Shaving ads have always been political, says Phil Hilton. This is just the latest incarnation of a time-honoured tradition.
Razor company Gillette has released a highly charged #MeToo-inspired US TV ad calling for men to not only not escape toxic masculinity but also to educate their children about new ways to be male.
Although only released hours ago, men in their droves have complained and there is talk of boycotts. On YouTube, where the ad has been watched over 2.6 million times, it has received 230,000 ‘dislikes’ – compared to just 29,000 ‘likes’.
Attacks on the ad say its message has nothing to do with shaving and is little more than cynical, corporate virtue-signalling.
But coming at this as a man of mature years with a teenage son, I see the ad as an entirely logical progression for a brand like Gillette. TV advertising for shaving products and fragrances have always presented ideal, masculine identities – muscular, self-assured, happy and popular.
As a boy, the act of shaving was in itself iconic, something grown men did and that was unavailable to me until my body had crossed over from childhood to full manhood.
Shaving involved blades, complicated kit, and at that time, the Seventies, loads of blood – an intoxicating mix that could only have been enhanced with the addition of dinosaurs.
The advertising for razors and aftershave was not so much a product prompt as a clue as to what I was supposed to be growing into: a broad-shouldered, laughing, sporty type who demanded the best. These men gripped me as a young bookish, over-thinker. I hated them almost as much as I wanted to become them.
Shaving ads have always been political, always ideological. No one was selling razors with David Bowie or Alan Bennett: they were selling white jocks with chests you could build social housing projects on. So seeing a dominant brand like Gillette spinning its own history and attacking a set of behaviours that range from micro-misery hassles to life-threatening violence feels perfect.
And just to remind everyone, the effects of toxic masculinity are not trivial. Every day, somewhere, men are facing off with fists, knives and guns, finding themselves killed over the most trivial disputes.
They do this because they are trying to live up to a set of masculine values – codes of bravery and loyalty men have been taught for centuries. They are, effectively, dying to be real men. Add to this the misery of sexual harassment that men have imposed on women and you have to welcome every opportunity to promote change.
So if big brands can do something to alter these behaviours while selling men grooming products, then I’m delighted. They have always been offering social and political media; this is just the latest incarnation.
But I’m still hoping they can introduce dinosaurs.
Main image: Getty