A lot of noise the past few days about a pretty quotidien item. The Gilette corporation last week unveiled an ad campaign that sought to ride along with the zeitgeist of the US.
Essentially, playing on the old tag line that the company's razor's were "the best a man can get," the piece opens with a series of men looking into the mirror, and asking if this really is the best we can do.
What follows is approximately two minutes of images of bullying, caddish and demeaning behaviour towards women, and a host of other less than stellar examples.
The spot has drawn a lot of criticism for its suggestion of what constitutes "toxic masculinity," much of it from people whom I would typically consider fellow travellers.
Up-front, I want to say that I find the term "toxic masculinity" equal parts trite, cliched, and false. There is nothing specifically "masculine" about bullying, as anyone who has seen the way girls emotionally torture one another as adolescents. And the same ad that points to cartoonish laughs of an old sit-com where the boss pinches the bottom of his secretary does not go on to talk at all about the staple in sit-coms of dad being basically a useless fool who does not know not to put ice cream in the microwave.
Both of these are outdated tropes that lazy Hollywood writers used in lieu of creativity for decades.
But setting aside the politics of the terminology, I have to say that what actually is in the ads is remarkably uncontroversial, isn't it? Who would argue that we can - and should - be better?
And what they are really showing here (again, cliches to the side) is bullying and how we facilitate it. Not "men," but all of us as a society. The image of kid, perceived by his peers to be weak, targeted and chased by a wolfpack.
I've written before here and here about what I have seen, both as a kid and a parent. I hate bullying. I find it, among the pantheon of vices, perhaps the most despicable.
The Chinese have an expression, 弱肉強食. It means, the weak are meat, the strong eat.
I believe now as I did then, that we live in a society that likes to pretend that it is more refined than it really is. We believe that, if some bad guy tries to break into our house, the cops will get him. Or that white collar crooks who game the system can be constrained by ever more “regulation.” For all of our rules and our therapists and our technological wonders, we are not so removed from what we have always been - human beings are tribal, violent creatures who over millennia have evolved skills to kill or be killed.
We live in a world of predators and prey. Kids can sense this.
The ad shows in each situation that small eyes watch and see. They observe how we act. What we are, they become.
It's politically expedient today to talk in silly buzzwords about toxic masculinity and privilege. But ultimately, what is being said is that we can do better. I don't have any problem with that.
We must do better.