Mr. T to British Men: “Get Some Nuts”12 January 2009
In July 2008 Snickers launched a new campaign, featuring the one and only Mr. T (from A-Team, Rocky III, etc.). In the ads Mr. T harrassed men who somehow lacked the macho vibe needed to be a “real man,” such as speedwalkers and soccer players who fake injuries. Driving a tank or some other destructive vehicle, the mohawked hero would procede to throw or shoot Snickers bars at these pastey counterparts, finishing the ad with the blatant double entendre, “Get some nuts.”
Within weeks Snickers yanked it off the airwaves, in response to outcry that the ads, particularly the speedwalker one(the walker is portrayed as especially effeminate), were targeting homosexuals. Statistically speaking, these protesters were right. Say what you will in defense, but it doesn’t take a cross-dressing rocket scientist to figure out how many people would, rightly or wrongly, interpret the speedwalker’s outfit and demeanor as stereotypically gay. Snickers had to have seen this coming.
But let’s consider what else is going on here. An interview done around the same time (see here) struck me as particularly humorous, and particularly important for understanding the broader context. Mr. T procedes to rant against any perceived weakness in men: wine bars, pouting, yoga, non-contact sports, fake tans, tight clothing, man bags and fashion in general. When asked about how he would address the men of Britain? “Just be tough.” Of course, he also advocates going to the pubs less, and making a greater effort to be romantic with one’s significant other. “Treat the ladies with respect.”
It’s hard to say how much Mr. T buys into his own binary model of gender: men should be tough, women shouldn’t. Sigmund Freud taught a similar monoessentialism, built around the idea that masculinity was the exercise of proactivity, whereas femininity was receptivity. Men are characterized by self-assertion, boldness, even aggression. Women, they, well, respond. Feminist scholars have rightly pointed out that this kind of oppositionalizing construes women in terms of deprivation more than mere “difference.” Not that Mr. T seems to be concerned about all this. His point is more straightforward. Aside from buying Snickers, men need to pursue life with more vigor – and bigger biceps.
I’m especially interested in why Snickers felt this would fit so well in the United Kingdom. While the LGBT community took offence, heterosexual men (even softer, more sensitive men) there did not. Is this because British men in general are secure enough in their own conception of masculinity that Mr. T provides an opportunity to laugh at a bygone code, one especially rigid (and perhaps American)? Or do British men feel a need for an archetypal presence to shame them into greater mental and physical toughness?
Don’t all of us men all need a little Mr. T in our heads, driving us toward ballsy excellence?