IF THERE WAS any doubt that heated debate and division can break out over nearly any topic in American life today, it’s been dispelled by the brouhaha over a new television ad by shaving giant Gillette.
The nearly two-minute spot, which was rolled out on social media on Monday, is the Boston-based company’s response to the #MeToo movement and its many permutations. It shows a string of scenes of boys being bullied and men acting boorishly or worse toward women, followed by moments when other men step up to do the right thing to curb or call out that behavior.
The ad plays off the company’s longtime tagline, “The best a man can get,” by asking whether by bullying other males or harassing or objectifying women, “Is this the best a man can get?”
It’s sent some into a tizzy, denouncing the ad as the propaganda work of a fast-spreading war on men. TV host Piers Morgan tweeted that Gillette was “eager to fuel the current global assault on masculinity.”
The backlash, said Globe travel writer Christopher Muther, was all the proof that was needed of how necessary the ad’s message is. In a moving essay, Muther writes very personally about his reaction to the ad.
“Do you know who isn’t taking to Twitter to complain about the Gillette ad?” he asks. “Those of us who have been bullied, beat up, and sexually victimized. When I watched the ad, I didn’t see tanks gathering at the border of masculinity. I saw myself, and it nearly brought tears to my eyes.”
Muther describes being taunted in junior high and high school, enduring punches to the head, and figurative ones to the gut that may have hurt even more, with the constant refrain of “faggot” and “queer” ultimately driving him from his high school track team.
In today’s Herald, Jaclyn Cashman joins the backlash brigade. “That big sign on top of your building in Southie says ‘World Shaving Headquarters.’ Not ‘Social Justice Central,’” she writes about Gillette.
There were social media posts showing detractors throwing their Gillette products in the trash, and others urging a boycott of the company.
But Cashman’s fellow Herald columnist Jessica Heslam tells all the put-upon men and their women allies to take a chill pill.
“What exactly is so infuriating about a man telling another man not to publicly ogle and creep up behind a pretty woman he doesn’t know as she walks down the street?” she asks. “What exactly is so infuriating about a father stopping a group of bullying boys who are chasing and roughing up another boy?”
“Doesn’t this commercial illustrate everything we should be teaching our sons,” she asks.
Joanna Weiss, in a piece for WBUR, lands somewhere in between, endorsing the overall message of the ad, but saying it should have tried to persuade rather than preach.
As of this morning, there were nearly twice as many “dislikes” as “likes” on the YouTube posting of the ad, which has been viewed nearly 20 million times. The Wall Street Journal reports there is strong partisan divide in reaction to the ad, with 73 percent of Democrats giving it high marks compared with only 48 percent of Republicans.
Of course, along with the debate over the issues raised by the ad is the question of what it will mean for Gillette’s bottom line. The company says it’s sticking with the ad. The head of one brand advisory firm tells the New York Times the ad is “going to blow up in their face.” Others say it’s a smart move, especially as Gillette tries to fend off discount razor sellers.
If another company’s recent experience jumping into controversial issues is any indication, the ad may work well for Gillette. Nike also faced a backlash and talk of a boycott with its ad featuring former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick, who gained fame by “taking a knee” during pregame national anthem ceremonies to protest racial injustice. The Journal says the footwear firm reported a 10 percent growth in sales in the most recent quarter.