Barbara Lippert’s Critique: Burning Briefs

Finally, an advertiser has the guts to acknowledge a demographic desperately in need of liberation. It’s a crime how little attention this group gets in our culture, and how soul-crushing such exclusion must be for them. I speak, of course, of young males 18 to 24.

And just as you’re finding this bit of reverse schtick a bit labored (and not so funny), a similar problem exists with “Manthem,” the latest spot in the Crispin Porter + Bogusky Burger King oeuvre.

This time, there’s no King, no suburban families with giant seeded buns for hips, no oddly pale office dweebs—no big, buckin’ chickens, for that matter. Instead, the spot shows a band of hearty, young red-meat eaters taking to the streets, singing their man-roar version of the enduring 1972 Helen Reddy “I am Woman” song. Reversing the ditty is a funny, attention-getting idea. And some of the lyrics are clever.

But did I hear “I am engorgable”? That’s what I thought I heard, and nearly fell off my couch. (The word, it turns out, is “incorrigible.” I guess I’m used to hearing it with a New York accent: “in–cahrigible.”) Within the context of the rest of the lyrics, not to mention the flapping signs with phrases like “Eat the Meat,” I thought engorgable was possible.

The spot begins in a prissy nouvelle cuisine restaurant with a typical hipster walking out on his artfully presented piece of shrimp and heading across the street to BK.

How old is this joke? Well, let’s see, “Real Men Don’t Eat Quiche” (and quiche is mentioned in “Manthem”) was written in 1982. (Come to think of it, that’s 24 years ago, which predates most of this demo!)

Since then, we’ve lived through a head-spinning number of swings on the gender-watch pendulum. The women’s movement resulted in the feminization of culture, which was also blamed for the subsequent wussification of the American male and his supposed identity crisis, which then resulted in men yearning for the old distinctions, but also enjoying being newly sexually objectified (call them “himbos”). In the late ’90s and early 2000s, metrosexuality came along, which boils down to lots of pink drinks and back-waxing, for both sexes. “Manthem” feeds into the backlash against metrosexuality.

But that’s also hardly new: How long have those “Hungry-Man” ads been running? As long as The Man Show? Degree deodorant had an anti-metrosexual campaign, as did Levi’s with a series of Internet films inveighing against hair foil, yoga, mandals, etc.

The Texas Double Whopper ad draws a line in the sand between “man food” and “chick food.” But hasn’t every fast-food outlet selling comestibly incorrect artery-cloggers done something similarly extreme—metaphorically and literally—by lifting up the sausage and puttin’ down the broccoli? (Or putting Paris Hilton in a swimsuit to wash a car?)

Maureen Dowd is wrong: Men are necessary, and so are women. We need to (as Ari the agent on Entourage likes to say) hug it out, bitch. While there are funny moments in the spot (burning white briefs instead of bras—although a jock strap would be more apt), it’s kind of obvious and unoriginal. In fact, here’s how I see the gender pendulum at present: 20 years ago, men became the new women; now men are men, and with their raucous drinking and aggressive sexuality (see any MTV reality show or the new Tab spots), women are also men. Now that’s progress!

CP+B seems to be on a man-bender; it also recently released Miller Lite’s “Men of the Square Table” work. I love the look of the set: a scary, quasi-Silence of the Lambs, gladiatorial, senatorial elevated glass box. Plus, the setup is smart. Just as Boog and Boomer and Butkus, etc. populated the original “Tastes Great, Less Filling” spots, these spots introduce a new cast of characters for our bizarre, neoconservative times. They include some new B’s: Burt (Reynolds) and Bettis (Jerome), plus bull-riding champion Ty Murray, wrestler Triple H and world-class mountain climber Aron Ralston (the guy who cut off his arm with a pen knife to escape death—now that’s pretty manly).

The promo spots deftly alluded to The Da Vinci Code (“a rare glimpse into an ancient order of men who set the rules all men live by … ManLaw!”). The packaging of the campaign is great, but the content is a bit disappointing, and again, not terribly original. (I did laugh, against my better judgment, at the “you poke it, you own it” law, even as the one-armed climber ponders the poking notion while scratching his head with his stump.) Burt presides over the group, which includes the nonagenarian as scrivener of the Holy ManRule text (funny). That old Smokey is able to poke fun at his Cosmo boy pinup image is great, but watching him emote through his endlessly rehabbed face is just plain scary. Plus, some of the other non-actors seem to have a tough time delivering their lines. The genius of the old Miller Lite spots was in the way the characters were allowed to develop over the years, as continuing players in a favorite sitcom. These certainly have that potential—but thus far are a few man-days away from hilarity.

But let’s get back to “Manthem” and my hearing deficiencies. I thought another line was, “I will eat this meat till my Mini turns into an Audi.” Hey, I thought, the agency managed to emasculate its former client—but what’s so manly about an Audi? Then I realized the line is, “till my innie turns into an outie.” Who can keep up—I knew about Pilates, but who knew that innie belly buttons were the latest manathema?