Depiction of masculinity in rock radio.

As I flip through the NZ radio airwaves I have been much humoured by the depiction of masculinity in advertising on rock radio (for purposes of definition, that is FM radio stations that feature AC/DC, Metallica, Tool, Shihad and other old and new bands that play up tempo, guitar driven, blues derived sound. This does not include Lady Gag, Madonna, boy and girl bands, Justin Beiber, Millie Cyrus, rappers and their ilk). Some of the imagery conjured in these ads is funny but disturbing, and I realise that the depiction is concocted by advertising companies selling product to a 15-35 year old male demographic. But three things stand out about the depiction of ideal NZ men in these ads.

The first is that the general thrust of the ads is framed as a negation or antithesis of an extant others–metrosexuals and women. These are not moccachino-sipping, quiche eating, emo or poncy little dog carrying (in a man purse!) financial advisors or lawyers. More implicit than explicit, the intimation is that these are mates, dudes, fun-luvin’ rascals that have to live on the edge of a PC world. But the positive message (such as it is) is sublimated under the representation of what it is not. The majority thrust of the bottom line is a negation. These are not post-modern poseurs or dandies, and they do not want to relate to chicks other than at a primal level.

The second noteworthy aspect of the ads is the objectification of masculinity. Men’s identities lie in the commodities they prefer (consumer non-durables, mostly): utes and V8s, rugby, some more rugby, league, more league, cheap alcohol, cheaper beer, red meat (ideally hunted, then cooked on a bbq), fishing gear, racy magazines, grubby clothes, stereos and farm equipment. They do not wear cologne.

The third and perhaps most interesting aspect of the depiction is its representation of “manly” values. Men are mates; hard drinking, carousing, happy go lucky, staunch (especially when drinking), fast driving, opportunistic and impulsive horn dogs working hard on the ladies. Nowhere in the depiction are there notions of honour, valour, courage, sacrifice, sincerity, solidarity (except with mates), humility, basic intelligence and knowledge of current global affairs, or interest in the needs of women, children and the family. That is a bit odd simply because the early 20 to 35 male demographic is the one that is reproducing the most (presumably a manly trait), has young families, is starting careers and otherwise has the burdens of post-adolescence crashing down on it. Yet the values being reified appear adolescent.

I have seen this type of representation on rock radio programming in Florida and Arizona. In those cases the demographic was male 15-23, simply because the size of the population allows that age group to sustain specific types of commercial music programming. I presume that there is an Ozzie variant. NZ has its own, over a wider age range.

The success of advertising campaigns based on this type of symbology appears to lie in the deep unhappiness of 15-35 year old NZ men with the evolution of society. It speaks for a desire to not only be rebellious adolescent in social perspective, consequences be damned.  It also speaks to a desire to be in another era that, however mythological represents the antithesis of NZ society today. The question is: was there ever anything remotely close to this depiction in NZ historical reality?  If not, what explains the appeal of these ads? And if it is true that there is a deep antipathy to the current social order, what does that say about prospects for assimilation of this demographic? In other words, what are the prospects of these angry and nostalgic (mostly Pakeha) young men, if indeed the advertising thrust is a window on their souls?

(Of course, I defer to Lew for a more professional interpretation of the subject).

15 thoughts on “Depiction of masculinity in rock radio.

  1. The question is: was there ever anything remotely close to this depiction in NZ historical reality? If not, what explains the appeal of these ads?

    Since when did appeals to some misty ideal prior age have to be grounded in reality to be explicable? That’s the whole point of such appeals, they refer to a construct of the “good old days” whose relationship to any given time period is limited to the mis-use of the word “old”. Times change but the relationship between the “good old days” and the modern era is always static.

  2. Pablo, what an excellent coincidence; I was just t’other night ranting on Twitter about the resurgence of ‘manvertising’; ads which reify caricatured manliness in order to commodify and exploit the vestiges of same in modern men who feel (or are) largely alienated from it — as much as they are alienated from ‘PC feminised’ mainstream society. Your observations dovetail well with what I had planned to write on it, and I think our conclusion is similar: that it’s a shame for these values and aspects of masculinity to be preserved in preference to other, more worthy aspects.

    I’ll write my argument up when I have time in the next few days. Interested to hear what others think in the interim.


