FIERCE! Why Big Men are Really Just Big Pussies

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Essay / Writing

DISCLAIMER: For some reason, my work’s cited section looks totally wonky when I upload it, so please stay tuned for that section coming up as I troubleshoot and format it! As for images, I got them all from Google, though I heavily borrowed from David Kawena specifically, due to the level of familiarity I assume my readers have with the Disney brand. Without further ado, enjoy the excuse to put hot men up on my blog research! (And for further writing, check out my take on the Gay Pet Complex and my ad unpacking in ¡Bacardi, Finalmente!)

Fierce!

There is a section in advertisement that many people tend to overlook: that of the male model. People are usually focused on the female model, and in their gaze, they miss the impact of the male and the various looks that he puts forth. That said, I have noticed this, and decided to put the spotlight on the male, for he is rarely examined. Even more rarely examined is the male model, who are typically stereotyped in their portrayals as having to be masculine and protect women (Plous et al. 628).

Male models project power in advertisements by presenting their bodies and using the assumed sexual energy that radiates from them. “Sexuality is one area where masculinity is enacted; hence sexuality provides a powerful expression of masculinity,” and thus power (Rohlinger 62). Likening them to large felines, I propose that many of these models (defined by their musculature, expressions, and body positions) fall into categories based on the ways in which they are captured in photographs, and that their sexuality is thus animalized, the human judgment of the model taken out of the equation. In this paper, I will discuss the naturalist view of male attraction, complete my analysis of likening men to big cats, and finally discuss the meaning of male power.

Inspiration

I came up with the idea to explore this particular topic after recalling the stereotypically portrayed photo shoots where the photographer yells directions, among those being “be a tiger!” or “fierce!” It made me realize that models are expected to channel the characteristics of certain animals in order to bring the advertisements to life. And since it’s usually female models who are seen to be fierce, I wondered about male models. The significance of this paper is threefold, for first, it opens discussion that allows us to ponder just how much we (intelligent apes) are a part of the animal kingdom when it comes to attraction. Second, it allows us to think about gender roles in advertisement and the pros and cons of muddying them up. And finally, the various avenues of power that men display.

Animal Kingdom Attraction

Taking a naturalist point of view, that which we know as “beauty” is basically an expression of sexual traits that we find evolutionarily advantageous and therefore valuable in society (Kodric-Brown & Brown 311). Men with muscles and smooth skin are seen as able to survive in their environments, having great health and access to resources that allow them to grow so bulky and stay healthy. Harkening to an older time, musculature shows ability and command of space. Advertisers realize that for males, bulk represents power. In fact, a study found that “men’s magazines published significantly more advertisements and articles about changing body shape than about losing weight, suggesting that men might be more concerned with overall physique than with fat” (Andersen and DiDomenico qtd. in Leit et al. 90-91). Losing weight is a cultural ideal for women, but with males, the trend of musculature has reigned since the seventies and has grown in its reach, exploding in the 90s.

For an example of the evolutionary mind at work on the modern body, I turn to David M. Buss, who asserts that the human diet consists of 20-40% meat (up to 90% in the winter/hunting season), meaning that the hunting (which was done by males) required a solid build. That said, larger men were seen as more capable hunters (80). They were also seen as being able to intimidate or fight off predators—whether those be wild animals or hostile humans (Buss 92). Understanding that, Buss posits that women have preferences for men with athletic prowess and good health and physical appearance (120-122). “A man’s size, strength, physical prowess, and athletic ability are cues that signal solutions to the problem of protection,” (Buss 120). He goes on to say that men who were “tall, physically strong, and athletic” had more of a chance to be chosen by a female looking for a mate—especially those with a “V-shaped torso”, or the ratio of shoulder-span relative to hips in which the shoulders out-span the hips (120). As far as good looks and health are concerned, a man with a masculine face (broader lower  jaws, strong brow ridges and pronounced cheekbones) that is, among other factors, symmetrical, denote that the man has a resistance to disease (123). Basically, men that are strong and healthy “do it” for women.

