The Lie of That Gillette Ad


We live in an era in which everything is so politicized that a razor company makes a political statement of its commercials and it’s fodder for heated cultural commentary for a week.

Gillette’s tag line, most people will know, is “the best a man can get,” and the commercial turns that around into an insult:

“Is this the best a man can get? Is it?” a voiceover says in the ad. “We can’t hide from it, it’s been going on far too long. We can’t laugh it off, making the same old excuses. But something finally changed. And there will be no going back. Because we…We believe in the best in men. To say the right thing. To act the right way. Some already are, in ways big and small. But some is not enough. Because the boys watching today will be the men of tomorrow.”

Here’s the thing that’s insulting.  It’s BS.  The whole thing is a lie.  It isn’t just “some men” who behave well.  Contrary to the commercial, men don’t stand around and watch boys beat each other up.  They let boys be boys until it gets out of hand, then they jump in.

The commercial also understates the complexity and risk of some of the activities it states are obvious.  In one scene, a kid is being chased down a city street by a gang of bullies.  The Good Man runs across the street with his young son in town and intervenes.  The bullies simply dissipate the moment he steps forward, which is not an outcome on which anybody should count in real life.

But more to the point, none of the supposed “best in men” activity is new.  Men’s being caring and (yes, I’ll say it) chivalrous is not an indication that the #MeToo movement has changed the world.  Being a man is not something different.  The mainstream culture has simply spent some decades setting up this strawman about men, and now it’s knocking it down.

This pretension is telling:

“We expected debate. Actually a discussion is necessary. If we don’t discuss and don’t talk about it, I don’t think real change will happen,” Pankaj Bhalla, Gillette’s North America brand director, told CNN Business.

They aren’t asking for change.  They’re simply reasserting what most of us have always understood masculinity to be as if it’s been reinvented and handed back to us by our moral superiors, who are part of the same cultural movement that has been eroding masculinity.

I’ve often noted something in response to school shootings and scenes like the representation of one in The Basketball Diaries.  I was a black-trench-coat loser, and my big fantasy was never to massacre the other kids.  It was to have the chance to protect and save my classmates, and thereby prove myself.  To the extent the attitude young men used to have has faded, you did that, mainstream progressives.  Don’t now turn around and behave as if the false image of men you created is the invader from whom you’re going to protect the world.

Real men will see exactly what you’re doing.

  • ShannonEntropy

    You are missing an even bigger point about that ad, Justin

    …. it repeatedly shows WHITE MEN being sexist pigs and being “corrected” by oh-so-noble minority men.

    But ANY guy who isn’t a mangina soy boy Bernie bro / Hill shill is gonna toss any Gillette products toot sweet.

    I’m glad I started with and am going to stick with my Schick Quattro®×600.jpg

    • Justin Katz

      Oh, I saw that. The essay was already longer than I’d planned, though, and the story is a little more complex. In the ad, whenever it’s a man correcting another man, the more-upright one is darker. But white men in the ad do break up a couple fights. So, I think your point is dead on, but I didn’t want to spend the sentences to dig into it.

  • Rhett Hardwick

    First, let’s understand that women purchase 80% of “home products”, they are probably Gillette’s biggest customers, not men. For myself, now it is Schick. Perhaps I will go for “designer stubble”.

    To see “how we were brought up” I recommend a few early morning reruns on broadcast TV. See how Ricky Ricardo is treated by Lucy. How many men get a pie in the face from their wives. In general husbands are hit, slapped, humiliated and made fools of. “Father knows best” may be an exception, I don’t really spend a lot of time with those shows.

    At the very dawn of my memory are the “Friday Night Fights”, which my father regularly watched. They were brought to us by “Gillette Blue Blades”. Things do change. In the 50’s – 60’s Gillette brought us pugilists, now they bring us “pajama boys”.

    I did notice that many of the “good guys”, and none of the “bad guys”, where “men of color”. That simply made me think the whole thing was a “construct”.