Pop Rocks: Balls of Fury

I never really bought into the theory that American men were becoming, for lack of a better word, pansies.

It's an idea that started taking hold way back in 1982 with Bruce Feirstein's Real Men Don't Eat Quiche, a satirical look at post-feminist malehood that led to more earnest reactions against "sensitive" men, as well as movements designed to foster maturity through -- for example -- a return to "bestiality" (happily, it's not what you think). All of which was designed to restore American masculinity to its rightful place, which apparently involves either "hugging it out" with your sweaty brothers or pursuing an agenda of hyper-fatherhood. This is how you get things like the Promise Keepers and Gov. Ed Rendell's notorious 2010 rant against the NFL for canceling a Sunday night game between the Eagles and Vikings due to a blizzard. It was, he said, just another example of the "wussification of America."

But it turns out, in one respect at least, we are pansies, and you can tell by comparing TV commercials for men's and women's health.

I first became aware of this phenomenon after seeing ads for Viagra and Cialis, which described something called "ED," which of course stands for Erectile Dysfunction. I understand the inability to conjure up a boner used to be called "impotence," but that has negative linguistic connotations. Referring to it as "dysfunction" rightly places the blame for your limp member on genetics, environment, or...well, anyone but you. Because as we all know, real Mustang-driving, blues-playing, wife-humping American men got no truck with flaccidity.

Those commercials are laughable enough; AARP-eligible dudes demonstrating their wilderness cunning by filling their overheating car's radiator with...bottled water? How the hell is that macho? Didn't any of you assholes see Red Dawn?

And then there are AndroGel's "Low T" commercials. "Low T" stands for "low testosterone," but I guess invoking an aging man's decreased hormone production in direct fashion would be insensitive. So would, say, pointing out a guy's testicles tend to downshift as he gets older.

And "T" is a macho letter. Not only does it look like a penis, but using it in a name automatically confers machismo: "T-Bone," T-Pain," "Mr. T." You think any of those guys ever had trouble getting it up?

[I admit, when I was first kicking around blog ideas for this, I was just going to do a list of disembodied shadows in the movies (my personal favorites are Dracula Burns from The Simpsons and Swing Time):]

By contrast, commercials for women's hormone replacement don't pussyfoot (sorry) around terms like "menopause" or "hot flashes." They may use the same soft focus/walk on the beach/Kenny G ambience of all such advertisements, but the terminology is fairly direct: Women get old, their ovaries stop producing estradiol and progesterone, and they can use hormone replacement therapy to counter some of the effects. End of story.

Note that little to no mention of restarting a woman's sex drive is ever made in commercials about menopause. Here's the Amberen commercial, for example:

Wow. That computer-generated model has a nice rack.

Granted, these are a lot of "natural" menopause remedies that may or may not work, but at least there's a sense of humor at work here. The idea of a woman walking through the chilly outdoors in panties and a slip in order to cool off is kind of funny, but the Vivaca people are Canadian and thus don't understand the concept of feeling shame because their bodies are betraying them.

This contrasts with the desperation of men's ads, which are either an extended Kubler-Ross bargaining exercise or a defiant (and ultimately futile) howl against the inevitable failure of our bodies. It's undignified, and ultimately sad to watch.

Everybody gets old (if they're lucky). Not everybody can do so without turning into self-parody. At this point, men are doing just that, and they have no one to blame but themselves.

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