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  4. I have nothing truly substantive to add to your post, Pablo, but I can’t help but share this ad ( with you (you may have seen it by now anyway). Try to watch it without dying a little bit inside. It pretty much consists of a perfect list of your “objectification of masculinity” manly values, from start to finish.

    Interestingly (perhaps not surprising to you?) my experiences with lawyers in NZ puts them squarely in this same group of men who consider “mochaccino-sipping suits” to be the antithesis of manliness as well. I am continually surprised to be confronted with the exact depiction of masculinity you’ve outlined in (at least one) corporate NZ law firm. (Perhaps excepting the cheap beer and grubby clothes).

  5. Every now and then I listen to Hauraki which is, I think, the middle-aged bloke’s version of what you are describing.

    What always strikes me is how many of the ads seem to me to be (covertly)appealing to a kind of loneliness in the audience. They often give blokey/jokey mini autobios of team member’s of their advertisers, eg, members of a plumbing company presented as potential mates.

    It’s just how it comes across to me, and it makes me wonder if middle-aged men in particular, do feel alone, but then I’m not a member of the target audience.

  6. reader: Hauraki was a bit out of my listening demographic, so to speak. But the overall representation is the same I gather: “real” men threatened by changing social mores. For the older guys, that makes them lonely. For the younger guys, that makes them angry and resentful.

    Tom C: That video was pathetic indeed.

    Hugh: the point is not about the relationship between old and new in the mythologised nostalgic vision implicit in the ads, which in any event is not static even if some central themes endure. It is about the content of ads: antithetical definition of identity, objectification and commodification of masculinity, and promotion of an adolescent social perspective to post-adolescents, and what that says about a certain male demographic.

    Lew: I look forward to reading your expanded views.

  7. I regret to inform readers that I am from a demographic* that also finds solace in that Speights advertisment.

    Personally I cringed as well, but it is depressing the number of my mates who enthuse over it.


  8. I am in the target audience (28) and have a love-hate relationship with the advertising: on one hand it is funny, but OTOH it is deeply disturbing.

    @reader, I think you are right about it speaking to a sense of loneliness in men: IMHO, a lot of guys seem to feel alienated from the culture around them and frustrated by a world that doesn’t really make sense to them anymore.

    What exactly is the role of a man in our society? Is there anywhere in our society where these values are valued?

    …honour, valour, courage, sacrifice, sincerity, solidarity…, humility, basic intelligence….

    In some sense I think this phenomenon is a bit like religious fundamentalism, in that it is seeking clarity and foundation in a postmodern world that doesn’t make sense anymore. But it is also the naked logic of the market seeking to commodify everything – you don’t created ideal consumers out of men who value humility and sacrifice.

  9. Hi there, I came to this article via The Hand Mirror. Really interesting discussion, and I like to see men talking about this.

    My background is in radio copywriting, and when I started I found it difficult to assimilate into the culture of what I was expected to write about – broad stroke characatures. There really is no room for nuance in 30 seconds and 75 words. Perhaps this is a failing of the rules and structures of traditional radio, as well as a British colonial stiff upper lip hold over.

    Also, my view of NZ commercial radio is that it has very much followed the American mould of jock-y, laugh track, hit-em-quick radio – it kinda treats the listener as without depth. Sure, there’s a place for light entertainment, but it really is coming at the expense of using the gender divide for entertainment (I mean, how many breakfast shows use an iteration of the “Battle of the sexes” competition for larfs?)

    I don’t work in radio any more, and find it very difficult to listen to it for just such reasons – the rampant sexism, and gender and age divide. There are/were people on the inside who cared about trying to make a change, but their creativity gets crushed under the sheer weight inherent expectations in NZ culture. It was (and is, in my current job) extremely rare to find an advertiser who is willing to defy stereotype conventions.

  10. I got here from THM as well.

    My take on it is that it is a well-researched, deliberate, and calculated mechanism to convince men to part with their money.

    The thing about commercial radio advertising is that it has a very specific message: “BUY THIS STUFF”. A lot of the products and services being advertised are aiming at discretionary spending, and the technique is to generate a good feeling towards that product/service so as to improve the chances of a (non-impulsive) purchase sometime in the future.

    So they appeal to men’s freedoms, and stay away from their responsibilities. Having a good time with your mates is a freedom, domestic chores are a responsiblity. If the product/service is work-oriented (like tools, building materials etc), then the skew is about achievement – your freedom to achieve/build/create, if you will.

