Everything wrong with that Gillette ad
A scene-by-scene breakdown
By now, everyone and their dog has heard of, or seen, the Gillette “We Believe” ad. The ad was directed by Australian director Kim Gehrig and approved for release by Gary Coombe, President of P&G’s Global Grooming business, who says:
By holding each other accountable, eliminating excuses for bad behaviour, and supporting a new generation working toward their personal ‘best,’ we can help create positive change that will matter for years to come.
Sure, Gary, we believe you.
If you haven’t seen the ad, here it is…
There’s been a lot of commentary on the ad, so I thought I’d break it down, scene-by-scene and mansplain what I think is actually going on. The ethnicity of the actors is noted to see if there is any racial bias.
Let’s get started…
We see five anxious or worried-looking men in close up looking at themselves in the mirror overlaid with voices taken from news reports “Bullying, the #metoo movement against sexual harassment, toxic masculinity.”
So immediately I’m wondering: why we are hearing about #metoo in a ad for razor blades? What gives Gillette the moral authority to comment on these issues? What next? Should Tampax lecture women that they should stop bitching about each others’ looks? (Don’t tell me it doesn’t happen).
Also, why am I hearing the words “toxic masculinity” in an ad for razor blades? There is no such thing as toxic masculinity. There are toxic people, of all genders (See what I did there?).
Many men feel that the words “toxic masculinity” themselves are toxic — implying that simply being a man is toxic. Yet, here we have a company using that slur against its own customers.
The Gillette logo: Narrator: “Is this is the best a man can get?”
Gillette seems to have conflated “Is this the best (product) a man can get?” with “Is this the best (behaviour) a man can get?”
The last thing I want in the morning is an activist shave. When I’m shaving I’m not thinking: Is this razor is going to improve my behaviour today? I’m not thinking: Hold on, I might mansplain today. I’d better shave with Gillette. I’m actually thinking: Is this razor dull or sharp? Am I going to cut my face? Will I be able to get those hairs under my nose?
These are the deep and meaningful questions that men puzzle about while shaving. There is not a single man on the Earth who has ever thought that his razor will make him a better person.
No-one should be expected to pass a morality test to use a product. Imagine a purity test for other products. “No sir! This deodorant is only for men who reject the patriarchy.”
A gang of kids chasing a boy break through a projection screen that’s showing a Gillette ad that has a woman kissing a man.
Ah yes, ye olden days, when a woman could enjoy kissing a man’s smoothly-shaven face, and a man could aspire to having his smoothly-shaven face kissed by a beautiful woman. Not any more! Forget extra blades and Lubrastrip. Now we must deal with issues!
Narrator: “Is it?
I’m sure you’re going to tell me it’s not. But, I’m not sure it’s going to sell you more razors.
Text message “Freak,” leading into a mother consoling a boy as the other boys run through their living room. More text messages overlaid: “Sissy!”, “You’re such a loser”, “Everybody hates you.”
Is this implying that online bullying is a male-only activity? In fact, 32 percent of boys say they have bullied someone online, with 22 percent of girls saying they have done so (Fact check FTW).
Narrator: “We can’t hide from it.”
You’re right, we can’t even have a moment’s peace as political correctness infects our grooming rituals.
Newscaster voice: “Sexual harassment has been taking over Hollywood”.
Ah, Hollywood. That’s relevant to us all.
A fake 1940s cartoon with four men wolf-whistling.
Why is this manufactured cartoon image included? In the ’40s (the past), there was a lot of wolf-whistling. In the ‘40s people wore hats all the time, smoked a lot, and were racists too. Times change. Wolf-whistling was a sign of appreciation, even used by women. But who wolf-whistles now? Some builders might still do it, but they’re dicks, and everyone knows that, so who really cares?
Image of white man, apparently in a TV sitcom, pinching black female maid‘s behind.
This confuses me. The director has created a sitcom scene that shows a man pinching a black maid’s behind. It’s not from a real TV show. It’s presumably set in the past, because that would not happen today. So, it’s not relevant to today.
And why is the woman a maid, and why is she black? Is this to invoke feelings of slavery?
Narrator: “It’s been going on far too long.”
What’s been going on for too long? Wolf-whistling and/or dodgy sitcoms?
A snippet of a fake rap video. Shows a black guy making gang signs and a white woman smiling.
I’m not sure what the issue is, because there’s nothing untoward shown in the clip. It’s well known that rap videos, and rap music, have a reputation for misogynistic lyrics and big-bootied ladies, but if you’re going to target that as unacceptable behaviour, then you need to actually show it.
Three bored white kids watching the video in the living room of a tidy family home. One switches channels with the remote.
This part is really unbelievable because kids don’t watch TV.
