Boys Will Be … Oafs

Hip hop artist Eminem watches as the San Antonio Spurs take on the Detroit Pistons in Game three of the 2005 NBA Finals at The Palace of Auburn Hills on June 14, 2005 in Auburn Hills, Michigan. Getty Images/Bill Pugliano

This commentary was written by CBSNews.com's Dick Meyer.

It's not my fault that I've been watching a lot of television lately. The Bears made me do it.

Since the Chicago Bears were so good this year, I had to watch an unusual amount of football. Since they made the playoffs, I had to watch football through January. And when football stopped, the Winter Olympics started and I needed to tune in.

Here's what I learned: Madison Avenue thinks American young men are moronic oafs.

The jury is out on whether the Satan's pitchmen are right, but one thing is for sure: pop culture is in the oaf-creation business. Big time, Dude.

Sensitive and knowing people have been indoctrinated about the evils perpetuated onto young women by craven mass media for decades. The sociological victims of female-stalking marketing are famous -- fashion victims, anorexics, shopaholics, botox addicts, Lolitas and, of course, low self-esteem sufferers.

The core curriculum at my kids' school teaches how to recognize and criticize unworthy stereotypes, imagery and messages in marketing and pop culture, which I applaud. Interestingly, this is an issue where supposed liberals agree with supposed conservatives: fundamentalist Christians hate exploitive pop culture as much as do politically correct seculars.

But what about the boys?

In the middle of my sports-watching marathon, I read a terrific op-ed piece in The Washington Post by Deborah Roffman, a Baltimore educator who wrote "Sex and Sensibility: The Thinking Parent's Guide to Talking Sense and About Sex."

Roffman argues that the picture of boys and young men as slacker/swiller/sloth/slimeball/slobberer that popular culture peddles is every bit as toxic as its female counterpart.
"Consider, though, what 'boys will be boys' thinking implies about the true nature of boys. I often ask groups of adults or students what inherent traits or characteristics the expression implies. The answers typically are astonishingly negative: Boys are messy, immature and selfish; hormone-driven and insensitive; irresponsible and trouble-making; rebellious, rude, aggressive and disrespectful -- even violent, predatory and animal-like.

Is this a window into what we truly think, at least unconsciously, of the male of the species? Is it possible that deep inside we really think they simply can't be expected to do any better than this? How else to explain the very low bar we continue to set for their behavior, particularly when it comes to girls, women and sex?"
A fine example of the genre is the Bud Light ad campaign starring "Ted Ferguson-Bud Light Daredevil." Ted straps on a crash helmet and attempts drunk-defying stunts, like seeing how long he can last without a Bud Light after work on a Friday. He makes it about 15 minutes before collapsing. In another witty adventure, he dares himself to go shopping with his girlfriend when there's football on TV. He soon faints and his buddies revive him with Bud Light, a La-Z-Boy and a television set.

The striking thing is that Ted is a pudgy, baby-faced kid who doesn't look to be even close to the legal drinking age.

Volkswagen's "My Fast" series is another, equally imbecilic campaign. In it, meatball guys in GTIs are ruled by their "Fast" -- a video game icon-like toy that talks inside their heads. In one of them, the boy won't roll up his window when his girlfriend asks him to. "Sometimes my Fast doesn't get along with my girlfriend," the ad concludes. This is supposed to be something that sells cars.

I have some sympathy for ad makers. They're trying to be funny and I'll excuse most things if they're really funny. But as an author and ad executive named Marian Salzman recently told The Washington Post, "The only people they (advertisers) are still allowed to offend these days are straight white men with a full head of hair." Comedy is hard.

  • John Esterbrook

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