The first thing that astonishes about Gillette’s effort to alienate an entire customer base in a single two-minute slickly produced virtue signal is the arrogance. The unblinking temerity of a brand believing it’s somehow its duty not merely to make an appeal for commercial inclusion, but rather to instruct millions of people on how to lead their lives. If the ideological vacuum left by the decline of Christianity in the West really is being filled with a rush of competing forces, then surely we can view Gillette’s ad as consumerism’s most blatant effort yet from the pulpit of modernity to claim the hearts and minds (and souls) of the lumpen masses.
Yes, it’s easy to be cynical, but perhaps in these uncertain times, without realizing it, what society is crying out for is an updating of the moral codes that underpin all human endeavor by retail sages who preside over multi-billion dollar enterprises. Because they must know a thing or two about how to lead a good and fulfilling life. Right? Enlightenment you can buy in the supermarket – amazing it’s taken humanity this long to come around to it.
But how to tell the guys down the gym? That’s what I worry about. Where I go it’s not so much toxic masculinity as fragrant. Fashionable women might increasingly say they find men ridiculous, but they don’t see the lengths men go to on their behalf in shared male locker rooms. The preening. The semi-naked staring and flexing into mirrors. The shameless using of communal handheld hairdryers to blow-dry gonads. Ridiculous, yes, but all of it a meticulous behind-the-scenes preparation for the all important mating game that goes on outside – the one in which the fairer sex holds all the decisive cards. Gillette, here of all places, we thought you were on our side. You’ve forsaken us because to you we’re all now bullies, harassers and would-be rapists? Thanks a bunch. We thought you really knew us and what we aspired to be.
Where will it stop, this handing of the great levers of our culture to people defined and motivated by nothing so much as their disdain for the unarguable truths of humankind? ‘Non-binary’, ‘cisgender’, ‘intersectional’, ‘normative’, ‘self-identify’ – suddenly like tangleweed these terms are strangling the life out of societies whose outlooks, particularly pertaining to gender, were hitherto based on the empirical evidence of decades of scientific study and centuries of human interaction. Gillette isn’t the first outwardly credible institution to bend the knee to this typically man-hating craziness – increasingly it’s happening everywhere, from business to academia – but it’s shameful nonetheless.
Is it a fear, in this era of social media, of being sentenced online for the crime of misogyny (no matter how unfounded or untrue) that drives this corporate behavior, or is it something altogether darker and harder to explain? One suspects that over the coming years, as those whose job it is to reflect our cultures back at us – through art, retail and politics – miss the mark by wider and still wider margins, we will have plenty of time to reflect on that question. Douglas Murray defined political correctness as ‘the gap between what people think and what they believe they are meant to think,’ and he’s exactly right. Gillette, if it doesn’t act quickly to rectify its mistake, could well find itself consumed entirely by that gap.
But perhaps what’s worst about the Gillette advert is its tiresomeness – it’s as patronizing as it is facile. Being tiresome is surely the worst thing a brand can be. Have Gillette’s bosses considered that, once it is done shining the the moral spotlight on the awfulness of men, people might start to wonder why it doesn’t focus instead, on, say, the polluting effect of its products, or on the conditions in which its workers labor to produce them? Consider, too, the salaries of the men and women who gave the ad the green light.
Is this ad the best a brand can get? No chance. Masculinity isn’t toxic. Woke advertising is. Go away, Gillette, and try again.