(The following excerpt comes from Dr. Montreaux’s lecture at the Conference of Theatrics at Black Hills University in Spearfish, SD, December 9th, 2012…)
Domination and Coercion: The Exalted Hyperagressive in Beer Advertising
(“). . . .I’d like, at this moment, now, time permitting, ladies and gentlemen, colleagues, to look to a rather, if I may say so, concrete (that is to say, glaring, blatant) example of this reactionary hyper masculinity, this exclusionary hyperagressivism. This is a very recent commercial for Miller Light: observe:
Of course, a few very obvious and, indeed, rather garrulous (thematically at least) things leap out from the projection screen, screaming loudly and with a vivid and intense energy: namely, this is, perhaps, one of the most brutal commercials ever aired on broadcast television.
We first see a man covered in some oddly weighty and viscous liquid, drenched and dazed, slumped and quivering; it pours down his face, over his eyes, in large, globular, and goopy clumps. Suddenly, a snarling mouth, glared teeth clenched tightly, mouthing some slurred, monosyllabic message which, given the rigidity of its lateral pterygoids, we interpret, on some subconscious ‘fight or flight’ (as it were) level of our instinctual psyches, as a threat. Just as rapidly, a white cloth is twisted, gnarled and squeezed by two hands, this same liquid wringed from it in a deluge; dragged across the dazed man’s mouth, his lips puckering as the cloth whips off from them. Now a bottle of Miller Lite is thrust into his face, the gruffs and grunts turning now to shouting- we still can’t be sure if it is in anger, praise, encouragement, what?
The protagonist appears, now, after this ferocious shouting, to gain some sort of resolve- again, the cinematography remains vague as to the action that is to be taken, or, perhaps, has already been taken: are we in media res or the epilogue of some horrible and violent confrontation? Is this man lauded or punished?
But of course, we mustn’t forget that we are viewing a beer commercial, and as our field of view expands with each cut we realize that we are in that realm of hyper-hyperbole that so dominates common linguistic expression: he is eating chicken wings- very spicy chicken wings.
He pivots in his chair, having before leaned away from his task, now facing toward his task, a single wing on a plate smeared with sauce that is, somehow, given the ambiguity of the preceding diegesis, seemingly, not a sauce; slightly too red, slightly too viscous yet again, and slightly too much of it pooled at one portion of the plate. But no matter: in three gnashing bites it is finished, the partially chewed wing strewn atop a pile of consumed wings, an abnormally vast amount of wings stacked nearly 30 cm into the air, the man fallen back in his chair, a strange dark stain having appearing, from nowhere, on the front of his wife-beater. The bar tender and his smarmy and foreign chef exchange a glance of mute submission to the young man who has succeeded in his arduous and violent task; bar keep tosses a shirt to the man in that noble and understated way of ‘the old pro’, emotionless and stoic; the chef, his blank, reptilian, calculative expression never changing, simply heads back into the kitchen. The shouting mass of twenty-somethings is now clearly elated, propping up their friend, smiling, laughing, carousing: victoria pertinet ad virum justum.
Now, that is to say actually, just a moment ago, we have sat through what is, I’m sure, even without my synopsis of its diegesis, a tedious commercial- of what significance ought we attach to this?
Let us begin, at the outset, for our ease, by recognizing that this commercial consists of two entirely separate events: there is the commercial proper with its conventional and troublesome foibles and that violent and coercive and threatening section comprised of the first ten seconds of the commercial.
The later commercial proper is ostensibly a rather ‘straight-forward’ oeuvre of “Guy” Schlock. However, troubling implications arise from this section. There must be something said for so much genuine admiration given to something as banal as eating a large number of very spicy chicken wings; this is not an ironic commercial- nothing in the diegesis would suggest as much. The young man is physically exhausted, his friends sincerely ecstatic that he has eaten a large number of very spicy chicken wings; this is a feat of strength, a display of prowess, the 21st century Western “Guy” performing at a high level in his sphere of domination; a sacred rite of fraternity as the commercial’s unseen narrator intones, “battles aren’t just fought by the man in the ring; they’re shared by the men in his corner”. We ought not laugh at this; we ought admire it. This is the Hero of the 21st century, eating every spicy chicken wing with aplomb, flanked by his comrades, a circle of trust and support and emotion displayed as it ought to be: amidst action and battle and carnage.
However, I’m sure all of you, my esteemed colleagues, gathered in this auditorium, noticed immediately how hollow this ode to the ultra-masculine appears despite its flashy cinematography. On a basic level, one oughtn’t compare the consumption of very spicy chicken wings to a boxing match or any real conflict. Furthermore, the bar is empty, a few passive spectators merely glancing disinterestedly at the group of twenty-somethings sitting alone, no real audience but one another and some esoteric aura or essence of their masculinity, their prize a cheap t-shirt that reads “Demon Wings”. Indeed, when we reexamine the plate, perhaps, as I am doing now, pause and count, we see that there aren’t quite so many wings: a dozen at best.
It would seem then that the thesis we ought to gleam from this oeuvre is a seemingly savvy acknowledgement that the ritualized male gorilla-fest (to borrow a colloquialism, if I may so indulge) is-indeed has always been a silly endeavor, adding as corollary it is the bonding and camaraderie that is important; especially, perhaps, in this new era of supposed challenge to phallocentrism: an oddly nuanced maneuvering of perilous psychological terrain?
No: for we mustn’t forget about that beginning portion of the commercial, churlish, aggressive, threatening. It is divorced from its purported content, a series of rapid shots of distress, exhaustion, and intimidation: it is inchoate rage.
But rage against what exactly? Given the pseudo-savvy conclusion of the commercial, I cannot help but believe that this is rage against the very masiculine hollowness the second part of the ad admits to, a ferocious and bitter energy that motivates the camaraderie which proceeds from it; a destructive fury which is, we must assume, at the basis of Western ‘Guy’ life itself.
Further: this fury is directed at the very Hero who reclaims the value of ‘Guy’-ness. The hitherto unidentifiable people flanking him are screaming at him, growling and hissing, sopping him in the mouth, gnashing and wringing that oddly viscous fluid from a towel onto his face. They snarl, bully, and coerce him to finish the task he has undertaken, a task they have identified as akin to battle. They are instigators and drivers. Indeed, even when the Hero is triumphant, it is these other men who prop him up, draping the Demon Wings tee over his chest: the Hero has no agency whatever, the victory isn’t his. Rather, it is the domination and coercion that is exalted, the entire spectacle more a sacrifice than fraternal bonding. They have subdued the Hero, blunted him, reduced him to meat with a mouth, utterly objectified him for their own sadist enjoyment; they are themselves the very neutering force they supposedly are rallying against by undertaking these feats of strength.
So the weltanschauung promoted by this Miller Lite Beer Adverstisement is not the slightly intriguing one that sits in front of our cognition but a sinister one lurking beneath our immediate attention. It applauds intimidation and coercion, lauding not “the man in the ring” but those who force him to be there, compelling him to each new round despite his swollen lips, black eyes, scuffs and cuts, and lack of consciousness. It extols the fundamental betrayal of that which it claims to uphold. And it is this pernicious and vicious attitude that is permeating, with distressing speed and intensity, the landscape of contemporary light beer advertisements.
Thank you. . .”
By Dr. Herbert Montreaux