Thursday, September 11, 2008

The Male gaze

4Ps B&M's Monojit Lahiri attempts a peep into male-zone to investigate the accuracy behind the projections and portrayals of this creature in today’s ad space

Hey c’mon guys, everybody – and that includes screaming, fire-eating libbers and their docile, quaint, demented toothless aunts – has opinions about how women are portrayed in today’s advertising, right? What about ‘MEN’ … what’s their scene? Is the poor sucker also taken to the cleaners by a militant mob or the portrayals, generally perceived as realistic, honest and true-to-life?

Ad person Moon Moon Dhar believes the latter and for good reasons. “There is a sea change when you compare today’s guys with those of the last generation. The perspectives, mindsets and attitudes of my father, husband [and hopefully] my son are worlds apart! I think this has been captured, with reasonable accuracy, by today’s ad people. There actually exists avatars of the man-boy, spoilt brat, goof-nerd-dumbo, caring type, Mr. Responsible, the sexy hunk, the stylish dude… the range and bandwidth is there reflecting the gradual evolution of the male. The Dharmendra-type has been replaced by the sensitive, caring sort … and it shows.” Journo Sapna Khanna agrees. She believes that stereotypes cannot – be it Bollywood or Advertising – disappear or be wished away overnight. After all it is tried – and – tested seduction in the public space designed to single-mindedly trigger the purchase intent and therefore needs all the artillery [read: masala!] it can get. “However, within that framework, most of the recent male-centric ads appear spot-on. The era of the MCP’s and overbearing louts are over. Today’s males are sensitive, caring and involved with family matters. They take pride in sharing space in the kitchen, PTA’s and children’s functions at school. The boundaries are blurring.” She cites her own example where her boyfriend of six years is “today my husband of 16 years!”

Gorgeous theatre activist Lushin Dubey, however, begs to differ. She believes that today’s advertising sexily, glamorously, stylishly – with all the techno gizmos available at their disposal – pirouettes, preens and postures but doesn’t even begin to portray the real thing. And what is this real thing, Maam? “The simple fact that today’s men are schizos! They are struggling to find their space, define themselves, discover where they are coming from and where they want to go … in short, figure out who they really are or want to be!” She believes that today’s guys are trapped between yesterday and tomorrow and don’t quite know how to react. The advertising, hence, is superficial because if one were to scratch the glam surface, all the smart poses and pretentious, confused emoting would disappear revealing the real laadla, spoilt, mama’s boy. “This genre of advertising appears to concentrate more on entertainment than truth! Agreed not all of it is hogwash but its like Bollywood – heavy sugarcoating of the message!”
Ogilvy’s very own dude Sumanto Chattopadhaya, plays it cool n’ easy and prefers to look at the big picture. The Executive Creative Director [South Asia] believes that today there is truly a wide representation of the portrayal of the Indian male in ads, “sometimes a confection of the Bollywood-Hollywood stereotype with a tiny sprinkling of reality, other times how these creatures actually wish to see themselves … overall interesting observations of human behaviour.” He cites the example of a car ad in which the boss perpetually humiliating his young subordinate receives a huge ego blow, when the young man drives off in a fancy car! Then there is the cool college dude – a stereotype that keeps popping up in a plethora of ads from snack food, cold drinks, deo to jeans. The adolescent fancy (sometimes boy gets the girl and sometime goofs it) punctured or reinforced, appears to hold big-time appeal. Then of course there is the family man responsible for the well being of his family, although women are stepping into his turf with great speed and efficiency. Lastly there is the man-child who – when it comes to his health – is dependent on his wife. Remember the Saffola ad?

Everything considered, most intelligent, educated and informed ad-watchers – without baggage or agenda – will agree that today’s male-driven ads definitely enjoy a stronger connect with truth, fact and reality than before. The carefully nurtured myth of the male, perpetually in control, in charge and driving everything that matters [with the women, cooking, knitting or child-rearing in the shadows] is clearly over. In fact, recent surveys have indicated that men detest being stereotyped as “shallow himbos wanting to go solo and jump from one girl to another.” The survey reveals some startling, seminal facts … 77% look for girls who are potential wives. 75% believe in soul-mates and admit crying when dumped by their girl. 69% promise they would never cheat. 57% enjoy cooking at home and [most importantly] 56% believed that being a good father or husband made them feel manly!

Wow! We say Amen to that…