The basis of the last point can be found in the “truth in advertising” model, which asserts that “sexual selection favors the evolution of phenotypic traits that vary in such a way that their expression is highly correlated with overall genetic fitness” (Kodric-Brown & Brown 310). An example would see the difference between a man with a drooping left eye and a man without. While both men might be equal in every sense, the man with the drooping eye sends the signal that he is in some way weakened. These days, we might ascribe it to a genetic disorder, but in our ancestral past, he might have been a victim of a poisonous snake and might not have fully recovered.

With the naturalist point of view being applied to advertisers using male models, who everyone knows live by the motto that “sex sales,” it is not surprising to realize that sexual selection should be a part of this paper. Kodric-Brown and Brown hold that sexual selection can be found in two forms: The evolution of traits that help males compete for mates, and those that help with courtship displays (309). The first is linked directly to musculature, as it is usually strength that wins in physical altercations between males. This is paralleled to the tiger, lion and partially the leopard types, all of whom rely on being large enough to take on others in a fight, or at least the appearance that they can in the case of the leopard. The second is linked to the leopard, cheetah and kitty, who rely on alternative methods to attract mates. The leopard uses visual tricks to appear larger or the environment to appear more prestigious, whereas the cheetah appeals to survival in a big man’s world and the kitty on the easy life. All of these methods of appealing to potential mates are used in advertising.

Analysis

In the following table, I will reveal the categories I place the male models in, as well as the description of the types and the characteristics that are linked most closely to that category.

Type Description Characteristics Additional Notes
Lion Viewed as the most dynamic and fierce, the lion is seen as being on the top of a hierarchy of other fierce cats. His look tends to be “cocky.” Laid back, power in eyes, non-active body, bulky body May be surrounded by sexual partners/pride
Tiger The power of the tiger is seen in his immense strength and brutally unfeeling gaze. He is the largest and most bulky. Bulky body, active body, power in body/expression Typically alone, but dominance is shown in a more overt way than lion
Leopard The leopard usually casts his look downward as he is depicted on a pedastal, or if it is looking up, we see more of the fact that he is not particularly super-muscular. Reclined forward, elevated, non-active body (less than lion), non-bulky body/streamlined body, active or non-active body Typically alone, and if not, he does not interact with the others; typically lofted, or made to look haughty or higher-than-thou
Cheetah The cheetah is marked by his lack of excess muscle, but also his seeming speediness. Upright position, straight-forward, non-bulky body (more so than leopard), active or non-active body
Declawed Kitty The declawed kitty is a non-muscular, almost childlike type who has very little power, or if he appears to have any, it is easy to mock with little to no fear of harmful retaliation. Passive, vulnerable, non-active body, reclined/defenseless, no power (reminiscent of cheetah, but no power)

*Characteristics Key

Active Body: The subject is actively performing an action

Non-active Body: The subject is not doing anything particularly expressive with the body.

Laid Back: The subject is reclining backward

Power in Eyes/Expression: The subject’s expression brings the viewer’s eye to it

Power in Body: The body rather than the face/eyes draw the attention of the viewer.

The lion type represents the self-actualized and ideal male by society’s standards without any particular leaning. While he shows power like the tiger, he can be seen relaxing and being as unguarded as the declawed kitty, displaying a range of behaviors. Unlike the tiger, he is social (ironically alone at the top of his pride), but unlike the kitty, when he is lounging, no one would ever believe they could walk to him and pick him up into his or her arms.

The tiger type is actually more physically powerful than the lion, but less social. Like the leopard, he is solitary, but can be around others, though without showing any interest other than a fleeting acknowledgment. He is representative of the hyper-masculine ideal that men in our era seem to fantasize about, as everything about him is large.

