As many of our class discussions have touched upon, advertisements promote a normative vision of our world and relationships, especially when it comes to gender roles. They reflect and perpetuate the specific cultural meanings linked with femininity and masculinity circulating in society that have been ingrained into our minds from a young age. By not challenging the stereotypes that many already hold to be true, companies are attempting to create an environment that allows us to be comfortable with our consumption habits, so we are more willing to buy the product and, indirectly, buy into the ideology being presented. We have been taught that a certain set of associations and activities belong exclusively to each gender. Some traits inherently belong to girls that do not and should not be possessed by boys. For example, “…masculinity was defined as synonymous with the male breadwinner, in symmetrical relation to a conception of femininity grounded in the image of the suburban housewife” (Messner & Montez de Oca 1881). Those who do not adhere strictly to these socially constructed categories are quickly deemed as weird and indecent by the public. Although these standards have relaxed nowadays, gender stereotypes still manifest themselves in advertisements to attract as many consumers as possible by appealing to the large audience’s lowest common denominator.
PETA’s banned Super Bowl advertisement called “Veggie Love” speaks to the hegemonic notions of masculinity found in American culture in order to convince its targeted viewership to engage in a practice not normally deemed as manly: Going veg. “Men are supposed to have hearty, even voracious appetites,” which is why most media texts depict males’ meals as large meaty and fatty dishes usually cooked on an outdoor barbecue, such as buffalo wings and hamburgers (Bordo 108). By default, the opposite of these images, which includes dainty food items that are usually eaten with utensils like vegetables, are considered feminine and could never completely satisfy the insatiable appetite of a real man. Thus, being a vegetarian and participating in other dietary restrictions is seen as ladylike and males who follow these lifestyle trends are compromising their masculinity to an extent.
To ease these gender role fulfillment anxieties and recruit more males to join its cause, PETA employed common tropes of heterosexual masculinity in its advertisement, particularly through the use of “hotties”. During this controversial, half minute video, women regarded as sexy by American standards parade around in lingerie and fondle vegetables in a suggestive manner. PETA is appealing to the popular belief “that what men really want is (or at least titillation), a cold beer, and some laughs with the guys” (Messner & Montez de Oca 1890). The females’ main purpose is to be an erotic spectacle for the predominantly, heterosexual male audience (which is assumed since it was created to be televised during the Super Bowl) to fetishize and project their repressed desires onto their silent images. The viewer is asked to indirectly dominate the situation by envisioning himself as the produce these unattainable models are quickly surrendering themselves to since the women do not have much agency, a quality the gender is usually depicted as lacking. The “Average Joe” sitting on the couch reeking of alcohol with crumbs scattered all over his T-shirt is made to believe that he has won the fantasy girl because he changed his consumption practices, an outcome he will probably never experience in reality. Therefore, PETA is persuading the “loser” that if he does the unthinkable of doing something girlie like becoming vegetarian, he will be rewarded with the sexual ability he has always dreamed of. “These beautiful women serve as potential prizes for men’s victories and proper consumption choices” (Messner & Montez de Oca 1887). This unapologetic sexual voyeurism exploits men’s said ceaseless desire to be “good in bed” by aligning it with PETA’s objective to stop animal cruelty in the slogan “Studies show vegetarians have better sex. Go veg.” By utilizing these traditional stereotypes of mens’ roles in society, the advertisement seeks to prove that the normally non-manly activity of abstaining from meat does not mean one is giving up one’s masculinity. Instead, he is transcending his loser status and finally possessing the hottie out of his league.