Perhaps it means that kids are being subjected to these images of fake old sitcoms, fake wolf-whistling cartoons, and inoffensive rap videos. And that’s turning them into little man-monsters? Who knows?
Back to the fake sitcom. Wide shot shows live audience. Male sitcom character makes clawing motion behind the black maid, who is, once again, unawares. Male sitcom character: “Whose the Daddy?”
What is this about? Surely there are real examples of harassment that can be used without having to make a fake sitcom, with a fake character, saying fake things?
Live sitcom audience (all white) laughs.
Ah, it is about slavery! The black woman is being oppressed by her white master, who makes animal sounds, while white people laugh. Bad whitey.
Narrator: “We can’t laugh it off.”
It really doesn’t look like a good show anyway. I don’t know why these people are laughing.
Office scene with a male white boss, five white male executives and one white female executive. Boss pats female exec on the shoulder: “What I actually think she’s trying to say…”.
I’m going to mansplain about mansplaining, so watch out snowflakes…
Ahem…This scene depicts the classic mansplain, when a man condescendingly explains something to a woman who already knows the topic. However, the modern definition of mansplaining has been extended to include any explanation by a man to a woman even if they don’t know the topic.
Y’see in most cases, us men are trying to be helpful. We spend a lot of time learning about odd stuff, like tanks, and screwdrivers, and computers and it’s good for us to have a chance to share our knowledge. Oh, I’m sorry, I didn’t realise you had an engineering degree too. That’s cool. Let’s talk about that in more detail…
The female executive looks sad.
Why is she a victim? If this lady is an executive — at the top of the table— she is not going to just sit there looking sheepish when her boss acts like an ass. She’s going to say quite clearly that she knows what she’s doing, just as any other executive around the table would. Or she shouldn’t be in there.
Narrator: “Making the same old excuses.”
Two young boys fighting at a barbecue. Suburban white dad: “Boys will be boys”. Suburban black dad: “Boys will be boys”. A whole line of men barbecuing “Boys will be boys, will be boys…”
At this point we don’t know if the kids are wrestling or playfighting. Nothing wrong with either. Boys will be boys. It’s not an excuse.
And if you don’t want boys to be boys, what do you want them to be?
Narrator: “But something finally changed”
Really? Tell me more?
Fake TV newscaster, “Allegations regarding sexual assault and harassment…” Screen shrinks and becomes part of 12 fake newscasts all talking over each other. Indistinct voiceovers: “She says.” “A lie.”
Perhaps it’s churlish to point out that the #metoo allegations are allegations, and that — so far — there have not been any prosecutions. Don’t get me wrong, any misconduct, assaults, and beyond should be treated appropriately. But are we to base a whole ad, asking men to behave better, on #metoo allegations?
Now, the sitcom audience is quiet, but happy.
Narrator: “And there will be no going back.”
That’s the way time works, I guess.
Reprise of the first scene. Three men look in the mirror. They seem happy.
Introducing smooth-faced “Enlightened Man”. He be woke!
Narrator: “Because we believe in the best in men.”
No you don’t. You believe, Gary, President of Global Grooming, in what will sell you the most razors. You watched Colin Kaepernick boost Nike’s sales and you’ve cynically decided that controversy sells.
Terry Crews Clip, “Men meed to hold other men accountable.”
I didn’t know who Mr Crews is before this clip. Here’s his Wikipedia page. It seems he was groped by a movie executive. Not acceptable behaviour.
My main issue with this clip is that it is not the responsibility of men to hold other men accountable. Read on for why…
Two girls standing next to a pool at an outdoor party. Off camera, a man says “Smile, sweetie.” The camera pulls out and we see two men taking a video of the girls. A black man says “Come on!” to stop the men filming. One of the girls appears to be wondering who the black guy is.
What is this scene trying to portray? The girls appear to be at a pool party, that is being filmed. Some White Knight (actually a black guy, so we’ll call him Black Knight) comes over and gets in the way of the whole thing. Can’t the women speak for themselves? They need a man to do it?
My reaction to that would be: “Hey, bro. Let these women speak for themselves.” And if they said they didn’t want to be filmed I’d move on.
That’s what I mean when I say that men don’t need to be accountable for other men. We can be accountable for ourselves all of the time, and perhaps sometimes for others.
And responsibility doesn’t just rest with men. Woman have to be accountable too. They have the right to decline mens’ advances (however well-meaning), and not be harassed for that decision. Not to have their agency removed by men taking those decisions for them. As it stands we don’t know if the girls actually wanted to be filmed. Perhaps Black Knight lost them their big break.
Narrator: “To say the right thing.”
A pretty women is walking down the street. A white man takes an interest in her.
Narrator: “To act the right way.”
The white man’s black friend grabs him before he goes after the girl, “Bro, not cool, not cool.”
