Fabrizio del Wrongo writes:
As I mentioned a few weeks ago, I’m currently enjoying a media blackout phase. Consequently, I’m trying to stay away from the television. Still, I sometimes have a nature show or something running in the background as I surf the web or shuffle disappointedly through profiles on OkCupid. Oh, I don’t really pay attention to it (I don’t really pay attention to OkCupid either). I experience what’s running mostly as audio-visual wallpaper; it’s about as consequential as that shit the stewardesses warn you about as you flip through “SkyMall” and wait for your damn flight to stop being delayed.
Wallpaper. That adequately describes the culture, doesn’t it? It’s wallpaperish. The internet, porn (or is “porn” just another word for the internet?), satellite radio, those pixely screens on the back of airplane seats, the full galaxy of television channels, smart phones — I sometimes feel as though popular culture has been reduced to white noise. A banal omnipresence is its most salient feature. But it’s also its raison d’être. Because we need its constant reinforcement, don’t we? We need it so we don’t stop paying attention to what’s important, like political parties or the latest warning from the Surgeon General. Because if we did that then the whole goddamn matrix might collapse in on itself, like a depressurized beer ball. And then who would fund global warming research?
Anyway, what I mostly take note of are the ads. You can learn a lot about things by watching the ads. Or at least you can if, like me, you’ve honed your cynicism to a fine, adamantine point. (In “The Matrix,” Neo needed a red pill and some kung fu to see through the bullshit. All I needed was alotta red wine and a few months of sexless wall climbing.) Below is one of my recent favorites. It’s an ad for sportscrap, but it’s also the most cutting critique of contemporary maleness I’ve ever come across.
Have a look for yourself:
Where to begin? Perhaps with the notion that professional ballplayers are suitable heroes for grown men? I mean, enjoying sports is one thing; dressing up as ballplayers like little kids in the ’50s dressed up as Davy Crockett is quite another. It seems to me that any adult, semen-producing, hairy nutsack-sporting man should be embarrassed to be seen rolling around in some other man’s essence — which is basically what’s going on when a guy swathes himself in sportscrap, isn’t it? But noooope: guys all around the country wear this stuff on the regular. To me, they’re about as appalling as the guy in our ad (we’ll call him “fanboy”), who’s shown starting his day, dejectedly going to his closet, and then compliantly smothering himself in a giant helping of David Ortiz. It’s clear that Ortiz has the upper hand in this relationship. When stroked on the shoulder, he gives our boy a sweet, reacharound-ready smile.
And let’s not even pretend this spot doesn’t contain some pretty explicit sexual overtones. After the closet bit, the next thing we see is fanboy’s back as he walks down the street. Ortiz is straddling him from behind, the big man’s ass subtly joggling up and down as his groin pushes repeatedly into fanboy’s tailbone. When the camera turns around to show the couple from the front, Ortiz’s face is wearing a blissed-out, Buddha-like expression of satiation. I guess that’s why they call him Big Papi.
But the highlight (or nadir?) occurs when fanboy stops to get a hotdog, then nonchalantly wanks a skimpy load of mustard onto his hero’s muscly forearm. Ortiz just rolls his eyes, like women sometimes do when you can’t contain yourself and blow off half-cocked. This has happened before. It’s annoying, sure, but Big Papi’s not going to make a big deal out of it. He doesn’t even complain that it’s not Grey Poupon.
When did it become acceptable to always wear sportscrap anyway? The late ’80s? Whenever it was, it seems to have kicked into overdrive in recent years. I know guys who wear nothing but sportscrap — everything they own features a whooshy, market-tested team logo. What’s going on there? Can we chalk it up to a general trend of cultural infantilization? Or maybe to a withering of outlets devoted to traditional male concerns and pursuits? Perhaps contemporary dudes are so bereft of pride, comradery, and standing that identifying with a giant Latino ballplayer is the best they can do to feel macho, virulent, purposeful. Or maybe, in their rush to reassure themselves of their manliness, they’ve become confused as to exactly whose balls they should be playing with. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, of course.