Okay, granted: I’m not a frequenter of fratboy sports bars, so for all I know, the sort of bizarre, proto-homoerotic behavior implicitly dissed in this advertisement (reproduced below) happens all the time. But I doubt it: more likely, this is another example of the near-paranoia currently besieging the male psyche courtesy our wonderful advertisers (dovetailing nicely with our paranoid, increasingly fear-driven social and political culture). But still, it’s passing strange.
First, this ad is one of a series of Miller ads apparently aimed at virginal bar-goers who haven’t a clue how to act. Another ad in the series depicts two clueless yutzes obliviously blocking in a waitress and preventing her from delivering her tray full of drinks. This ad plays out a sort of exaggerated scenario, arrived at via a logic similar to the “Milwaukee’s Best” ads, that leads inexorably from trivial violations of the unwritten guy code all the way to instant, total, sky-sent obliteration (by means of an enormous beer can falling from the heavens). The problem, obvious to any viewer of the ad, is that the fellow on the right is blatantly out of line by any sort of (straight-guy) men’s room etiquette. Not only is he surreptitiously checking out Square-Headed Guy’s equipment, he’s leaning over towards him and actually allowing his left shoulder to touch SHG’s right shoulder.
As I said, in my experience this doesn’t happen: in fact, I’ve noticed over the past twenty years an increasing need on the part of men’s room patrons for more and more private space. If one urinal is occupied, one simply does not go to the adjacent urinal, unless all other spaces (including toilet stalls) are occupied – and I’ve seen guys actually wait for someone to leave to avoid using a urinal directly next to another man. Add to that the increasing prevalence of those little metal walls separating the urinals, and it’s obvious that the designers of men’s rooms are aware that men, it seems, do not want even the slightest suspicion that any other man would have opportunity to check out the details of their genitalia. And of course, homophobic men (and homophobia is, of course, what’s being encouraged in this ad, as sine qua non of true manliness) will see what they both fear and want to see. I mean, those of you who’ve met my wife will know that she isn’t exactly gender-ambiguous, except perhaps that she’s tall – yet I remember, one winter as we were walking on the East Side near some bars, a hostile, drunken idiot behind us taking us for two gay men, and muttering homophobic imprecations under his breath. His girlfriend was considerably more perceptive, and correctly recognized Rose’s gender, and kept trying to tell her overheated man that he was wrong and that he should shut up.
I think those who see gay men everywhere (or terrorists, or communists, or persecutors of Christianity, or rapists and murderers and kidnappers and alien abductors) do so because to increase the intensity of the threat they think they’re facing amps up both their sense of being in a heroic, beleaguered minority and their sense of cultural martyrdom. I mean, if you have to lose, it’s more honorable to lose to the world champions than to the basement dwellers – and still better if you defeat the champs. But to see one’s enemy everywhere also means one has to constantly reassert one’s identity as enemy of the enemy – lest your fellow defenders of the faith mistake you for one of the alien Others.
So the viewer of this ad, I think, is meant to think, “Oh my god – I hope I’m not doing anything that might make anyone think I’m acting even close to the way this guy is!” Manhood self-questioned, he realizes he simply must buy another beer – beer being, of course, an unquestionably manly drink. Unless it’s a light beer. Or an import. Or a microbrew. Or a “premium” with the fancy-ass gold foil on it. Nope, nothing but plain, old-fashioned American pisswater will do. Like Miller.