So here we have a Dude who wants to try his luck with a women he sees in the street, but another Black Knight steps in to ‘protect’ the woman. Now, I’m not the kind of guy who chats up women in the street, but it happens, and it’s not a crime.
The guy seems quite handsome. Perhaps he might have a chance. What happens if the woman likes him and they fall in love and have a great relationship? Where does it end? Does Black Knight step up when Dude wants to chat with women at a bar? When he’s on a date? He’s always there to protect the ladies. What a creep.
So here we have two examples of women being ‘saved’ by men. Yet we have no input from the women. Why are woman so helpless in this ad?
And why are both the perps white, and the womens’ saviours black?
The gang is chasing the kid in the street.
Narrator: “Some already are.”
This is the most egregious part of the ad. Some means that most men aren’t (acting the right way). This is a cynical and vile slur against all the men who do care about their relationships with women.
Insulting the majority of men to sell them overpriced razor blades.
A white man is walking his kid in the same street. He looks back to see the kids running. In close up the gang is closing on the kid in front.
Narrator: “In ways big…”
Phone video of black man encouraging two rival black kids to shake hands.
Let’s just not mention the hundreds of fight videos on social media.
Phone video of black man encouraging his daughter with the words, “I am strong.”
Nice video. But, do fathers really need to be reminded by a razor manufacturer to encourage their children?
Narrator: “…and small.”
Back to the suburban dads at the BBQ. One of the dads runs towards the two boys who were fighting on the grass, as one of the kids appears to be in distress.
The man in the street pushes through the a crowd. His son is being pulled along by him.
Narrator: “But some is not enough.”
Some. The enlightened few will show you manly brutes the error of your ways! Bask in our glorious condescension, for you are close to the animals, and we are close to God!
The street kids have caught the kid they were chasing and are hitting him. The man (now without his son) wades in to break it up.
BBQ Dad breaks up the two kids fighting on the grass. “Son, that’s not how we treat each other.”
First of all, what father wouldn’t intervene if rough play got out of hand? You don’t have to be SuperDad to deal with the basics. Kids fight. It’s no big deal. No father needs an ad to tell them that.
And who says “Son, that’s not how we treat each other?” It’s so false. Perhaps it’s something a woman might say. A woman director perhaps?
We simply shout at them, “Stop that!” Because we are men. It doesn’t traumatise them.
Street dad has rescued the kid from the gang. He asks him: “OK?”
Ah, Street Dad’s son looks in wonder at Street Dad!
Again, what adult wouldn’t try to break up a bunch of kids beating on another kid? Who needs a PSA to tell them that?
Narrator: Because the boys watching today…”
Four close up shots of kids faces. First is black, second is Asian, third is white.
Narrator: “Will be the men of tomorrow.”
Well, gee thanks for that insight, Mr Razor seller. Can I go back to shaving my face now?
Overlay text over kids face “The Best a Man Can Get.”
This idiocy is what happens when marketing people overstretch the meaning of their straplines.
Fades to text only screen: “It’s only by challenging ourselves to do more. That we can get closer to our best.”
In the final analysis, in the ad, men are apparently being held to account for:
- Wolf-whistling — Very few men do this
- TV sitcoms — Not sure how this point is relevant to all men
- Online bullying — which women do almost as much as men
- Rap videos — yet in the video there’s no issue, as the woman appears to be happy enough
- Letting kids playfight — a normal part of growing up
- #metoo and Hollywood sexual abuse — not relevant to ordinary people
- Mansplaining at executive level — unlikely
- Taking videos of girls at a party — the scene is presented in the video is not harassment
- Chatting up women in the street — the scene presented in the video is not harassment
- Not helping kids who are being beaten on the street? — What man would not do this?
So, what is the bad behaviour men have to account for? The clue is in “Boys will be boys”. In the absence of actual harm it’s clear that simply being a man is bad.
One final thought: why does the ad have such significant racial bias?
- 43 males exhibit “undesirable” behaviour: 42 white & 1 black
- 7 males exhibit “desirable” behaviour: 5 black & 2 white
- A black woman is harassed by a white man, while a white crowd laughs
Could it be that white men are seen as a problem? I’ll leave you to decide.
Gillette inserted political activism into an area of life where it was not needed, wanted, or necessary. To do so they created a giant straw man argument by presenting a series of false and unrealistic narratives, filling them with stereotypes, outdated situations, wishful thinking, unusual racial bias, and strange allusions to slavery. And while they were at it they disempowered women and insulted the majority of men.
All to sell you more razor blades.
PS: If you’re thinking of switching to Harry’s, don’t. They’re just as bad.
PPS: Harry’s have pulled their anti-men Twitter and Facebook International Mens’ Day posts (Google search link), presumably in hope of getting new customers from the @Gillette boycott. So much for the moral high ground!