Why Aren’t More Real Men Portrayed In The Media?

Edwin Lyngar is tired of seeing the same old stereotypes of men in movies, TV, and commercials.

I’m always relieved when the latest football, baseball, or basketball season is over. As a man especially, I can’t ever escape the background noise. Sports show up on every gas station beer display, every soft drink container, and in every casual interaction with other men during each of the various “seasons” in a never-ending cycle of pseudo-masculine schmaltz. For me, it’s the culture far more than the actual games that I don’t like, and nowhere is the culture more obviously ugly than in sports advertising. 

Sports commercials have a formula that often casts men as cartoonish, sex-starved oafs. Probably the most famous commercial of this year was a “geek” kissing a “smoking hot chick” in a GoDaddy commercial during the Super Bowl. Standard sports fare features average men (or even ugly ones) paired with unrealistically beautiful women. The creative team behind the GoDaddy ad uses juxtaposition as a cheap tactic to create sexual tension. It makes sense as a sales/shock strategy but doesn’t do much else.

The beer commercials are the worst. The themes haven’t changed in decades. They employ the same, tired manhood tropes, featuring the forever slouching male, about 30 years old with his baseball hat on backwards. The women are never more than 23 or so and are always supernaturally pretty. The beer advertised is mostly of the Budweiser, MGD, or Coors Light variety. They are without question some of the worst, yet most widely available, beers on the market. (I don’t know what it means to masculinity, but I feel compelled to point it out.)

Although it’s easy (and fun) to rail against portrayals of the men in sports ads, I have to temper my criticism. Advertising in sports isn’t the only place you find men portrayed as lumbering, thoughtless oafs. Television and movies are thick with it. In places outside of sports, however, my thoughts aren’t so certain, and in fact I have to confess that I’m a huge fan of some of it. 

I love The Simpsons and Family Guy, for instance, two shows that set the standard for unappealing men. I don’t offer any excuses, but rather confess my fandom as a way of making my argument less puritanical. Our culture is loaded with false images of masculinity (women suffer from worse stereotypes I know, but that’s a topic for anther essay). These false images can be funny and edgy or stupid and predictable, and my problem is not with Homer Simpson or the two dimensional man of the beer commercial per se. My problem is that almost every single portrayal of men in popular culture uses some kind of tired cliché. Homer Simpson is funny—once, twice at most. But I don’t know when he became the poster boy for all American men. 

Homer isn’t to blame, because there are a handful of stereotypes that have come to represent all men in our culture. You already know them: the oaf, the ’50s father, the workaholic dad, the warrior (soldier, kung fu master, etc.), and the sex-crazed, drunken frat boy. If you think about every movie you’ve ever seen, you can fit 90% of male leads into one of those buckets.

I very rarely see myself reflected in film or on television, and the portrayal of fathers troubles me the most. Dads are forever shown as hapless, stupid, and insensitive louts. Most real fathers I know are a hundred times more thoughtful than your average movie dad.

Even though I have to admit that it’s not just sports culture that bothers me, whenever I accidentally catch part of a game or a beer commercial, my low opinion of sports is reinforced. There are a thousand ways to be a thoughtful father, a good employee, a considerate lover, and even an introspective sports fan, and it would be nice to see some of this complexity reflected back by the culture. But I definitely won’t expect to see it during the next ESPN Sports Center.

Edwin Lyngar is a writer and author living in Reno, Nevada. He graduated from Antioch University in 2010 with his MFA in creative writing and also holds an MA in Writing from the University of Nevada, Reno. His essays have appeared or are forthcoming in the Bellingham Review and Ontoligica. He blogs about parenting, family life, and writing at www.edwinlyngar.com and is in the process of finding a home for his first book, a memoir titled Guy Parts.

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