Yes, the man is too sexy for his shirt. But that’s not why I like him. Well, it’s not the only reason I like him. It’s not even the most important reason. After all, most people selling something on TV are too sexy for their shirts. That’s the whole point.
No, I like the Old Spice guy because he knows he’s full of it—or, more accurately, whoever writes his lines knows that the whole idea of trying to be the perfect man is ridiculous. But that doesn’t mean you don’t still try, just to entice your woman, right? However, if your attempts at being the perfect man in order to woo your woman include a tongue-in-cheek awareness of the inherent ludicrousness of seduction, and of gender roles, and of marketing—you’ve just triumphed over all three. AND you still get the woman. Plus, you’ll just automatically be too sexy for your shirt. Guar-an-teed. (If you haven’t seen this guy, or just feel like seeing him again, here’s an example.
Ah, how I love the Old Spice guy, and the people who write his lines. Sesame Street even spoofed him. That’s how culturally beautiful the whole thing is.
Now, if we could just get a commercial for women that does the same thing.
There are a couple that do a nice role reversal—one comes to mind from several years ago, where a male construction worker is being ogled by working women. And there’s the more recent jeans commercial where the woman is tugging on the guy’s belt loop. But neither of these has what I’m looking for—a situation where the woman, while trying to be everything her man wants, is aware of the inherent ludicrousness of the enterprise. I want to see a woman who, while glorying in the desire of men, knows how silly it all is, when you get right down to it. Especially when you’re using all this desire to sell perfume.
Instead of a commercial that includes a self-aware, tongue-in-cheek, gorgeous woman, we have as a counterpoint to the new Old Spice commercials the old Enjoli commercials. Remember? “I can bring home the bacon, fry it up in a pan, and never ever let you forget you‘re a man.” This commercial, on the surface, seems to be about a liberated woman: Look, she claims, I can do it all! But who is she doing it all for? Herself? No, she is doing it all for her man, and quite earnestly. She can work, but she will still cook, and, of course, satisfy her man in the bedroom. This commercial is, to a large degree, about men—calming their fears, satisfying their desires. Women are here to be free, but only insofar as it pleases you, these commercials say. This commercial serves as a lullaby to the male ego, which patronizes both men and women. (Here’s one of the Enjoli commercials, from 1980.)
While these lullabies undoubtedly serve their purpose—calming our unconscious fears in order to make us spend money—they do so at a cost far beyond one that can be measured in currency. We are all diminished by allowing ourselves to be reduced to the sum of our fears—If I make more money than my man, or hold a position of societal power greater than his, will he still want me? If I’m not strong enough, smart enough, rich enough, will my woman leave me?
The Old Spice guy laughs at these questions—and I’d love to see his female counterpart laughing too. To that end, I have an idea for a new perfume commercial, starring a woman who is great at parody, beautiful, smart as a whip (Anyone know Tina Fey’s agent?)….bringing home the bacon and frying it up in a pan while wearing a push-up bra from Victoria’s Secret, cause she’s such an angel. She could be listening to some Lady Gaga in the background as she simultaneously vacuums, solves a complicated career issue on her cell phone, and helps her kid with homework. This commercial would have hints of the old Enjoli commercial, but would mock it with the same good humor that the new Old Spice guy uses. And in the process of watching it, we might just realize how silly the whole thing is.