The XX Factor

Could Male Unemployment Explain the Dodge Charger Super Bowl Ad?

The 44 th Super Bowl was a fairy tale for the New Orleans Saints-and a bad dream for the women who made up one-third of the television audience. Over at The Sexist, Amanda Hess has graciously compiled all of the most egregious instances of sexism, racism, and homophobia broadcast during the commercial breaks last night. None of them are funny. Most of them are downright offensive. But all of them, Hess points out, were approved by CBS.

Here it’s important to out CBS as complicit in all of the advertorial programming shown during the Super Bowl-most of which was ineffectual at best, dangerous at worst. And as Dana Goldstein reported last week , CBS made particular overtures to Focus on the Family, offering the same “guidance” it administers to all wannabe Super Bowl advertisers on what would be “appropriate” for their anti-choice advertisement starring football star Tim Tebow. But by allowing the barrage of misogynistic ( ‘milkaholic’ babies fighting over a howling ‘wolf’ ?) ads to blanket the year’s most-watched evening of television, CBS has done both short- and long-term damage to women’s well-being.

Based on some informal friend-polling, I’m not alone in thinking that these ads were some of the worst cases of lady-bashing in Super Bowl history. But if Mad Men has left any practical lesson, it’s that the glamourous cadre of Madison Avenue hacks are also pop psychologists plugged into the elusive id of America, knowing what we want and how we want it before we do. What’s more, companies dropping upwards of $1 million on airtime surely focus-grouped each spot within an inch of its life.

So someone in the midlife-male group that’s the target demographic for Bud Light,, or Doritos liked these ads-thrilled to them, even. What could possibly justify the attraction? Economist Brad DeLong flags a graph that may hold some explanatory power.

Men ages 25-54 are experiencing their lowest level of employment in the United States ever . Despite the recession, women are doing compratively well: Unemployment for men of all ages is at 10.8 percent, while only 8.4 percent for women. ( Black men are at 17.6 percent .) And the precipitous drop since the beginning of the recession means that there are fewer men who can fulfill the hetero-normative cultural diktat to be “master and commander” of their domestic lives. Reihan Salam’s essay on ” the death of macho ” laid out the emotional terrain:

[A]s men get hit harder in the he-cession, they’re even less well-equipped to deal with the profound and long-term psychic costs of job loss. According to the American Journal of Public Health , “the financial strain of unemployment” has significantly more consequences on the mental health of men than on that of women. In other words, be prepared for a lot of unhappy guys out there-with all the negative consequences that implies.

In other words: These men may not be carrying lip balm , but they are out of work and mad as hell.

The facts on the ground are not funny-families are doing more with less, less with less, and pride is being swallowed with every unanswered resume sent out. Sublimating these anxieties into that quietly violent Dodge Charger ad is therefore manipulative in the extreme (and pointless: If my theory holds, brand-new, $30,000 cars should be out of reach for this audience). Whether the commercials interpret the present or predict the future, this ad trend-like selling your wife for tires-should be roundly condemned.

Photograph of man by Photodisc/Getty Images.