Tim O’Connor responds to Amanda Hess’ assertion that today’s men’s magazines sell the image of men as unstable, emotionally-stunted, and sex crazed.
In the first half of its life, Playboy served up an illusion of the ideal man who was—arguably—a decent and refined chap who would at least take a woman out to dinner a few times before trying to get in her…err…kitchen.
Today’s version of the magazine portrays a version of the ideal guy as an aggressive, tough son of a bitch who dominates women and bends them to his will. This guy scares the crap out of me.
Worse, I don’t think that young and low income men being targeted by advertisers in Playboy and other men’s publications targeting this demographic are as able to discern this fantasy as we were, and our culture is less able to help them figure it out.
This came to mind after I read a strong piece by Amanda Hess in Slate that explores the findings of an analysis of advertising in American men’s magazines by three psychologists at the University of Manitoba in the journal Sex Roles. Hess summarizes the advertisers’ typical depiction of the ideal man this way:
“He is a stomping, yelling, shooting, drinking, fucking, tough guy. He has big muscles and a limited emotional range—stoic, angry, horny. He exists in dark alleyways, war zones, and fast cars.”
Hess reports that the researchers have identified this version of men as “hyper-masculine,” and that advertisers are targeting adolescents and low-income men who have little “political power or social respect” who respond to messages depicting strength, aggression and an insatiable libido.
As a 55-year-old male, this sure ain’t the fantasy served up to me as teenager and young adult. Playboy, and Esquire for that matter, portrayed the man who had it all in house ads titled “What Kind of Man Reads Playboy”. They depicted the perfect gent as single, slim, suave, always in stylish clothes, a John Updike or Philip Roth novel on the go, listening to be-bop jazz, balancing a martini glass while charming some beautiful woman. Most of the other ads in Playboy seemed tasteful and elegant.
For a young man trying to figure out the minefield of sexuality and mores, this guy looked pretty damn cool to me, somebody to aspire to. (Hey, I was a kid!)
Years later, it finally dawned on me that Playboy was selling an illusion—that the Playboy lifestyle was male nirvana. It took maturity, having a stable relationship and some years under my belt to figure this out that life full of compromise and responsibility—even for wealthy guys. And that life is hard.
I have not seen a print copy of Playboy for at least 15 or 20 years, but the advertising waved in front of impressionable teens and low income men today is portraying an illusion that seems much more primitive, and it’s rather sad. This is an immature conception of masculinity—a dangerous fantasy.
What concerns me is that a large percentage of boys and young men today appear desensitized and less discerning, and that they have less older men in their lives to help them sort their way through this stuff.
Thus, they remain immature in many ways–including how they view women.
The man depicted in my old Playboys was no saint, but the ideal dude in today’s ads makes me worried for both the boys and the girls of my sons’ generation.