In modern society today, it is apparent that fundamental social change is affecting the definitions of all areas of cultural, political and economical practices. This social evolution is partly because the ideas of new popular messages presented by media and social media. For example, while dominant masculinity is still practiced and common in our culture, advertisements today have offered a variety of different paradigms that men may identify with that can create an open ended definition of masculinity hegemony. “Hegemony refers to the establishment of a culture- a certain set of ideas, practices, and values- as common sense. Hegemonic ideas are ones that people consent to.” (Carah and Louw p. 16) Advertisements have the power to work in favor of maintaining masculine hegemony and the dominant ideology, but also have the power to challenge and reconstruct it.
An iconic example of hegemony is the Old Spice campaign. Old Spice is responsible for reinforcing hegemonic masculine ideals with their advertisements. Through television advertising, the company has used catch phrases such as “smell like a man, man” and “the man your man could smell like.” Isaiah Amir Mustafa is well known for being the main character in a series of Old Spice commercials. Mustafa is an attractive, tall, muscular man who embodies the hegemonic masculinity that is idealized in contemporary western culture. He is dressed in a classy way that makes it safe to assume that he is part of the upper class. Also, when the scene takes place in a house, the house includes nice furniture that would appear in a mansion-like home. Throughout the campaign Mustafa is seen engaging in masculine outdoor activities such as walking on a log in the water and swan diving off of a cliff, he even appears on a yacht in one of the commercials. Another example from the commercial Questions is, “Do you want a man who smells like he can build you a gourmet cake, in the dream kitchen he built you, with his own hands?” This quote exemplifies Old Spice’s efforts to produce hegemonic masculinity by presenting a heterosexual male engaging in activities that make him a man, saying that if viewers want to be like him and smell like a man, they should buy Old Spice, Timber body wash.
On the other hand, advertisements also have the ability to challenge dominant hegemonic masculine ideals. In a more current advertising example, L’Oreal Paris has launched a campaign “Men Expert” which includes skin care products for men. The line includes daily face moisturizing products such as the “Hydra Energetic” which is an anti-fatigue moisturizer and the “Viva Lift 5” that includes anti-aging actives. Television advertisements inform men that to take the perfect profile picture “ask the expert” and use their products. Unlike the Old Spice advertisements, L’Oreal uses men with fashionable hair and clothing styles. These men are not overly muscular like Mustafa, but are well groomed and attractive. This campaign is targeting heterosexual men and is encouraging them to take care of themselves by using their line of beauty products, challenging hegemonic masculine ideals. Due to new fashion trends, hairstyles, and beauty care products represented in advertising for male audiences, metrosexuality gained a popular identity.
Metrosexual men can be defined as someone who performs extensive beauty routines, spends money on fashionable clothes, and keeps up to date with the newest hairstyles which has challenged prior hegemonic masculine ideals. Men who prefer to take care of themselves in this way can sometimes be confused with being homosexual, but that is not always the case. In author Helen Shugart’s article Managing Masculinities: The Metrosexual Moment she states, “Specifically, these changes pose a significant challenge to a powerful, historical discourse of normative masculinity, distinguished largely by performances and practices of strength, power, control, and domination, and further predicated on highly continent distinctions between masculinity and femininity” (Shugart p. 280). Metrosexuality has challenged normative masculinity and masculine gender identity because this trend encouraged heterosexual males to accessorize and groom themselves in a way that can make them seem “feminine.”
Shugart also mentions that, “Commercial masculinity is most definitely not a trend; it continues to increase steadily phenomenally, even in pervasiveness and significance” (Shugart p.282). The term masculinity is constantly re-inventing itself. As we think about how masculinity has changed since Shugart published her article in 2008, we have seen society adopt a normative idea that men no longer need to be excessively tough and rugged to be considered a man. We have seen men begin to take more interest in their appearances and spend an increasing amount of time and money on clothes, skin and hair products, even taking the time to get facials or pedicures. Advertisements such as the L’Oreal “Men Expert” are not uncommon nowadays and as a society we are begin to adapt and accept metrosexuality ideals which is threatening the dominant view of hegemonic masculinity.
In today’s modern society, advertisements have helped contribute to a shift in dominant masculinity and are effective because they challenge us to rethink our original preconceived notions of masculinity; therefore, encouraging us to rethink our present ideas. With the media and social media continuing to grow and constantly present in our everyday life, media images help construct new views of our world and shape our deepest values. “The spontaneous consent given by the great masses of the population to the general direction imposed on social life by the dominant fundamental group; this consent is historically caused by the prestige (and consequent confidence) which the dominant group enjoys because of its position and function in the world of production” (Gramsci p. 89) We are easily persuaded by popular culture to conform to dominant values, norms, and practices.
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