the most interesting men in the world

He wouldn’t be afraid to show his feminine side, if he had one.

His mother has a tattoo that reads “son”

At museums, he’s allowed to touch the art

He is the most interesting man in the world!

We have 3 campaigns that feature a certain kind of man.  I refer to the most interesting man in the world.  Sorry, I mean of course, the most interesting man in the world!

This Dos Equis ad.  

The Old Spice ad featuring Bruce Campbell.  

The more recent Old Spice ad.  

And most recently, the DQ ad in which a guy says “I’m not just playing a guitar, I’m playing a guitar that sounds like dolphins.”  

The men in these ads appear to have somethings in common.  They suffer from overweening self regard and total self possession.  These are the people for whom the term “supercilious” was invented.

We have noticed hyperbolic males here before.  Charlie and Barnie, characters in Two and a Half Men and How I Met Your Mother, respectively, as played by Charlie Sheen and Neil Patrick Harris, respectively, are self-regarding males.  But what marks them as males is not just the fact that they are self self aggrandizing, but a still deeper cynicism.  

The DosEquis,OldSpice,DQ man is much too vain to entertain cynicism. Cynicism requires a knowledge of the world outside yourself.  DEOSDQ man does not know about the world outside himself.  

So where is this guy from, why are we using him, and why is he, in the Old Spice case, so spectacularly successful as a cultural artifact?

The good news is that our culture used to produce these males, on screen and in the world, without a hint of ridicule.  James Bond and other spies were all about “touching the art,” that is to say, claiming special privileges that came to them because of their special status. (License to kill!)  

And this is what make these guys funny.  We are not laughing with them, we are laughing at them.  But there are lots of ridiculous artifacts that can be retrieved from the backwash of our culture.  

Why this guy now?

29 thoughts on “the most interesting men in the world”

  1. Is it really any different than the commercials in the 70s that showed a guy driving his sports car down the Pacific Coast Highway, with a beautiful woman next to him (or waiting for him), and the voiceover asks questions that begin, “what kind of man…” By the time they got to the end of the story on those commercials, it was always about motor oil or coffee or something totally unimportant.

    I suspect, that these ads (minus the DQ ad which feels like a knockoff to me) are a knee jerk reaction to metrosexualism and the ideas inherent in that world view. In essence, by having a bit of a backlash, they stand in enough opposition to other paradigms set and gain notice.

    To borrow an idea from Mark Earls, it’s all about being like others in a specific group isn’t it?

  2. Marty, thanks, it does feel different to those 70s to the extent that these spots are openly mocking on the male, taking full advantage of a 90s irony, so that they both “mean” this male and repudiate him. Progress?

    1. I see what you mean but at the same time think that these spots might be an attempt to do the same thing via humor. They still hold up an ideal. Be like me. Women will adore you, men will want to be you. Maybe they ring a little hollow because they’re poor copies of the real thing.

      I think they are definitely mocking the idea of the ideal male to get us to notice. But as a man, I find them to be laughing at men a lot less than beer commercials that seem to say we’re all total idiots.

      1. Marty, wait, are you saying we are not all idiots. I thought beer advertising had established that truth beyond controversy or the risk of contradiction! Thanks, Grant

  3. “We are not laughing with them, we are laughing at them.”

    I kind of feel like this way of telling us the Bond-type man story is, at this point in time, making us (young males) want to be “the perfect man” again. Albeit with a little accent of self-irony, but still making us go do fitness, be/talk smart, be funny, social etc., maybe a bit of Maxim culture. Could it be?

  4. Grant – I’ve always thought these ads were hysterical, but now you raise
    a new thought – could it be that there are people out there in the
    viewing audience who are NOT “laughing at them”? This month’s Utne is
    dedicated to the ebb and flow of narcissism in our culture. Perhaps the
    men in these ads may still be role models to some.

  5. The pas-de-deux between feelings of superiority and feelings of inferiority has become increasingly complex over the course of the decades. At a time when young men are under great pressure and yielding dominance in so many areas, a dose of the old savoir faire is a soothing balm. Reminds me a bit of Ralph Kramden dressing up in his Raccoon Lodge cap and prancing around in front of an incredulous Alice, at the exact moment when the post-war woman was just beginning to change the calculus of the American family. These guys are certainly hipper to the joke than Ralph was, which makes a difference, but there is a tinge of desperation to it all, like the pathos of the whole Tiger Blood/#Winning thing.