    So the basic message is: “Don’t worry about that other stuff, spend you money on THIS – it’s AWESOME”. They are appealing to the inner boy who lives in the moment and just wants to have a carefree good time.

    Humility, courage, sacrifice etc are not deemed as being useful in the context of pre-purchase male buyer-behaviour, so they are not promoted.

    Other, more sophisticated stations, such as George use similar tactics, albeit they have concluded that their demographic is both men and women. George’s ads are more subtle but the general message (“This is COOL, check it out”) is functionally the same, even though it appeals to different senses of self-identity.

    The first is that the general thrust of the ads is framed as a negation or antithesis of an extant others–metrosexuals and women.

    I think they do this as a form of assonance induction, which lays the foundation for a more successful sales pitch. I suspect that “easy target” nature of women and metrosexuals plays a part in decisions to convey these other demographics negatively.

    The second noteworthy aspect of the ads is the objectification of masculinity.

    I think that is the whole point – to allow men to purchase masculinity via a proxy product or service.

    It appears that the rock stations have discovered a pattern that they think works, and they are going to thrash it until it stops working – and probably long after.

    The big problem with this approach is that it entrenches, via constant reinforcment, the messages of unbridled self-centreredness and “othering” towards the other groups.

  11. There is one ad I quite liked, the Steinlager Pure ad with William Da Foe in it: the one that celebrates our anti-nuclear stance and ends with “some things are worth protecting.” It’s just a pity it’s selling beer…

    IMHO, the core of a positive understanding of masculinity has to revolve around self-control and the care and protection of the weak and vulnerable – i.e. the limitation of the use of power/strength to acting in the interests of those who need help.

    My wife also pointed to the DB ad with the man who humbly sets about saving various people from various calamities in the course of a day and then “deserves a DB.” Again, a pity it is an ad for beer, but nevertheless is much better than many other ads in terms of the image of masculinity that is portrayed and celebrated.

  12. So they appeal to men’s freedoms, and stay away from their responsibilities. Having a good time with your mates is a freedom, domestic chores are a responsiblity. If the product/service is work-oriented (like tools, building materials etc), then the skew is about achievement – your freedom to achieve/build/create, if you will.

    (here via THM as well) Ye-ess, but, isn’t that sort of like saying “beer is easy to sell, spray & wipe is hard to sell”? I mean, no kidding, ads are about making you feel good about a product – that’s where those ridiculous laundry powder ads come from (you know, the one where hanging out the laundry is like having a holiday somewhere exotic. Right, like the swampy, mosquito-ridden garden at the bottom of the house where the washing line is … but I digress.) The question is why and where this intense masculinist thing is coming from – the TV also just got hit with Man Yoghurt which I saw today, Man Driving, and another Man Beer one (“only queers drink light beers”, which is, you know, charming. OTOH, the Man Yoghurt one basically says gay men aren’t men, so I can’t really pick a fave except that I hate them all.)

    I think we’re seeing something slightly different and very crude. The concept of the male gaze might be familiar to some of you, but basically the idea is that media are made assuming that the viewer or consumer is male. So that for a very long time you had !MEDIA, which assumes the viewer is male, and !MEDIA-AIMED-AT-WOMEN. So you have literary fiction, and women’s fiction; novels and chick lit; dramas and chick flicks; and ads, and ads targeted towards women (Sarah Haskins has a brilliant video series, Target Women, about ads directed at women.) However people are increasingly realising there’s something wrong with that. Unfortunately instead of making !MEDIA gender neutral they seem to be producing !MEDIA-AIMED-AT-MEN and !MEDIA-AIMED-AT-WOMEN. This is all in the marketing, of course, not in the product (there’s nothing particularly mennish about lemon passionfruit-flavoured yoghurt, or particularly womanish about laundry powder).

  13. @Hugh – I think there was one by Keitel and a second by Dafoe, but I might be wrong.

    @Tui When I was a student I used to do market research via telephone for one of the big market research companies – the question they asked tended to presume that people would come down one way or another about whether a product was masculine/feminine, old/young, etc. It was infuriating.

    I found James Turow’s analysis of how target marketing exacerbates and exploits the fissures in society (in The Breaking Up of America) useful but disturbing:

  14. Thanks to THM readers for coming over and joining the discussion. It has added value to it.

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