The sun is setting as the lone cowboy stands leaning against a wooden post and gazing out over the fields. He has been hard at work all day, and only now as the evening approaches does he allow himself a moment s rest. The forward tilt of his hat shadows one half of his lined, ruggedly handsome face. Tucked into the corner of his mouth is a cigarette end, and he pulls the box away, revealing the one object of his desire: a smoke – Marlboro, of course. The paradigm at issue here, and in all other ads for the Marlboro products, is that of “The Sturdy Oak”.
This man, utterly independent and self-reliant, demands respect from onlookers in that he is the definition of toughness, calmness and coolness. He revels in his solitary position, he doesn t require any assistance from others, he is completely in control. We can tell by the glint in his eye that he is composed, fearless, unimpressed by danger and up for any challenge. Even the way he pulls the cigarette out of the pack spells out “man” loud and clear – he doesn t use his hands, he uses his mouth.
Just as we are convinced that this cowboy is definitely a “man”, so are we coerced into believing that the Marlboro cigarettes play a factor in making him one. The problem with this ad is that it may have a tremendous impact on the minds and lives of young men. In our society, we place a large amount of pressure on boys to measure up to the unattainable standard of manliness. The media is constantly bombarding children with images of the ideal man, which in itself is harmful in that they are continually reminded of how they should act, think and feel.
But being faced with an ad where the concept of smoking is incorporated into masculinity skyrockets the damaging effect on boys – they are told to accept the fact that smoking is an integral part of being a man, that manliness is simply impossible to achieve unless they keep that pack of Marlboros handy. Instead of being harmed on the emotional and psychological level, as they were before, and which was bad enough, they now have the added incentive to injure their own physical health.
The only way to correct the message sent out by this ad would be to change the picture associated with the brand name. However, in reality, the Marlboro ads will never change, as it is only through such an association between smoking and masculinity that the brand has become a household name. As it is, the ad conveys a false image of people who smoke – no heavy smoker could be as handsome and physically fit as the Marlboro Man. The true smoker is far from such sex-symbol status: he is physically ill, or on his way there, he collapses in fits of coughing, and is in general much less attractive.
This use of this false image in the ad is what makes it so dangerous: by classifying smoking as “cool” it can lead one into severe addiction and disease. With the image of the Marlboro Man already rampant in popular culture as the ideal man, we can only hope that boys realize the perversity of such a standard and reject it altogether. It is up to the rest of society to broaden the definition of manliness to include more admirable role models in order to ensure the safe passage of boys into the world of men.