Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Like a boss

I have been bothered for a while by what I have been thinking of as the toxic masculinity GMC ad:

"How do you want to live? As a decent person? Fine human being? A good husband? Is that it? Good? Of course not."

This is the improved version. The first one I saw didn't mention things like "father of the year" or making her heart skip" as getting closer to acceptable, but I guess they realized it was sounding a bit too antisocial.

Apparently the inception of the ad comes from trying to claim that their trucks are professional grade "Like a pro." What I remembered was the use of "Like a boss." That has a funny history.

It starts with a release by Slim Thug, "Like A Boss", which inspired a parody by Lonely Island that was so ridiculous it became a meme, back in 2009.

The Lonely Island version starts with relating fairly menial tasks (checking e-mail, calling corporate), but all of them done "Like a boss." The tasks grow to include sexual harassment, but also depressed and self-destructive behavior. It is chock-full of toxic masculinity, showing at least a basic understanding that this brand of masculinity is not only toxic to others, but to those exhibiting it too, which is important to remember.

Lonely Island's "Like A Boss" ridiculed toxic masculinity, which made it easily applicable to memes. Eight years later, GMC's ad team appears to be taking it completely seriously. It is possible that they were not aware of the history of the phrase, but it's also possible that they saw those memes and thought, Cool!

Again, I didn't know all of that when I saw the first ad. I was surprised at the intentional evocation of an antisocial mindset, acknowledged that it did play to the current zeitgeist, and was still repelled by it. Expecting social responsibility from advertisers is a sure path to heartbreak anyway.

This ad was a big part of when I started questioning whether married men were less likely to be recruited for terrorism because their family lives brought internal satisfaction. It was an old thought anyway; if we try and understand the terrifying acts of today in the same context that we understood September 11th, 2001, we will be missing a lot.

And yet, some of it does relate. The factors for those attackers were economic inequality, lack of opportunity for family, yes, but also for employment in general, and a readily available stream of anti-American propaganda.

Fast forward to 2017 in the United States, and economic inequality is bad. Opportunities are shrinking for affordable education; for work that is satisfying and allows you to live well; and there are voices on the internet, radio, and television constantly telling you how bad various groups are.

That does not create a good situation for anyone, but if you have been socialized that to be a real man you have to be in charge of someone - that you have to be a boss - and yet nothing you can do financially or intellectually or athletically is giving you that power, what is left but violence?

And if violence is the only way you know to get your voice heard, how easy is to get guns?

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