Reading through Bette London’s article “Mary Shelley, Frankenstein, and the Spectacle of Masculinity,” I was introduced to the idea of masculinity inherently having a spectacular facet, comparable to the brokenness/hysteria associated to women/femininity. Examples of this “spectacle of masculinity” was observed in Frankenstein’s behavior throughout the novel, wether that was in response to Henry’s death, Elizabeth’s death, the creation of the monster, etc. Another argument that London makes is that the experiences of the characters (especially the female characters) in the novel are conveyed through Frankenstein in a way that obscures their agency and highlights his problematic masculinity. One example London gives of this is Frankenstein misinterpreting the creature’s warning as the latter’s intention to kill the former on his wedding night, rather than going after Elizabeth, signifying Frankenstein’s self-revolving masculinity. After processing these ideas, I started being more aware of the “spectacle of masculinity” and how it underlies several aspects of society.
Here, I choose to focus on Snickers’ You’re not you when you’re hungry advertising strategy. The most recent commercial (at least in the U.S.) is the “Brady Bunch” scenario aired during the Super Bowl. Here, we see Danny Trajo (known for playing the role “Machete”) serve as a representation of hostility when Marsha gets hungry. The commercial plays out with Trajo acting over the top after suffering an injury by her brother; Trajo responds violently and menacingly to the parents’ comments. Towards the end of the commercial, we see Steve Buscemi represent Jan’s whininess, showing frustration at the lack of attention Jan receives.
I think it’s important to point out that in these cases, spectacularity in women is represented by men. Why is this the case? Wouldn’t it have played more into stereotypes if these hysterical segments were played by women, considered inherently dramatic? I argue that having these facets played by men make the commercial more palatable in that, as London asserts, masculinity does, in fact, have a spectacular quality to it. But is this substitution problematic? On the one hand, the commercial doesn’t perpetuate the women’s hysteria. On the other hand, did it need to? In current media, there’s already so much of that going on that for Snickers to follow suit would not have made their campaign different. I think the problem lies in how the commercial plays out in that it’s humorous to see men make spectacles of themselves, but it’s perhaps presumed by the audience that men don’t behave that way and for them to do so is a laughing matter. There’s tension between men, masculinity, and spectacles where men refuse to acknowledge their spectacularity and solely subscribe to masculinity’s “stronger” qualities, but it’s perhaps in this refusal that the spectacle comes out. This is seen precisely in Trajo’s response, where he hyperbolizes masculinity’s strength and reactivity, and Buscemi’s response, where he hyperbolizes masculinity’s need for attention.
This theme isn’t restrained to that one commercial; the whole campaign primarily works off this spectacle of masculinity, as can be seen in the following video. However, when it doesn’t (e.g. if it’s a woman that’s acting as the spectacle), there’s an aspect of the representation that’s more palatable, a representation that, more often than not, plays to stereotypes of the other. For example, the commercial with Betty White is accepted so easily because it portrays an old woman as “snarky” or “cranky.” In this case, it plays to two stereotypes of the other, that of women and that of the elderly. Another case can be found in the road trip commercial, where one of the men is represented by a black female actor that’s a “diva” (read: sassy black woman). This tends to be the trend when women represent men in the campaign. What’s problematic about these images is that they not only perpetuate stereotypes of those marginalized groups of people, but they also underscore how masculinity is the opposite of those characteristics, that to be a man is to not be sassy, snarky, etc.
Another aspect of otherness in these commercials is the race of the characters. For example, in the “Brady Bunch” commercial, Trajo’s responses are consumed so readily because it plays into the stereotypes of hispanic individuals (e.g. barbarity, violence, etc). If a white man did responded in that way, the commercial would not have been received as well. Similarly, in the “Diva” commercial, the woman’s response was comfortable because it played into “blackness,” whereas if a white woman did the same thing (not necessarily playing into blackness, but being sassy in a general sense), she may have come off offensively (read: society is okay by the “sassy black woman”, but turned off by the “basic bitch”).
The dynamics of spectacularity with respect to masculinity/femininity, gender, race, and age are complex and this is my humble attempt of trying to highlight them in these commercials. These dynamics permeate many media avenues and multiple facets of daily life. They’re also not limited to just the categories I addressed; levels of spectacularity can be seen in class, ability, nationality, etc. A final thought: it’s really interesting to find Snickers commercials aired in other countries and how those cultural values and societal norms shape the representations. Here’s a good example.
London, Bette. ‘Mary Shelley, Frankenstein, And The Spectacle Of Masculinity’. PMLA108.2 (1993): 253