Recently, I had a conversation with several academics about this masculine commercial for an already pretty butch establishment. In typical academic fashion, I’d never seen it, but I’d read about it. Thanks to Youtube, I’ve now experienced it (where “seeing,” dubiously, = “experience”) for myself, gentle readers. In it, some man, wearing the untucked shirt that still seems de rigeur these days, pushes away his meager nouvelle cuisine and starts in on a version of the Helen Reddy anthem I am Woman (hear me roar), cleverly redone as “I am Man (hear me roar).” Burger in hand, he leads a ever growing mass of men (or, why not, an ever growing pack of men: “A becoming-animal always involves a pack, a band, a population, a peopling, in short, a multiplicity….The wolf is not fundamentally a characteristic or a certain number of characteristics; it is a wolfing,” Thousand Plateaus, 239; after all, the star of the commercial sings that he’s “going on the prowl” immediately before a chorus of unfed fed-up men join him) who push a minivan off a bridge (into some kind of big garbage truck: hell, not being a man, I don’t know what to call those things), demonstrate (I was going to write “march,” but you see the difference), and burn their underwear. The obvious reference point is the desire for an Iron John style masculinity freed of the alienating, inauthentic burden of (feminine/izing) civilization, a desire in evidence in, I guess, films like Old School, Falling Down, Fight Club (complexly), or Why Does Herr R Run Amok? (okay, bad choice on the last one, but I thought I should have seen at least 2 of the 4 I listed) or in something like the mancation (or here). It might seem like that, but then why the commercial’s sneering reference to quiche (“I admit I’ve been fed quiche / wave tofu bye-bye”)?
As one of my fellow symposians wondered, “who eats quiche?” People at wine and cheese events, I suppose, and brunchers; but as my f. s. observed, not the people pictured in the commercial, as they all seem to be men in the Gen-Y demographic. Why should they care about quiche any more than, say, risotto? The question might have been “who rejects quiche?” Men, of course, particularly men who read Real Men Don’t Eat Quiche: A Guidebook to all that is Truly Masculine, which came out just about the time I entered puberty. If you’re keeping track. Suddenly, it all comes together. The commercial is nostalgic for the 70’s, and in particular, nostalgic for the reaction against second-wave feminism that resulted in works like that quiche book, or First Blood (like the quiche book, also 1982) or, uh, Straw Dogs (okay, another bad example, but, again, something I’ve actually seen/read, a film, if we can say this, that’s presciently reactionary). Putting aside the disconcerting racialized moments in the commercial (the Asian guy who karate chops a cinderblock, the Black guy who holds up a burger in a carnivorous version of the Black Power salute: anyone want to engage that?), the chief set piece in it is a ludicrous Black Mass version of 70’s feminism: burning V-front underwear instead of bras.
I don’t think the commercial’s nostalgia is nostalgia for a time prior to 70’s feminism. It’s not trying to undo 70’s feminism by appropriating and enervating its rituals. Okay, it is trying to do that, but I think it’s also nostalgia for a reaction that failed. The backlash worked, but not as well as the backlashers would have liked. Sure, we don’t yet have an ERA, women are still disproportionately poor and the victims of war, abortions rights are being scaled back, &c. after deplorable &c., but things are nonetheless better for women in America than they were, say, in the 50’s. Any man old enough to get the quiche joke can’t help but know that, and can’t help but know that masculinities founded on abjecting women (both symbolically and legally, not that there’s an impermeable wall between these categories) are far less readily established now than they were in some undatablethen. With all that in mind, here’s a question for which I don’t expect an answer: can the collective you think of any other instances of nostalgia for failed reaction?
Explanatory afterward: my title comes from Gawain’s temptation of Yvain to leave behind his marriage for a while and take up tourneying again. A colloquial translation: “By holy Mary, shame on anyone who lets himself go by getting married!” Note how anpirier, to become worse, puns on “to pair up.” A man should be a self-sustaining creature, content in himself, but, again, note the emergence of men into a pack, as evident in the commercial as it is in Yvain’s (disastrous) reassimilation into the mass of juventes.