Man as Buffoon

Lou_Costello_Africa_ScreamsI think Pewsitter linked to Msgr Charles Pope’s blog where the lament of the descent of man was in full flower last week. The opener:

I’ve raised concerns in the past about the “men are stupid” variety of commercials that proliferate in our culture. The usual approach is to sell a product by showing some total buffoon of a man trying to use a product about which he doesn’t have a clue. And then some wise woman sets him straight—or even worse, the kids come to his rescue. The whole scenario goes something like this: “Gee, Honey, I’m just a stupid man. How does this product work?” And the wise wife responds, “Oh, Dear, that’s not how it’s done. Here, let me show you.”

A few things. If such depictions didn’t have traction, advertising experts wouldn’t be profligate in using them. In order to sell a theme, it has to sell, so to speak.

I suspect that this theme does sell for a number of reasons.

First, it’s often true. Think about the numerous politicians–the very definition of powerful and smart and competent guys who were tripped up by their own indulgences. Bill Clinton. Richard Nixon. Mark Sanford. Mr Nixon, in particular, who was wildly popular at the polls and positioned himself to go to China and the USSR, and his eventual opponent in the 1972 race gained, what, single-digit electoral votes? And he had to bungle a burglary.

Think about athletes who have frittered away their talent and strength on stupid things. Tiger Woods. Barry Bonds. Lance Armstrong. They travel that surprisingly short road from hero to butt (of jokes).

And celebrities–let’s not even go there. Robin Thicke simulates a sex act on stage with a former teen star. Her career launches. His tribute album to his ex-wife sells 530 copies in the U.K..

It will also sell as long as it’s comedy. When tv takes itself somewhat seriously, it still has strong male characters. And when it doesn’t, I can always look over the shoulder of the young miss to see female buffoons on kid, teen, and other comedies. There are at least as many stereotypes about girls and women in the media, and they get the laughs–and the product sales–too.

Next, it’s been going on for a very long time. Smart women giving men their comeuppance is as old as the movies–and I’ve watched a lot of 30’s and 40’s comedies with my wife to think of a number of clumsy men set straight by competent women. Before that, Chaplin, the Three Stooges, The Keystone Cops.

I suspect that for many men, it rankles for our sex to be portrayed as incompetent. I think we can watch comedy with others and laugh with it. Or we can excuse ourselves to work out in the garage or den. I don’t think it’s an anti-Christian plot to topple patriarchy. But it might give a few people pause as to what they laugh at, considering that laughing with others can be difficult at times.

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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1 Response to Man as Buffoon

  1. Episteme says:

    Honestly, I think that much of those advertisements also come from having been focused originally (and still mainly — but even moreso in the day of the omnipresent housewife) at the housebound female audience who did the family shopping, getting the woman’s attention through flattery. Over the years, the success of the meme (especially directed at the woman as the savvy shopper) became more troped and exaggerated, as well as spreading into other forms of media (especially in television comedy) that similar audiences were watching.

    Hence why such humor predates what we think of as feminism (or at least post-1960s feminism); it’s a product of the wider access of women to media and the market throughout the 20th century and that media and market’s subsequent response in appealing to this new demographic.

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