It is a commonly known fact that in the American culture, sex sells. Print media advertisements and television advertisements utilize the shock and awe factor of the naked human body to attract attention to their respective products, even if those products have little or nothing to do with sex.
The portrayal of the human body, specifically the male body, in mainstream advertising has had significant influence on the public’s expectation of male beauty, and specifically masculinity and what encompasses it. The male actors and models that are consistently seen in mainstream media and advertisements are rare specimens in terms of aesthetic physicality when compared to the average working man. Despite the rarity of their physical nature, mainstream advertising has led the general public to believe that broad chest muscles and washboard abdominals are the cultural norm, and that if one does not have these attributes, one must arduously strive to achieve them. The sexually focused media culture detracts the public’s appreciation away from average men, who are the foundation of the American nation.
The foundation of America is defined by its citizens, about half of which are men. Men, specifically, play an important role in this base. This average American man being referenced is about 35 years old according to the CIA World Fact Book. He is a father with at least one dependent, and holds a steady job making an average of $860 in a week according to the United States Department of Labor. His work week is forty or more hours and he pays monthly bills and a mortgage.
The working male, who assists his partner in raising his children, does not live a lifestyle that facilitates to spending hours working on his physique, unlike the male models that contemporary media and advertising exposes him to. Due to this lack of time and necessity, his body’s physicality is the product of his lifestyle, which consists of working for the majority of the day and catering to the needs of his family for the remaining hours. Although visiting a fitness center and staying active are possible through time management for the average male, they are not his number one priority. Providing for his children and advancing in his respective careers comprise his priorities.
Furthermore it must also be noted that divorce is a common event in the American man’s life. “The American divorce rate today is nearly twice that of 1960. For the average couple marrying for the first time in recent years, the lifetime probability of divorce or separation now falls between 40 and 50 percent”(found here on page 69). Without the support of a partner, which includes income and family stability, the males in perspective have even less time to devote to physicality. Raising children and working extra hours and overtime to pay bills as a single father, who either directly supports his children or pays child support, are time consuming responsibilities that usually lead to sedentary down time, if there is any free time at all.
With all these responsibilities and stresses at hand, the average American male is an admirable specimen. When analyzed, the average man’s priorities are justified. But American culture stresses the importance of an athletic, super fit physique through its obsession and glorification of notoriously fit, prominent male actors and models. Despite these priorities that involve putting his family first, his individual personality, or his job title, he is not judged by the masses based on these attributes, nor is he judged based on his comparison to his peers or colleagues. In reality, he is judged based on his comparison to a superficial interpretation of a man, depicted by an actor or a model whose body is both physically alluring and perfectly symmetrical. Why is it that the average American man is judged based on his likeness to some actor or model?
Understanding the allure of the male body in its barest form is more complex than one may assume. Considering the shock factor of showing skin and the regular sexual tension that accompanies it, its surface is a simple concept. The level of abstraction that is complex is understanding why women and men alike are drawn toward a superior form of physicality that requires strict years of dedication and a fitness-based, rigorous lifestyle is the problem.
Numerous models and actors gain their notoriety based on their immense display of superior physically. Actors like Brad Pitt and Ryan Reynolds are prominent celebrities, due to the physiques that they displayed in their respective roles throughout their careers in Hollywood. Figure 3 depicts Pitt’s most recognizable portrayal of Tyler Durden in the film Fight Club. Contrasting this, actors like Robin Williams and Will Ferrell are not sought after for their sexual appeal, but rather for their performances as comedic actors. Which set of these actors have more fans? Which of their respective movies grossed the most money? The unwritten rule of business in American culture that sex sells would point to the former pair. American men are not compared to Williams or Ferrell in terms of desirability. Witty and funny are aspects of personality, which the American culture and its masses seem to be indifferent toward.
The characters and their individual personalities depicted by body famous actors are in some ways, irrelevant to the success of the film. Brad Pitt’s character in Fight Club, Tyler Durden, although very intriguing from an intellectual standpoint, does not initially attract his fan base due to the complexities of his character, but rather the extreme state of fitness that his body is in throughout the film and the perks that the movie suggests accompany that level of physicality do (See Figure 3). In reality, Pitt’s training regime was made possible by his lifestyle as a highly paid actor. He, unlike the average nine-to-five working American man, had the time, the money and necessity to obtain that level of physicality. His lifestyle as a notoriously in shape actor facilitated his physical demeanor. Additionally, Pitt’s income is astoundingly high when compared to that of the aforementioned average male.
Beyond actors and films, there are physique models. They are paid to be photographed for advertisements in which they appear to be very lean and very muscular. Companies that use the sexual appeal of their bodies and physiques in advertising are increasingly common in contemporary culture.
