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The Beer Commercials Guide to Manhood

Last night watching the Super Bowl commercials, I learned a lot about what it means to be a man?  Watching beer commercials, one would assume that manhood is defined by strict do’s and don’ts.  In this piece, Alexa Megna illustrates how the boundaries of masculinity are narrowly defined and reinforced in beer commercials. 

I learn everything I need to know about men from beer commercials, so last night’s Super Bowl ads were very informative.  I turned on the TV last night, sat down with an frosty beer, and learned all about you fellas.  Beer commercials are, quite simply, a “how to” manual for masculinity.  Not only are they often played during sporting events that, of course, all men watch (duh), but they are also glamorized in popular culture for being witty, funny, and catchy (Now I know we all remember that Budweiser frog commercial: Bud….Weise….Er).  Here are a just few things that beer commercials have taught me:

What I learned about masculinity from dudes in beer commercials:

  • Men who are married or in relationships are a complete drag.  The ball and chain is always complaining about how you are always doing everything wrong…blah, blah, blah.
  • Men who cry when their girlfriends go away for a weekend are wimps
  • Men do not scream “like a girl” on a scary rollercoaster ride.  If they do, their friend’s make mocking t-shirts with his screaming face and wear them to bars.
  • “Real men” aren’t friends with “chicks” unless they have some tasty beers.
  • Men who are grossed out by fish are wusses.
  • Men always up to something relatively stupid.  Often you find them quietly passing gas in an elevator just for fun.
  • Men have to watch sports with other men.  Men defiantly do not enjoy wine & cheese parties.

As you can see, these actual beer commercials perfectly illustrate to viewers (albeit a little ironically) how men should act, what they should buy, and whom they should find sexually attractive.  They show what a real man looks like and what happens when a man doesn’t live up to these expectations (which often involves mockery and laughter at the man’s expense).  These commercials portray manhood in the most stereotypical way, limiting our ideas of what a man should be.

In their article on beer and liquor ads in the Super Bowl and Sports Illustrated swimsuit issues, Messner and Montez de Oca[1] explain four main gender themes in these advertisements.

  1. Losers: men are portrayed in these ads as being insecure and on the verge of making a complete idiot out of themselves
  2. Buddies: the idea that a man’s friends makes up for his own insecurities
  3. Hotties:  when women do appear in these ads, they are always hyper-sexualized version of a male fantasy
  4. Bitches: the women the men are emotionally committed to

The real beer commercials presented above underscores these four themes.

It is important to acknowledge and understand the consequences of these commercials are for all of society.  While each, individual commercial may not influence men to act a certain way, the sheer breadth of commercials that are exactly like the ones mentioned above is cause for concern.  You could argue that any of these ads taken individually is silly and ridiculous, but thousands of ads saying the same thing over and over means something.  

Male viewers watching these commercials are shown a world with very little consequences (other than ridicule from your friends) where you can act like a complete idiot and barely clothed women will still throw themselves at you.  Contrary to this belief presented in these commercials, all men are not idiots and women are not sex objects for the male fantasy.   These commercials present an idealized world that does not exist.  So why are these fake ideas still being portrayed in these ads?  Is it because that is what men “really want?”  Or is something greater occurring to create this mass of like-minded commercials?  Thinking critically about the images of masculinity that we see everyday can provide us with a greater understanding of the role masculinity and femininity play within society.  Now go grab a beer, watch some sports with your bros, and analyze the commercials, dude!

Dig Deeper:

  1. What beer commercials that you have seen come to mind when you think about masculinity? How do they define masculinity?  Do you think this definition is good?  Why or why not?
  2. “No one actually thinks commercials reflect reality,” is a common reaction to critiques of advertising. Why do you think advertisements are still socially significant? That is, why do ads matter even if no one believes they are reality.
  3. What do you think are the consequences are of this narrow definition of masculinity?
  4. Watch this video on women in beer commercials. How has the role of women in beer commercials changed over time and what do you think this means?

[1] Messner, Michael and Jeffrey Montez de Oca.  2005.  “The Male Consumer as Loser:  Beer and Liquor Ads in Mega Sports Media Events.”  Signs 30(3): 1879-1909.