Fionola Meredith: A smug advert for razor blades will not teach growing boys what it means to become a man
Gillette should ditch the lectures and stick to making shaving products, writes Fionola Meredith
Genuine question: how do men learn what it means to be a man? From their fathers, brothers, teachers? From their peers, first at school and later at work? Becoming a man is no longer a straightforward acceptance of inherited power and privilege. It's a complicated, difficult, contested process. Nobody, not least men themselves, are sure what being a man even means any more.
Fortunately, we now have razor manufacturers Gillette to tell men who they are, or rather who they should be, and how best to conduct themselves.
In the past, razor adverts generally involved a steamy bathroom mirror and a bloke pulling weird faces to get at all the awkward bits of stubble, and maybe an admiring woman stroking the bloke's face afterwards to marvel at how delightfully smooth he is.
For years, Gillette had the same old boring slogan: "The best a man can get." Yeah, yeah, whatever. I mean, it's a bit of metal stuck to a plastic stick. Who cares?
But now, in the post-MeToo world, Gillette has unleashed a new advertising campaign, or rather a global manifesto for social change.
This advert no longer celebrates adoring women and satin-jawed men. Instead, the company has decided to deliver an insufferably pious, pompous and sentimental lecture to men everywhere.
Turns out they have been doing this whole man thing wrong, and they are going to have to get better at it.
"Is this the best a man can get?" intones the sorrowful voiceover in a flashback sequence to the old Gillette marketing imagery.
Presumably they wanted to get the confessional, self-flagellating 'we were all responsible' message in right at the start - yes, even Gillette has sinned.
Then it's straight on to the 'men behaving badly' agenda.
A crowd of roaring, rampaging male teens charge through somebody's living room, kicking over a side-table as they go. Such outrageous violence.
Then we see a row of dads, each in front of their own smoking barbecues - what, are burgers evil too? Oh yes, it's Veganuary, of course they are - and the dads are chanting "boys will be boys" like witless zombies as a pair of young lads wrestle on the grass.
Following on from the MeToo revelations, the advert announces, "There will be no going back." Why? "Because we believe in the best in men." Oh, I see. That's the crisis in masculinity sorted then.
Men must hold each other accountable, according to the advert. They must stop other blokes from doing monstrously unacceptable things.
Cut back to the row of barbecuing men, and suddenly a porky dad in shorts breaks from the line and rushes to stop the two tussling boys. "That's not how we treat each other, okay?" he explains to the lads.
My hero! Ooh, bet he's got a really smooth chin.
And so the advert chunters smugly on until the end, when male viewers are presented with the saccharine platitude: "It's only by challenging ourselves to do more that we can get closer to our best."
Gee, thanks for that, Gillette. Watch the patriarchy crumble.
There's no doubt that the advert has succeeded in capturing gigantic global attention. At the time of writing, it has already been watched 11 million times on YouTube.
But a lot of male customers are angry and disappointed. Some are even calling for a boycott of Gillette.
Who knows, maybe one of them will kick over a side-table in disgust, and then another man will take him aside and remonstrate with him.
Here's the thing: nobody likes being lectured, patronised and told to clean up their act by a pack of self-appointed moral arbiters.
And it never works. It never changes behaviour. The Democrats tried that tactic in America, and they got Trump for president.
It is especially absurd, and offensive, to be talked down to by an ostensibly 'woke' manufacturer of razors.
Most Gillette users will be ordinary, decent men who would never dream of feeling somebody up on the street or cornering a female colleague in the office.
Cynics like me might say that Gillette is actually exploiting the legitimate goals of the MeToo movement in order to flog its wares and increase its profits.
Isn't it just the flipside of those sexist Irish crisp adverts from a few years ago, where nubile young women ran around rugby pitches in their scanties? The same goal is in view: to spark as big a reaction as possible.
Gillette should stick to what it does best - figuring out the most effective way for men to shave.
Anything else is none of their business.