Pajama Boy is Everything That’s Wrong with American Manhood! (and Other Misconceptions)

When I first saw this ad, I was at my parents’ house for Christmas, sitting on the sofa, scrolling through Twitter. I was drinking coffee, and if you want to know the truth, I was probably wearing pajamas, or at least leggings. Someone had retweeted the ad with a dismissive remark about Obama or man-boys or something, and I sighed and moved on.

But apparently a lot of people haven’t moved on.  Apparently to a number of people, the biggest problem with this ad is that it represents everything that’s wrong with American masculinity today.

Let me say at first that there are certainly problems with this ad — mostly that it’s just not good advertising. In the San Francisco Chronicle, ad exec Jeff Goodby — an Obama supporter and the man behind the “Got Milk” ads — says that Pajama Boy doesn’t work because “there’s nothing in it for you. There’s nothing in it for the person to respond to except that you should get on with your day and don’t forget to apply for your healthcare. They have to make an incentive for people to sign up early — they have to make it worth their while. And right now, no one is doing it and it’s dead in the water. It’s a real problem for the program.”

But there are bigger problems with Obamacare than just the ad: So far, it’s not working well, and if it doesn’t get the healthy 20-somethings to sign up, it won’t ever function the way it should.

So a bad ad isn’t just a poor use of money; it’s actually dangerous. If poor marketing means young people fail to recognize that they need healthcare coverage, then the nation will have an even bigger problem than the one we already have with the dysfunctional Obamacare website.

Clearly, there are problems with this ad, and with the healthcare reform as it’s functioning now.  But this ad is not about manhood.  Full stop.  Let me repeat.  This is an ad about healthcare, not about masculinity. Nothing in this ad is trying to tell us what it means to be a man.

If the accompanying text said, “Man up — get health insurance!” or “Even whiny mamas’ boys can get off their parents’ health insurance now!” or “Real men get health insurance,” then maybe we could have that talk.

But this is an ad about insurance, not manhood.

The articles popping up comparing this ad to other ads or pictures of men from past generations as a way to decry the decline of manhood are agenda-driven “analysis.” Phil Cooke has done this, comparing the ad to an iconic Life magazine cover, and Tim Wright has as well, comparing the man in the ad to the Marlboro Man. (To be fair, Wright seasoned his argument with plenty of caveats, unlike Cooke, who seems to believe the images he’s manipulated speak for themselves.)

 

But this kind of argument is easy enough to refute.  Choose two pictures that support your thesis! Decide they are icons of masculinity! Create a meme that many people will instinctively agree with, based upon stereotypes of manhood! Use it to your personal and political advantage!

This arbitrary meme brought to you by Christ and Pop Culture Illustrator, Seth T. Hahne.

It’s poor stewardship of your time and your platform to try to turn this serious problem about healthcare into a false problem of “manhood.”  Thousands of uninsured (who, let me assure you, do not all fit your stereotypes) desperately need this — or some kind of reform — to work.

The real problem with these responses to the ad for Obamacare is that they obfuscate an important issue in favor of a made-up problem. The made-up problem is easier to understand, catchier, and fun to get self-righteously upset about.  The real problem is complex, hard to imagine unless you’ve lived without health insurance, and complicated to solve. But I tend to think that if we Americans could actually listen to each other — and if we could work together instead of just talking past each other to the people who already agree with us — well, then we might be able fix it.

Instead we waste our time getting up in arms about a man in pajamas.

And let me just say for the record that it doesn’t do anyone any good — least of all, men — for us to reduce manhood to looking tough, or to being a fighter or a rugged individualist.  If this was, in fact, about manhood, so what?

Consider the setting. It’s Christmas vacation. And the place where I want my father, my husband, my brothers and my son to be on Christmas morning is not riding off into the mythic west or toting a gun in a distant land. I want them pajama-clad. And cocoa-drinking.  I want them in front of a roaring fireplace while we open gifts. I want to be talking about our lives, our faith, and sure, why not? Our healthcare, too.

About Amy Lepine Peterson

Amy Lepine Peterson teaches ESL Writing and American Pop Culture at Taylor University, but spends most of her time making a home in the cornfields for her best-friend-husband and two (frankly adorable) children. Look for her with a french press of coffee and a book or a screen, plus a little one on her lap, thinking about education, mothering, theology, tv, movies, music, and sustainable habits of living.


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