  6. In the ads, the men are supercilious, but they are over-the-top versions of characters who are much more positive, who evince sprezzatura, competence, and self-containment. The ads allow us to acknowledge simultaneously that we enjoy glamorous icons of masculinity like James Bond, that we’d like to be them or be with them, but that we’re wised-up enough to realize that a) those icons are fantasies b) if such people did exist in real life, they’d be much less appealing.

    1. Virginia, thanks, yes, it feels like a both/and strategy which allows us to bring together things that our culture insisted were mutually exclusive. Thanks! Grant

  7. Are these ultra-confident men a reaction to the Judd Apatow oevre where schlubs like Seth Rogen and Jonah Hill or dweebs like Steve Carrell were seen as the leading male figure in the mid-2000s? And didn’t Apatow create the proto-DEOSDQ guy with Ron Burgundy? The supreme confidence and swagger of The Man Your Man Could Smell Like appealed to both men and women who seemingly saw Rogen and said, “Really? That’s the best we can do?”

    The classic Bond wouldn’t work as an answer to Rogen because it’s not believable when played straight, a la Pierce Brosnan. But DEOSDQ is played with a wink, so everyone can acknowledge the absurdity while still seeing it as aspirational compared to Rogen.

    1. Rick, this is really good and insists on seeing this guy in the context of recently Apatowian developments. Excellent, Thanks. Grant

  8. I always kind of saw The Most Interesting Man in the World campaign — which I think is awesome — as influenced by the whole Chuck Norris meme (http://www.chucknorrisfacts.com/). It’s better, but kind a way to both mock and honor manliness.

    Mostly, though, I was was … interested … to see a _beer_ company taking that approach — maybe it’s still laughing at guys, but not with the usual juvenile humor.

    Dairy Queen’s just jumping on the bandwagon, just being absurd to get attention.

    1. Bram, great points, all, especially about the Chuck Norris thing, which raises the question what is it about Chuck Norris that is working so well. Thanks. Grant

      1. The Chuck Norris meme is interesting. Normally I would say, “how do you make a cartoon out of a cartoon?” but this has worked. The joke is genius in that it has fun with Norris in a way that doesn’t exactly *make* fun of him. So people who think Chuck is a joke can have a laugh, but those that love Norris can revel in his uber-awesomeness. It really is a brilliant piece of cultural ju-jitsu.

        1. One of the things about the Chuck Norris thing, as I understand, is it’s really kind of open source, right? Everybody gets to take a shot at the joke.

          But we digress.

  9. Why this guy now? Perhaps because it also comes on the back of the decline of many of the ‘celebrity male role models’ that have been constructed to play a similar role for brands in recent times (Nike’s Write the Future Debacle and Woods are a couple of more recent examples).

    1. dhoy, this is a great point, perhaps we believe we have in Norris a star completely impervious to difficulty (well, everything really). Sorry to take so longer getting you comment in place. I am on the road. Best, Grant

  10. The original Dos Equis ads where the actor just looked into the camera and gave advice while seated between two lovelies struck me as braver than the later ones that spoof his masculinity. Those first ads walked right up to the line of “are they kidding?” because they were done straight and the advice wasn’t absurd and was delivered wittily.

    The booze people are also onto this new, more-mature masculinity thing–I think it’s Ketel One and maybe another vodka that have campaigns focused on “when men were men” and “some men know how to act.”

    1. Steve, yes, I think Buick or Cadillac or someone did an ad that dared to show senior males as exemplary. I think it was Cadillac or probably by Modernista, now departed. It was disorientingly odd. Thx! Grant

      1. Lincoln is using John Slattery (Roger Sterling from Mad Men) right now. He plays (mid-60s?) older than he is (late-40s), but for Lincoln he plays a suave, smart and dashing figure with no wink or irony.

        1. Yes, I find the guy underwhelming, but nothing can be as clueless as the styling of that Lincoln. I mean, really. Ford is better in every respect but its luxury brand. What gives? Thanks, Grant

  11. Great post and comments. Made me think of Heineken’s Entrance:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TLgetLmlggA
    The lyrics of the song (Golden Age) says it all:
    “I wished I lived in the golden age… Flying away from reality…
    Sing it out loud gonna get back honey.
    Sing it out loud get away with me.
    Sing it out loud on a trip back honey.
    Sing it out loud and let yourself free.”

    Displaced meaning encapsulated&re-enacted in a mix of nostalgia and humor?

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