The leopard type is more or less of an everyday Joe Schmoe when juxtaposed against the other types. His is a key player in this lineup, as his power comes from literal advertising: Making others believe he is more powerful than he is through appearance. His body is not portrayed as larger-than-life as the lion, definitely not the tiger, but his expression and looking down at the viewer is a show of being in a superior position. He has to differentiate himself from the second part of the Joe Schmoe (the cheetah) by making himself look stronger (although he technically is, they share a similar skin). He is a master at understanding appearance and manipulating it to suit his needs. This type, it should be noted, is very wide and difficult to pin down due to the sheer variety

The cheetah is the everyday reality of the normal male, like the leopard. However, unlike the aforementioned cat, the cheetah takes a different strategy: He plays up what makes him different. He makes power conform to him rather than conform to power by making his speed and alertness his number one traits. He understands that he is smaller than the others, and so he advertises a brand of power that rests on the idea of survival: I may not win in a fight with the others, but I will definitely be able to live by doing what they cannot, and in some cases excel where their bulk works against them.

The delcawed kitty is something of a new phenomenon. He is literally only able to survive due to the fact that domestication has occurred. His livelihood results from being a “kept boy.” He appears small and vulnerable, passive and unable to protect himself against threats. If he tries to display power, the viewer becomes something of a condescending spectator, who laughs and calls his attempts cute. He might display wealth or decadence, which is his true power: providing a luxurious life that one does not have to work for. He has traded in his fierceness for the almighty dollar.

In all, these types are very much a societal myth, but one through whose lens we can determine the mindset of many men. With a bit of disagreement between the tiger and the lion (depending on whether or not hypermasculinity or top-of-the-hierarchy is deemed as most important), the types are ranked by what males view as ideal.

Visual Examples

This paper would not be complete without visual examples. Most of the audience would sit around wondering what in world I was talking about. That said, in this section, I will generate visual images and explain their appeal.

Images

Explanation

Viewed as the most dynamic and fierce, the lion is seen as being on the top of a hierarchy of other fierce cats. His look tends to be “cocky.”

Viewed as the most dynamic and fierce, the lion is seen as being on the top of a hierarchy of other fierce cats. His look tends to be “cocky.”

All but two of these images depict the social aspect of the lion type. (1) David Beckham allows his lioness (whose pose might pass for a leopard had she been a male) to sit atop him as he lies back, even though it is obvious from their sizes that he could easily overpower her and that he is letting her sit on him. In this case, leverage has nothing to do with power. (2) The man in the middle is the one with the power, sexually overpowering not only the woman, as is traditional but also another male, who rests dependently on his power. (3) David Beckham reclines in a way where it is obvious that he is proud of his sexual prowess, as evident by his opened legs and displaying of his genitalia. He is also reclined in a way that allows him to get up if necessary and protect himself, but is still manly in its own way. He shows vulnerability on his own terms.

Viewed as the most dynamic and fierce, the lion is seen as being on the top of a hierarchy of other fierce cats. His look tends to be “cocky.”

Viewed as the most dynamic and fierce, the lion is seen as being on the top of a hierarchy of other fierce cats. His look tends to be “cocky.”

These images all show very well-built men whose expressions are, while not aggressive at the moment, not jubilant. These (presently calm) tiger types are categorized so due to their musculature and the power of their glances. Also, notice that in three of the pictures where the men are in underwear, they are packing, adding to the idea that not only are they physically dominant, but also sexually.

The leopard usually casts his look downward as he is depicted on a pedastal, or if it is looking up, we see more of the fact that he is not particularly super-muscular.

The leopard usually casts his look downward as he is depicted on a pedastal, or if it is looking up, we see more of the fact that he is not particularly super-muscular.

These images vary across the spectrum, but the top row (along with the cowboy on the bottom left) are all looking down their faces at the camera or down their noses at something in the distance. That their gaze is lowered, it makes it appear that they are at the top and the subjects of their interests are beneath them. In the low right corner, Taylor Laughtner is not necessarily looking down, but he is leaning forward (though not reclined), as though ready to pounce. He makes himself look on par with the rest of the men by being photographed in an active way.

The cheetah is marked by his lack of excess muscle, but also his seeming speediness.

The cheetah is marked by his lack of excess muscle, but also his seeming speediness.

