Buttheaditis - The Demoralization of the American Male

Portraying white men as stupid is a full-time industry

Posted Jan 25, 2010

Let me describe four television ads you might see on any evening - perhaps one following the other - for example during the football playoffs.

A man feverishly scratches a lottery ticket in the hopes of winning an unwinnable prize, while a baby with an adult consciousness sitting next to him mocks the man's expectation that he will win - and his stupidity for this expectation. The man loses and expresses his stupid disappointment as the baby makes a stupid face. (E-trade)

A business executive has hired Kyle to provide geographical information - the boy corrects the executive's reference to Czechoslovakia - informing the man it's the Czech Republic. Then the exec tells another guy that without the kid he would never have learned of the new country -"Buttheadistan." (FedEx)

A white-haired, clueless executive interacts with a lizard who continuously mocks the stupid preferences and decisions of the executive. How does this sell the product (GEICO)? Presumably people imagine the reptile is running GEICO - who knows who really manages the company - which is actually a good PR move.

A woman tells her friend during a kids' party how she got all the party supplies at Walmart - including the clown costume daddy is wearing as he approaches the happy children. The father jumps on a sharp toy and lets out a horrifying wail, scaring the children off. The mother is calm - she knows her husband is an idiot.

What do these ads all have in common? They show white, adult males as imbeciles. They couldn't depict other races this way; they couldn't show stupid, befuddled, self-deluded women. Only stupid white men. Why not? They are so stupid - everyone knows that.

What effect do these ads have? Don't say they have no effect. Ads are made by smart communicators (okay, many of them white men) to get you to think and behave in a certain way. Their impact is to give license to people - including their children - to regard and treat adult males as imbeciles.

What our society needs is to think about the men in its midst - and in most cases, running it - as idiots? Wall Street, sports management, and the government (the Senate is 79 percent white males) are mismanaged? Families are well-served by considering fathers irrelevant - and worse?

Why would a society set out systematically to undercut its leadership and family structure? If your answer is - "because the stupid men deserve it" - well, then, you're happy. And it IS beneficial to broaden our leadership to include women and other races.

But it IS NOT helpful for us to become a rudderless land without role models. It is demoralizing. And it reflects no more creativity or social consciousness for American advertising and media to do this than it would be for them to depict women or black men as stupid, obtuse, and disposable.