Show and Tell

Caleb has learned to read. Generally speaking, this is a great thing. He hasn’t quite crossed the line from reading-as-chore to reading-as-pleasure, but he’s getting there.  And that means he reads the signs–excited by his sense of mastery–as we walk along the street: PIZZA! ICE CREAM! SHOES!

Then we walk past this:


Caleb says: SHOW AND TELL! 

Pause. Then: Why’s he showing us his tummy? Does he have a six-pack?  Liam says I have a four-pack. What’s that? Why does he look so angry?

Okay, so how would you answer those questions, all of which seem eminently reasonable: why is this vaguely sinister, carefully unshaven man showing us his sinewy chest, and what art editor okayed such a heavy-handed use of airbrushing? We can practically see the curve of this guy’s intestines.

I mumbled something about the picture being an ad for a gym and wanting people to exercise, and we walked on; I’m sure Caleb thought nothing of it. But this threatening guy is everywhere, it seems, flashing us his solitary nipple from just about every phone booth in a twenty block radius. Clearly, that’s why phone booths still exist: as sites for advertising. God knows, no one uses them anymore, not even superheroes.

Mr. One-Nipple Six-Pack is not, of course, trying to sell us gym memberships.  He’s selling us “manhunt,” an online chat room designed to let like-minded glowering six-pack owners discuss the finer points of…how to shave until there’s only a rind of stubble, or how to take off an undershirt using only your fist?  What’s he going to show in this chat room? The other nipple? 

This ad disturbs me for lots of the usual reasons: the confusion of sex with love, the commodification of desire, an unreal (and thus unattainable) body portrayed as the object of desire; the list goes on and on.

I’m pretty sure this ad isn’t aimed at my. . . demographic, let’s call it, and that’s fine.  To each his own. I’ve got the World Cup players to look at, and some of the vamps on True Blood–oh, and Husband, of course of course–so I’m all set.

So why does this guy bug me so much? Do I really care if someone wants to “”?  (It’s the manhunt slogan. Truly, it is. I checked. Never let it be said that this blog is not a veritable fountain of information).  Sure, I wish that everyone could find his or her soul mate and enjoy the totally blissful experience of raising kids in Manhattan, but I realize that for some folks, trying to get to the soccer field at 930AM on a Saturday via the 14D bus with two kids and a bag of gear may not be their life goal, and that’s okay.

But this guy and his solitary nipple bug me.  Bugs me for the same reason that I’m bothered by the sprawling oiled lovelies selling Victoria’s Secrets, or just about any other underwear/swimsuit brand, and by the BIG TITS magazines on the newstand… Aren’t we tired, as a society, of looking at yet another almost-naked person? Does a twenty-foot billboard of a man in his underpants really sell more underpants? (And isn’t it curious that for all the hoopla, the word “underpants” is about as sexy as “waffle iron”? )

More and more often I wonder what my kids make of all these hotsy-totsy images. Maybe they don’t see it all yet, but they will, soon enough. How do we help them understand that even though images of sexuality are everywhere, those images have nothing to do with real life–real straight life, real gay life, real whatever kind of life.

Perhaps it’s not a surprise for a writer to say that she wants her kids to be good readers, but I think that’s what I mean. I want them to be good readers–to learn not just the words but the meanings between the words; to learn that the image is not necessarily the reality and that reality is not usually found in an online chat room.


*after I wrote this post, I saw that Forefront Church, in NYC, is talking about this same picture as part of their 1000 words series. Guess Mr. Six Pack is bugging a lot of people this week!

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3 Responses to Show and Tell

  1. KSB June 20, 2010 at 2:20 am #

    Add the confusion of aggression/violence with manliness to your list please. Oh, and the continuing erosion of discretion and privacy too.

    I guess what bothers me most about images in the public like this and other ads that you mention is twofold: (1) the loss of personal control over filtering of exposure; and (2) the hypersexualization of everything–sex is easy, love/commitment/responsibility etc. are hard, and making everything and anything about sex is a desperate attempt to avoid/deny/evade all the effort and hard work and angst and heart that need to go into life. If one is lucky enough to have learned this from family, friends, etc., thank goodness, but if not, then all these public images can trick one into believing that surface appearances have more power than they do, and when the body and/or sex don’t work in the real world the way the media leads some to believe, the unhappiness and misery they suffer is wrenching. And don’t get me started on the cost of tricking people into believing all they need to work on or pay attention to is the body image or sex. (Sorry, the Cultural Studies teacher in me just burst out….)

    *PS: Ended up rolling around on the floor laughing at your “of course of course” line. [^.<]

    • Milton December 2, 2012 at 1:57 am #

      hey guys can u make a video of urself dftiring while ur inside the car? like an inside camerca where we can see the steering and the pedals together? it willl be awesome we WANT TO LEARN!!


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