These men are rather small in stature, or at least not as large as the men seen above. With the exception of Naveen in the lower right corner, they are all fit, but not overly muscled. Naveen, although being muscled, makes this list due to the amount of activity in his portrait, as if he is splashing the water around him along with his decidedly non-fierce expression. The model in the upper right corner epitomizes this type perfectly, his feet unplanted as if he were backing away from some threat and getting ready to take flight.

The declawed kitty is a non-muscular, almost childlike type who has very little power, or if he appears to have any, it is easy to mock with little to no fear of harmful retaliation.

The declawed kitty is a non-muscular, almost childlike type who has very little power, or if he appears to have any, it is easy to mock with little to no fear of harmful retaliation.

The top row of images are examples of declawed kitty through and through. The reason for this is because of their body types especially, but their facial expressions. Kuzco, donning gold in the top left, does not do a great job of appearing powerful, though he might think he is. Aladdin and Peter Pan’s expressions both are confused and mischievous respectfully, garnering no points in the power play game. The bottom row, however, shows two characters from the Chronicles of Narnia, the one on the left a leopard, the one on the right a kitty. Without the comparison, it is possible that the left man could be a lion or cheetah, and that the one on the right could also be a cheetah if posed in the right way. The left one is a leopard by pose and gaze, as he is reclining forward and seemingly looking down at the male on the right. Everyone’s lack of musculature (save Narnia’s left man) stops them from being anything other than kitties.

Men and Power

As I have shown above, men have various ways of displaying power. The most typical way males display power is through musculature and good health, as with the lion and tiger; the next mode sees the person who is aware of these archetypes and attempts to emulate them, as does the leopard; the next way has the person who is aware of the archetypes and disregards them in favor of a more practical method, as the case is made with the cheetah; and finally, men display power by way of material means and through empowering the woman. For the first categories described, the traditional view of manhood remains in place. Barthel asserts that “the masculine gender role model emphasizes power, whether in the boardroom, bedroom, or on the playing field. Within this context, the masculine role is not defined through beauty, but through power of choice” (qtd. in Rohlinger 61). The lion, tiger, and leopard all conform to traditional masculinity and the striving to maintain that particular status quo. It is a legacy of our ancestral, pre-industrial past.

On the other side of the spectrum, perhaps as a product of postindustrial, the cheetah and kitty can fit into what it means to have power without having to strive for hyper-masculinity. “[B]ecause gender role prohibitions have relaxed, many advertisers feature crossover behavior in their advertisements,” hence our ability to look upon male bodies that are thin or unmuscled without ridiculing them or wondering about their gender identitiy (Barthel qtd. in Rohlinger  62). I posit that this new post-industrial age also brings about a recognition of power that is not as visible on the physical body’s stature, but what the body is adorned with. Because of the infrastructure and industries we depend on to drive our societies, money is muscle, and real muscle is incidental. It is something that harkens back to a time when one needed to be physically built, but these days purely for aesthetic reasons.

The cheetah and kitty embody this new money is muscle postulation because they stand side by side with the other big cats on the same magazine racks or on the same billboard. Items of status create what is known as cultural capital, or the worth of the things one consumes, when adorned on a body (Zukin 40). Models that adorn themselves with high-status items are seen to be higher up in society because they display a high cultural capital. In a way, it is symbolically similar to how the leopard, smaller than the tiger and lion, positions himself at a higher point so to be seen as mightier than he is. The smaller cats, kitties especially, live on bright colors and perceived ‘cuteness’, which screams to a female consumer that the male model is something to be babied, and in return, he will provide for you a luxurious environment for which you may baby him in.

In conclusion, men are beasts as far as advertisements are concerned. There is a type for every male (or rather, a male for every type) and male models sell with sex appeal in a way that highlights good associations between phenotypic characteristics and overall health. Future research can go into the development and expansion of the categories, as well as the further research between the link between power, money, and muscle. I end with a question for the reader to ponder: What will become of the power of those men with money should a financial collapse occur? Will the hearts of those that serve them keep them safe, or will the kitties be thrown to the wind as the law of the jungle sees the tigers and lions on top.

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The Author

Sage Nenyue is a hi-falootin' Cappuccino aficionado who's searching for the foundation of freedom, happiness, and personal luxury.

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