MAN OF TODAY?: (UN)COOL MASCULINITIES AND MOVIE STARS

It is not my intention to write today exclusively about the Hugo Boss ‘Man of Today’ campaign with Gerard Butler, aimed at boosting sales of its star perfume Boss Bottled. However, it is a useful starting point. You may have seen the TV add, first aired in November 2014. Butler looks his habitual handsome self as he sprays his manly chest with the perfume, dons a trim Hugo Boss suit and considers how great San Francisco looks in the distance.

He delivers off screen in his original Scottish accent the Boss Bottle manifesto. Brace yourselves, boys and girls: “I don’t believe in less, I go all the way. And you can see it in my stride. If good conduct makes a man, it makes me the man of today. A man will never run. Stay noble I say. I am a man. More than the grip of good handshake and a job well done. Diligence and dedication is what I live from day to day. And you can see it in my deeds, be true to yourself, I say. It makes me a man of success. I am a man of today.” Um, you mean ‘not of yesterday’? Really? Why’s that necessary? Now this sentence about ‘diligence and dedication’, doesn’t this also apply to women?

This modern man, Butler enthuses, is “a pretty cool guy” supposed to be, attention!!, smart, self-confident, masculine but not macho, aware of the demands of feminism but not passive, motivated, passionate, successful but discreet. Please, do read the whole article, part of the campaign, and do wonder about the claims made there about contemporary masculinity: https://www.msn.com/en-my/lifestyle/runningtheshow/the-man-of-today-who-exactly-is-he/ar-BBa6Jj3. GC editor Dylan Jones, the brain behind the ad’s copy, stresses that “I think the interesting thing about Gerard as an ambassador is that he’s unapologetically a real man”. I have no idea to whom he should apologize for being a man nor do I understand what a ‘fake’ or ‘unreal’ man is. And consider the effect of someone claiming that (insert here an actress) is ‘unapologetically a real woman’. Why and what for? Yes, I’m being obnoxious here.

Jones finds that Butler’s advantage as a “brand ambassador” is that he’s not “fleetingly cool or too young” perhaps thinking of former ‘ambassadors’ Jared Leto and Ryan Reynolds. Butler, a mature 44-year-old and not exactly a first-rank star, was honoured and humbled that he was chosen for the job of embodying the man of today; as he notes, “There are many other actors and celebrities they could have asked”. I couldn’t agree more, particularly considering he is famous thanks to his barbaric Leonidas in 300 (and if that’s the subtext he brings to the man of today, well, then let me be scared). Yet, if I ask myself who else could have taken up the job and with better credentials and more popular assent, I confess I find no easy answer.

Just humour me and follow me in this peculiar exercise. Using IMBD’s Advanced Search feature and its STARmeter, I find that the main male actors by generation are (20 top names excluding some not that popular outside the US):

*born in the 1960s: Johnny Depp, Brad Pitt, Tom Cruise, Ralph Fiennes, Robert Downey jr., Nicholas Cage, Will Smith, Daniel Craig, Hugh Jackman, Jason Statham, Keanu Reeves, Jim Carey, Vin Diesel, Josh Brolin, Russell Crowe, Philip Seymour Hoffman, George Clooney, Colin Firth, Woody Harrelson [also Gerard Butler].

*born in the 1970s: Tom Hardy, Richard Armitage, Benedict Cumberbatch, James Franco, Leonardo di Caprio, Christian Bale, Orlando Bloom, Bradley Cooper, Idris Elba, Mark Wahlberg, Ben Affleck, Michael Fassbender, Jude Law, Jared Leto, Ryan Reynolds, Matt Damon, Joel Edgerton, Joaquin Phoenix, Ethan Hawke, Ewan McGregor.

*born in the 1980s: Chris Pine, Charlie Hunnam, Chris Hemsworth, Channing Tatum, Eddie Redmayne, Jake Gyllenhaal, Chris Evans, Ryan Gosling, Jamie Dornan, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Shia LaBeouf, Tom Hiddleston, Henry Cavill, Andrew Garfield, Kit Harington, Robert Pattinson, Ben Wishaw, Emil Hirsch, Justin Timberlake, Michael Cera.

Who’s your man of today? If Hugo Boss means, as I think they do, that this must be a steadily ‘cool’ man and supposing that cool means ‘self-possessed’ and ‘self-assured’, is Butler the best possible candidate? Who fits the bill best?

As I’m sure you have guessed by now, I find the whole Hugo Boss campaign quite ridiculous for, here’s the rub, a truly cool man never proclaims his coolness. Actually, part of being cool is the ability to radiate this coolness in a subdued, subtle way. The spectator, the onlooker, must feel when facing a certain male icon that he is the man of today, and not be told who embodies him. If looking at Butler you go ‘wow! he’s cool’ then he’s succeeding in being the ideal which Hugo Boss claims he personifies. If you need to be told what a cool, real man he is then I can only say that cool, real masculinity is in deep… trouble.

In Masculinities Studies the most frequently invoked mantra is that there is not one single way of being masculine but many, hence, there is no ‘man of today’ but ‘men of today’. If you look at my lists, you might perhaps see not only this variety (and remember that actors are just one profession, not all men) but also a manifest disregard for embodying the ‘manly man’ in the younger generations (which often baffles me… but then, I’m getting old). Whether a man can be cool and not necessarily manly (or vice versa) is quite a vexing question; it might even well be that cool and manly are categories of the past that no longer apply to the ‘man of today’ (surely younger men find the Butler ad old-fashioned and would name as man of today… fun-loving James Franco?). Also consider whether family man Chris Hemsworth (born 1983), recently proclaimed by People magazine the sexiest man in the world, is a likely ‘man of today’.

I always have the impression that Butler brings a certain tongue-in-cheek quality to all his roles, Leonidas included. Perhaps this is what I miss in the Hugo Boss campaign, and in the current approach to what being a ‘real’ man is about…

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