but who wants to stay a child under the grim reaper comes?
    The societal impact is rather serious. In Italy, no one is starting new families because the men want to stay with their mothers. In Japan, the boys don’t even get to crossing the gym floor and asking the girls to dance, and both sexes have wound up arrested. The effect is actually less severe in the U.S.
    (Interestingly, the French still want to grow up. When I was there with my mistress and her father, it was my first experience as the paterfamilias. They let me know my place even across the language barrier.)

  7. Doc,
    Good comment.
    Now here’s the flip side of the argument: I want a new Dodge. Not a black four-door that otherwise looks like a Government agency lease car. I want a new Hemi Challenger. It’s un-pc as you can get on four wheels.
    I want it ’cause when I was a kid that was THE hottest ride around. Now they’re making them again, and in B-5 Blue, which was the color I always thought was coolest (no it ain’t Petty Blue off the Daytona, ’cause that was not metallic paint, but still).
    I’m a wife and a mom and registered Democrat, and a card-carrying member of the ACLU, and over 50.
    And that commercial made me grin.
    The outrage over it has had me going, “Really? This is what you’re on about, with Haiti and Afghanistan and the reservations with no heat or lights or water? You’re all about having a hissy fit over a car ad?”
    And yep, (especially women bloggers apparently with ‘progressive’ leanings), are ON about it. Like it was the Cuban Missile Crisis redux, or something.
    Which leads me to another conclusion: those having a hissy fit over this ad need to grow up. A lot.

  8. Theproblem was always thatguys always believed thatsimply being a guy meant, definitionally, that yougot to do whatever the hell you wanted, and to hell with the bitchez, because bitchez ain’t shit. When men stop believing that men are entitled to do whatever the hell they want simplybecause they’re men, women — who have always, always had to be something other than who they really were, largely because they were accommodating men — will stop being so angry about this.
    And yes, I agree with Hecate — for every man who’s resentful that he doesn’t get to tell misogynist jokes in the office, there’s at least one woman who’s grateful she has a good job, and has her own damn money.
    Frankly, the most annoying part of that ad to me is, if you fucking hate womenthat much, why thehell did you make yourself — and your wife — so miserable by getting married in the first place?

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