Why is it funny when a beautiful woman kisses an unattractive man?
Web domain hucksters GoDaddy.com is undoubtedly more famous for their use of bold-faced sexual titillation during the Super Bowl more than any of their actual internet-related services. They’ve proffered Danica Patrick, Jillian Michaels and several other toned and tanned female bodies in various states of undress as a way of enticing us to go to their site, see “uncensored” continuations of their ads, and maybe, while we are there, buy the domain rights for “IAmALivingStereotype.com” But GoDaddy’s latest Super Bowl Ad eschews the skin and instead, sets their sights on tapping two separate pleasure centers in the male brain: humor and fantasy.
In short, the company lays claim to having a sexy side and a smart side by having Sports Illustrated swimsuit model Bar Refaeli make out with a bookish Jonah-Hill-pre-slimdown clone, providing us with 11 seconds—an advertising eternity—of close up lip smacking and tongue fencing.
Most will cringe. Many will laugh. And some will simply shake their heads and mutter “lucky bastard … I gotta get me some acting classes.” However, this ad also got me thinking about men, which I’m sure wasn’t their intention.
Can you imagine a consumer brand, or even a major media company, offering us the opposite scenario than the one in this commercial? According to Forbes in 2012, Southwest Airlines is the most desirable brand for women, yet could you imagine a scenario where they’d be bold enough to show us Channing Tatum mashing lips with Melissa McCarthy’s buck-toothed stunt double? As an advertising professional, I can’t even consider pitching it unless it was the very last idea and I was conceding the fact that the meeting would likely end seconds later, after a brief, palpable silence.
But let’s say they did buy off on it, and three months later, it was on the air. Would our collective brains accept it, even if we understood it was supposed to be a fantasy and a joke? I doubt it. I think our synapses would refuse to fire until balance was restored to The Force.
Obviously, this speaks to the patriarchal hangover we still have in our society, even as progress is made. Male “attractiveness” remains a prismatic quality that can be glimpsed and appreciated through looks, personality, power, humor, intelligence, and confidence (to name a few) while females are generally only deemed “attractive” if they have physical beauty. Thus, we’ve accepted the notion that a stunning model or actress or stewardess or lawyer-ess could easily be attracted to a man lacking washboard abs, a lantern jaw or any other body part equated to something you’d find in a Conestoga wagon.
Then there’s the reinforcement we’ve all been given. We know and accept the “Aphrodite takes a mere mortal as consort” scenario because there are so many notable examples. Marilyn Monroe was married to Arthur Miller, Christie Brinkley had no issues being Billy Joel’s “Uptown Girl” and Julia Roberts wasn’t too pretty to give Lyle Lovett a chance. Then you throw the media into the mix and suddenly, this dynamic becomes the rule rather than the exception.
It’s simply accepted that in sit-coms, male leads will almost always outkick their coverage in landing an on-screen girlfriend or wife. See, it’s funny … yet somehow possible, just like the GoDaddy ad. Ditto movies where Billy Crystal, Adam Sandler and Jason Segel can land, respectively, Meg Ryan, Drew Barrymore and Mila Kunis. Most importantly, none of those very average joes had to be anyone but themselves to get the girl.
But what happens in movies and TV shows when it’s the mousy girl who’s in love with the stud? Invariably, she has to undergo a life change or epiphany, or at least a makeover at the hands of gay man, to reveal the luminous beauty she’d be hiding under glasses, bad hairdo and frumpy wardrobe. Only then will the guy realize he loved her all along. And don’t even get me started on tired trope of the heartless guys who bet each other they can bed the most off-putting gal in town. Apparently, it takes a plotline this reprehensible to accept the notion that a ladies man would waste his time on anything less than arm-candy.
If we remove the bias and the years of reinforcement, we can accept the truth that in reality, there are some men who are considered handsome and choose to pair up with women who don’t share all of their physical gifts. Some of these men are legitimately attracted to what’s inside and unconcerned with what’s on the exterior. Other men have a specific preference for women who are less conventionally attractive, either because of a personal proclivity for a “type” or an insecurity that requires them to feel like the “catch” in the couple. But how often are these realities portrayed, and when they are, how authentic do they feel?
Unlike many of those who write for this site, I don’t have a fundamental issue with the way men are portrayed by the media. My gut says if you went back to Ancient Greece and watched every play in Athens for a month, you’d wind up with the same mix of bumbling drunks, deep thinkers, dangerous cads and heroic lads that you’ll see on major networks nightly. But I am disappointed we haven’t progressed to the point where a gender-bending take on the GoDaddy ad would receive the same reaction. Because as long as the “he’s a ten, she’s a five” equation creates impassable amounts of cognitive dissonance while the “Beauty and the Beast” dynamic is utterly plausible in the worlds of media and advertising, it doesn’t paint an attractive portrait of any of us.