Academic journal article Antipodes

Troping the Masculine: Australian Animals, the Nation, and the Popular Imagination

Academic journal article Antipodes

Troping the Masculine: Australian Animals, the Nation, and the Popular Imagination

Article excerpt

IN A THIRTY-SECOND ADVERTISEMENT FOR THE SOFT drink Solo screened on Australian television in 2007, a man is watching the cricket when he notices a large spider on the wall. He goes to swat it, but it scuttles away and startles him, and he lets out a shrill high-pitched shriek. At this point he notices he has grown what the advert terms "man cans" - breasts. Appalled, he rushes out of the house, down to the beach and wrestles a shark out of the water. He drags the shark back into his house, downs a can of the branded product and - success - his "man cans" deflate.1 Of all the things that might be found objectionable about this advert, possibly the thing that tops the list is the sheer obviousness of its marketing equation. Scared that drinking something other than alcohol will compromise your masculinity? Drink this product and worry no more. The parodie strategy is clearly hyperbolic, something that the product's website (Fig. 1) makes even more obvious: in a deliberately crude delineation of the boundaries of acceptable masculinity, it provides various lists of stereotypically unmanly activities including crying in a movie, showing any emotion other than anger or happiness, and watching romantic comedies. If the Australian male is troubled by the suspicion that soft drinks are for girls, then this advert over-compensates for that anxiety by literalizing the sexist language of its tagline: Solo, the drink for man kind.

The use of satire functions in such a way as to make the advert more resistant to critique, signaling as it does to its audience with a knowing wink that it knows what it is doing. What I find more interesting - and less remarked upon by critics - is the way animals figure in this text as tropes through which masculinity can be coded. The sign of the man's initial inadequacy is his fear of the spider. To compensate, he vanquishes a larger and more vicious animal. The website text reinforces this further with its reference to the "seriously manly" act of "wrestling a full grown Rhino." Animals, it seems, allow the limits of masculinity to be patrolled with the extreme semiotic economy necessary for a thirtysecond TV advert slot.

That this trope is not an isolated one is illustrated by a second ad campaign, that of Bundaberg Rum. Here, the paradigm established is that true masculinity is figured by its links to animality. The polar bear (or "Bundy bear"), an established character within the campaign, always comes out on top. In one advertisement ("Red Sock"), where his mates dye his fur pink as a joke, he wins the approval of a woman who is attracted to him because, she says, he's "man enough to wear pink" (Fig. 2, next page).

In the Drop Bear advertisement (Fig. 3, next page), in which a group of men tell a tall tale to some women tourists in the attempt to trick them, the polar bear rescues his mates just as their flirtation strategy starts to go awry, driving the women into their tents. The gender distinction here is explicitly coded in nationalist terms, as the women are Scandinavian or German, and the men and the bear are taking advantage of an urban legend involving the stereotypical image of Australia as a country full of dangerous wildlife, while simultaneously peddling another set of national stereotypes: that of northern Europeans as flaxen-haired tourists. The Solo advert, too, can be read in nationalist terms, given the resonance of the cricket, the shark, and the beach as Australian national emblems.

We are familiar with the yoking together of nationalist and masculine discourses and images, a linkage that is particularly common in beer commercials not only in Australia but also in other countries. What is somewhat less familiar is the figuring of animals as potent signifiers within this nexus, and that is what I want to consider here: the way animals can be seen to function in relation to representations of Australian masculinity in popular culture texts. Much work has been done illustrating and deconstructing the way that founding myths of Australian national identity center on masculine economies, among them bush mateship, stockmen, and Gallipoli. …

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