Figure 1, Men in Italy: Milano Portfolio, features men wearing original suits designed by Dolce & Gabbana. One would not know that from observing the advertisement. The suits displayed are clearly not the main focal points of the collage of photographs. Figure 2 is an advertisement for Armani’s collection of male underwear. But the underwear are also not the focus of the advertisement. In reality, David Beckham’s physique is the main focal point. These advertisements are designed to display the male body in an almost casual depiction, along with the specific product or products that are being endorsed. But the majority of consumers that are exposed to these advertisements are not drawn by the product or brand itself, but rather drawn by the allure of a physically superior physique. Consumers do not admire or appreciate the quality of the fabric or the versatility of the designs. Instead their attention is captured by the body of model or models photographed.
The average weekly salary of the generic male model can easily top that of the average American man, according to William Brink, author of Body Building Revealed and Fat Loss Revealed, in his interview with Ask Men (Seepersaud 2). “David Beckham has signed a £20 million deal to become the new global ambassador of fashion house Giorgio Armani,” according to Daily Mail. These models are chosen based on their low body fat percentages and their muscularity.
These facts are discouraging to the average man, who in comparison slaves for his income for a fraction of the noteworthiness. The detraction of appreciation of the average American man brought on by the allure of mainstream actors and male models is a major societal problem in America today. Movies and mainstream advertisements are redefining the American public’s definition of masculinity. Pitt’s notoriety, due to his physique and aggressive alpha-male role in the film Fight Club, is not comparable to that of the average American male. Beckham’s abdominal definition and aggressive stare are also irrelevant to the definition. Susan Bordo, an authority on the analyzing advertisements, touches upon this common gaze, observable both in Figure 2 and throughout the film Fight Club on the face of Durden, stating that, “Many models stare coldly at the viewer, defying the observer to view them in any way other than how they have chosen to present themselves: as powerful, armored, emotionally impenetrable” (This can be found in her book, The Male Body: A New Look at Men in Public and in Private).
But would Beckham and Pitt’s character, Durden, be interpreted this way if their bodies were not in peak physical condition? Are powerful, armored, and emotionally impenetrable defining characteristics of masculinity in relation to the average American working man? The definition itself, although extremely subjective can never be based solely off physicality of the body, aesthetic appeal, or the aggressiveness portrayed because of that physicality. The average American working man does not have a body comparable to the countless male actors and models portrayed to him in the mainstream media that he is exposed to or the advertisements of the products he sees and potentially buys. Furthermore, the average American man does not have the time to achieve that physique, due to his time spent focusing on his employment and his family.
Above all, the focal point of American men, in contemporary culture, should not be on achieving a similar level of physicality to that of the actors or models present in the media and the advertisements that are relevant to their respective lives but rather, their focus should be on the values that make them American working men.
- “American Households Are Getting Smaller – And Headed by Older Adults.” MarketingCharts. Ed. MarketingCharts Staff. Watershed Publishing, 27 Nov. 2012. Web. 28 Sept. 2013.
- Armani. Advertisement. Sportress. N.p., 8 June 2010. Web. 26 Sept. 2013. <http://www.sportressofblogitude.com/2010/06/08/david-beckham-to-cover-world-cup-for-yahoo-heres-victoria-in-her-underwear/>.
- Bordo, Susan. “Beauty (Re)Discovers the Male Body.” The Male Body: A New Look at Men in Public and in Private. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2000. 168-214. Print.
- “David Beckham Signs £20m Armani Underwear Deal.” Mail Online. Daily Mail, 13 Nov. 2007. Web. 28 Sept. 2013. <http://www.dailymail.co.uk/femail/article-493410/David- Beckham-signs-20m-Armani-underwear-deal.html>.
- Fight Club. Dir. David Fincher. Perf. Brad Pitt and Edward Norton. 20th Century Fox, 1999. DVD.
- Seepersaud, Steve. “The Business Of Fitness Modeling.” AskMen. N.p., n.d. Web. 26 Sept. 2013. <http://www.askmen.com/sports/business_200/214_sports_business.html>.
- Sgura, Giampaolo. 2011. Photograph. Men in Italy: Milano Portfolio, Milan.
- “United States Median Age.” Index Mundi. Ed. CIA World Factbook. IndexMundi, n.d. Web. 28 Sept. 2013. <http://www.indexmundi.com/united_states/median_age.html>.
- USA. U.S. Department of Labor. Bureau of Labor Statistics. USUAL WEEKLY EARNINGS OF WAGE AND SALARY WORKERS SECOND QUARTER 2013. Vol. USDL-13- 1345. N.p.: n.p., n.d. Print.
- Wilcox, W. B., and Elizabeth Marquardt, eds. The State of Our Union 2011. Charlottesville: National Marriage Project, 2011. Print.