Monday, February 8, 2010

Men, Put Your Pants On

Larry Pratt began the trend with his famous take-down of hip-hop fashion. "Pants on the Ground" became a hit, even something of an anthem, because it was a welcome dose of ridicule that woke people up to a silly trend.

Last night, the much-anticipated Super Bowl ads continued the concept. As Peter Hartlaub explained in the San Francisco Chronicle, one of the most striking trends in these ads was the image of men without pants. Link here.

The Dockers ad begins with a merry band of men, clad only in their underwear, frolicking in a meadow. The tag line was: "Men, put on the pants."

To which Ann Althouse commented on her blog that she had been saying this all along. The image of adult men in shorts, by they Jockey or otherwise, offended Althouse, and should have offended a lot more people. It was unseemly and unmanly. Link here.

Althouse had originally commented on the tendency of adult, professional men to wear shorts to work, and she was simply saying that men would do better, by themselves and their professional stature, if they started wearing pants. More manly attire denotes seriousness and self-respect.

Dockers took the occasion of the Super Bowl to ridicule the new male tendency to metrosexuality. Men who are in touch with their feminine sides, who have let their creativity take over their psyches, who are emotionally labile... these men are fully deserving of mockery.

If they are not man enough to wear the pants what are they doing watching the Super Bowl?

And then there was the ad for Career Builders, also linked by Althouse. In it casual Friday is taken to its most absurd extreme; everyone is walking around the office in their underwear.

The ad features men, but includes a couple of women. No one, beginning with the boss, looks professional or authoritative in their underclothes. They all look like fools, perhaps not with their pants on the ground, but as though they had sacrificed their dignity to a bad idea.

Professional behavior, seriousness about career, requires us all to dress the part. You cannot be serious unless you look serious.

As a commentary on the American business ethos, the Career Builder ad ridicules the new casual value system that repudiated the old Protestant work ethic, and that has contributed, I would say, to our current economic crisis.

Perhaps the most telling ad was by KGB, a company that touts itself as the antidote to the search engine. Its idea, not entirely original, is that it will give you one answer to one question, not a flurry of links that may or may not be what you are looking for.

This was the Sumo wrestling ad. Link here. It showed two pasty American men, clad only in what appeared to be colored undershorts, facing off against a dread Japanese Sumo wrestler.

Their question was the ad's tag line: "What's 'I surrender' in Japanese?" The man who asks KGB gets the right answer; the man who does not ask KGB gets an answer that incites the Sumo wrestler.

The ad's images end with the Sumo wrestler sitting on the latter man's face. I do not even want to guess what that means.

Place the ad in context. America is involved in economic competition with Asia, perhaps less so with Japan than with China, but still involved in trans-Pacific competition.

When it comes to our competitive spirit,it seems that our only real question is how to surrender. Apparently, we have convinced ourselves that we cannot win. We do not see ourselves as giants, but have diminished ourselves by wearing shorts. Now, the "larger" men of Asia have gained advantages on us.

An astonishing image, considering that most Asian men are shorter than Western men.

I am even more astonished that this ad should run during the Super Bowl. You do not have to know a lot about Sumo wrestling to know that its American equivalent is what happens in the trenches, on the line of scrimmage, during a football game.

In professional football the men who play in said trenches are giants, often over 6 feet tall, weighing in at well over 300 lbs. Moreover they are often agile and fast for their size.

The ad seems to be saying that we no longer see ourselves as fearsome competitors, but as weak-kneed surrender monkeys.

This should not be too surprising. In 2006 the American public voted in a Democratic Congress that did everything in its power to surrender in a war. The Democrats spent 2007 and 2008 trying to pass resolution after resolution defunding the Iraq war or withdrawing the troops.

Their only real question seemed to have been: How do we say "I surrender" in Arabic?

I do not like to leave you on such a sour note. Under current conditions you have to find good news where you can, and today's cheer comes from John Thain, formerly of Goldman Sachs, and formerly CEO of Merrill Lynch.

Thain's news is that he just got a new job. He will be Chairman and CEO of the CIT Group.

Last April I posted about John Thain, to the effect that I admired his habit, while out of work, of still getting up in the morning and putting on a suit and tie to walk down the hall to the home office in his apartment. Link here.

Note well, that I was incited to offer my comments by the fact that Bess Levin, someone whom I admire enormously, had noted Thain's habit and tried to make a mockery of it.

Now, it seems, we are being called upon to make a mockery of those men who do not have the gumption to dress like men.

As I was trying to say, John Thain understood that looking for a job was a job, and that you cannot be doing a job if you are walking around in your underwear.

The moral of the story is that not all American men are walking around looking like fools with their pants on the ground.

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