The StupidMan in advertising is something not particularly talked about, even though we talk about stupidity elsewhere in entertainment-land (America’s Next Top Model, Beverly Hills Chihuahua). I remember being first subjected to witnessing such adverts and thinking to myself, well isn’t it nice that the men are being needled a bit here in the mainstream. Men have dominated society for so long, maybe these adverts are progressive. This was a long time ago, and now-days I don’t think it’s quite as progressive. Like most everything I see in our culture, it strikes me as dangerous in many ways.
Issue 1: What counts as stupid becomes unachievable for actual people. Most people do not act like the hyperbolic characters seen in these advertisements. Everyone sees StupidMan-in-Advertisement and says to him/herself: “wow, that guy is dumb.” The second step is self-reflection: “I am like him. I too am a male. But though I might resemble some of his traits, they clearly are beyond my stupidity level.” In many ways, this is a cathartic experience. The viewer is rewarded by experiencing the caricature. The third step: what counts as “absurd” or “stupid” or “ignorant” gets pushed further out the more ridiculous the portrayal. We no longer recognize what is stupid. This process leads to an uncritical appraisal of the myriad of ways in which your average man (person) is in fact an idiot. What’s more, such a man can survive in our society because there are businesses (and women) out there who are ready to make his life better. Can’t crack an egg [metaphorically speaking] — that’s ok! We can sell you something that gets you past this “hurdle,” makes your ignorant life possible, and never requires that you confront your own stupidity!
Issue 2: StupidMan needs rescuing by SmartWoman. A mental twist of this scenario might result in the idea that this scenario represents something progressive. But more often than not, StupidMan is portrayed as stupid in an area of life traditionally associated with the feminine. StupidMan needs SmartWoman to figure out how to crack an egg or run the laundry. Or, even if SmartWoman is absent from the commercial, as in some amusing commercials by a burger chain which features a man attempting to crack an egg and failing and thus giving up and getting a hamburger, the inability of SmartMan to be functional in this domain is a clear reference to the gender dynamics of the domain and serves to reinforce them.
Issue 3: StupidMan is most often white. The issues surrounding this are less clear to me, although white people are in more adverts than non-whites, so that may do most of the explaining in this instance. Racial-ethnic sensitivities, so deeply felt by those who do advertising (casting according to viewer preferences = greater profits), is likely the other part.
Ultimately, this phenomenon seems part of a system that is devoted to making people more dumb, less critically oriented towards their own lifestyles, attitudes, and knowledge, and to reinforce gender roles. The sophistication of this structure is only discernible when one realizes how buried such effects are from the viewer as s/he is in the moment of viewing. While some men may see the burger commercial and think, “wow, that guy needs a woman,” most will likely think “he needs a burger,” and not reflect on the fact that his “need of burger” is predicated on the fact that “he can’t cook” because he is a man.