When I turn on SportsCenter at night, it doesn’t matter what kind of day I’ve had. Inevitably, someone on TV is trying to make me feel good.
I’m not talking about the game highlights—I’m talking about the commercial breaks. Turn on ESPN some night, any night, and you can start to get a sense of how advertising companies sell beer and snacks and trucks to the men you know. They set up a fantasy world—fast cars on deserted winding roads, drinks at the bar where everybody knows your name, endless pizza without the gut—and they sell it with the wink-and-a-nudge appeal of one guy offering advice to another.
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I never thought there was anything weird about this until someone started leaving the TV on in my office during the day. The commercials that followed the overcaffeinated yammering of the morning talk show hosts gave me a glimpse into what it must be like to be a woman. And it scared the hell out of me.
One after another, jagged bursts of 30-second terrors assaulted me: Is there something wrong with my hair? Are my kids going to catch germs from my dirty floor? Am I getting fat? These TV women seem to live in constant fear of buying the wrong shampoo or wearing the wrong shoes. Each ad is a mini-drama—life is going fine, a problem presents itself, and then it’s solved in the nick of time by some product that makes everything better. Man secret: Nothing besides Oreos makes everything better.
Most women I know don’t live their lives in fear, but you wouldn’t be able to tell that from watching the ads. On TV, women worry about stubborn stains. I mean, they really worry. They face dilemmas about floor wax and carpet cleaners and toilet bowls and grape juice on T-shirts. They spend endless hours debating the best paper towels, or whether to scrub with something oxygen-powered or lemon-scented. Even the good news has an underbelly: a new chocolate treat with only 100 calories (subconscious message: you’re fat), a new makeup line to turn you into a sultry vixen (subconscious message: you need a makeover).
Man secret: It’s not the makeup that does it, ladies. Perhaps all this fretting is why, if you believe the ads, every American woman is in need of medication. Some is available over the counter—my headache! my cramps! My gassiness!—but for most of it, you’ll need to see a professional, as in, “Ask your doctor about…” Maybe you can’t sleep, or maybe you’re tired all the time. Worried? Feeling old? Knees hurt after you run? Clearly, you have a problem. Ask your doctor.
This angst-ridden world is another planet entirely from the one that tries to sell me beer. On Planet XY, a guy can sit on the couch in his underwear, surrounded by pizza crusts and beer cans, and can’t be shamed into buying anything to make himself look better. Instead, he gets validated.
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