Vague language is all the rage.
Like most Americans, I am outraged!
And there is no shortage of things to be outraged about: white privilege, social justice warriors, identity politics, trigger warnings, virtue signaling, rape culture, and — most recently — toxic masculinity.
So why am I outraged about everything? Because I don’t know what the hell any of these things mean! And I am struggling to keep up with the times! I apologize in advance if I start typing in all caps.
Let’s start with the Gillette commercial since it is all the rage — both literally and figuratively. Their recent advertisement regarding toxic masculinity has about as many people up in arms as the day Nike — going against the popular wisdom of all 32 NFL owners — offered a contract to Colin Kaepernick.
After watching the Gillette advert, I didn’t have an immediate emotional reaction — and this really pissed me off. How am I supposed to keep up with the times — which seems to demand that I emotionally respond to each daily moral panic as quickly as possible— unless I am able to emote on the same level as my peers? I was outraged at my lack of outrage.
So then I went back to the drawing board. What exactly is toxic masculinity? On the surface, the term sounds like either 1) something you would find inside a 55-gallon drum during your tour of Rocky Flats, or 2) something that your Essential Oils dealer can easily cure with 10 mL of sandalwood. Considering the wide berth of that spectrum, it might be helpful for the message to be clarified.
But that is exactly what this Gillette joint accomplished. The commercial showcased behavior that men should wholesale avoid: bullying, sexual harassment, and mansplaining, especially when attempting to mansplain what constitutes mansplaining to my female colleagues during our Monday morning team meeting at the office. (Pro-tip: if more than 50 percent of your sentences start with “well, actually,” you’re that guy.)
Now that’s a platform that anybody can get behind, right? That is unless you’re a bully, a sexually harasser, and a mansplainer. If that’s the case, then you might consider a future in politics.
But the ensuing dialogue in response to the commercial was — for a lack of a better word — toxic. Some men felt like their manhood was being attacked, as if it was just a matter of time before all us dudes were going to be rounded up, marched into the streets, and systematically kicked in the groin by all of the women of the world—each time gleefully screaming “take that, patriarchy!”
Instinctively, my first thought was not very empathetic. Nothing says “manly” like a razor commercial hurting the feelers of every dude-bro and Chad of the world. (As Popehat hilariously tweeted, “I mean, it appears that Gillette isn’t a good product for sensitive skin after all.”)
But then, I paused and considering my own behavior. Don’t male chauvinists have a right to their feelings too? Isn’t mocking their emotions just another example of toxic masculinity? Can women ever fully understand what it feels like to have a commercial make us men feel so inferior?
Gah! I don’t know! Please somebody tell me what to think on the matter before my pointy little head explodes.
Fortunately, I have a lot of smart people in my life — much smarter than me. A friend on Facebook summed up the issue in a way that the “boys will be boys” generation, who are hopelessly lost in the #MeToo era, can appreciate: “Toxic masculinity is Biff from Back to the Future. Positive masculinity is Marty McFly at the end of the trilogy.”
Where we’re going, we not only don’t need roads, but also “Hello! McFly!” masculinity to boot. Or heels. Or sensible pumps. Whatever.
The reoccurring culture war always seems to boil down to the subjectivity of language. When I say something, there is no guarantee that it means the same thing to you. For example, when I say “capitalism has lifted more people out of poverty than any other socioeconomic force in the history of humanity,” you might have heard me say “I am a Koch-funded shill that wants Walmart to run the world.”
(Full disclosure: While I have cashed checks from the Reason Foundation, a Koch-funded operation, my commission has amounted to a couple thousand dollars spread out over three years. The Koch Brothers don’t exactly keep the pilot light burning on my stove.)
When communicating our politics to one another, we all seem to be horribly lost in translation even though we are speaking the same language. (Exceptions to this common language include “covfefe” and “hamberders.”)
And maybe that’s the point: vacuous language forces us to converse as we grapple with meaning and attempt to gain a better understanding while we try to make things better.
Or maybe a more accurate — and cynical — point is one of corporate marketing. Nothing buoys a branding campaign more than millions of people rage-tweeting your name for weeks at a time.
Either way, I am opposed toxic masculinity, as well as white privilege, social justice warriors, and all of that other cultural mumbo-jumbo. I am opposed to them not so much for what they represent (well, actually… I do need to tone down my own mansplaining), but rather for their failure to articulate their principles in concise manner that my narrow mental bandwidth can fully comprehend.
I am unabashedly anti-mumbo-jumbo. Now — if you’ll excuse me — I need to prepare for battle against the pro-mumbo-jumbo crowd who are undoubtedly trolling the comments section with all kinds of outrageous gibberish.