In their article, The Male Consumer as Loser, Michael Messner and Jeffrey Montez de Oca try to explain the recent rash of advertising featuring mediocre men. These ads, and their film and television counterparts, skip the hunky-manly-hunk-dude in favor of less hunky men: young, heterosexual, usually white males who are short on cash, low on maturity, and have a penchant for irresponsibility. They dominate Judd Apatow “bromances” (e.g., Knocked Up), frequent TV sitcoms (e.g., The Drew Carey Show), and are used to sell everything from Mike’s Hard Lemonade to Twix candy bars. These are not studs. They are moderately good-looking, but small, skinny, chubby, or otherwise uncool compared to real hunks.
On the face of it, the mediocre man is a self-deprecating character who undermines idealized masculinity by being likeable despite being decidedly non-ideal. Messner and Montez de Oca, however, show that the mediocre man, nevertheless, reproduces notions of men’s superiority over women. The women in these narratives tend to be of two types: “sexy fantasy women” and “real women.” The men bond over the unattainability of the sexy fantasy women and the burden of maintaining relationships with real women, their girlfriends, wives, and mothers. The “real women’ are usually portrayed as bitches, harpies, and nags, while the “sexy fantasy women,” upon interaction, often turn out to be just as bad.
The viewers are meant to identify with the mediocre men, who revel in each others’ company, happy to be dudes free from the clutches of the women in their lives, even if they aren’t sleeping with supermodels. The mediocre man may be kind of a loser, indeed, but he can thank God he’s a man. P.S.: Women suck.
Dmitriy T.M. sent in an example of the “mediocre man” narrative, the trailer from the movie, Hall Pass:
(Probably in the end they realize they love their naggy wives, but whatevs.)Lisa Wade, PhD is an Associate Professor at Tulane University. She is the author of American Hookup, a book about college sexual culture; a textbook about gender; and a forthcoming introductory text: Terrible Magnificent Sociology. You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.