February 21, 2019
NEW YORK—The Gillette Fusion5 ProShield is such an amazing razor that I’m willing to stand in the middle of CVS Pharmacy and wait as long as necessary for the Gillette Shoplifting Police to show up and use the secret key that unlocks the cabinet containing the Gillette Fusion5 ProShield replacement blades with the lubrication strips and the pivot head that fits onto the Gillette Fusion5 ProShield handle with the convenient AAA battery that never runs out of juice and, contrary to what you might think, never gets wet.
This shaving device is both an engineering marvel and a work of art. It belongs in the Smithsonian Institution.
You can actually try to cut yourself with this razor and you’ll fail.
If you used this razor for suicide, all you would end up with is an extremely well-groomed wrist.
You could use the Gillette Fusion5 ProShield on a newborn baby who has no facial hair and the Gillette Fusion5 ProShield would find facial hair and eliminate it.
I don’t know where the Gillette engineers and inventors work—I picture some red brick edifice like Thomas Edison’s laboratory in West Orange, New Jersey—but, wherever it is, they must have citations and plaques from all over the world, praising them for solving the shaving conundrum that existed for over a hundred years.
To wit, is it better to shave with a sharp metal blade or with a motorized device?
For decades men went back and forth. Electric razors were easy to use but they never quite got all the hair. Straight razors could get all the hair but they irritated your skin and broke down on the angular parts of your face, slicing up your chin until you looked like a hemophiliac that’s been randomly attacked with a stapler.
The solution was . . . go low-tech with it!
Don’t motorize the blade. Motorize the handle!
Make the traditional steel blade vibrate like crazy!
And don’t just make one blade vibrate, put five blades stacked on top of one another so the stubble gets mowed down like one of those landscaping squads of 30 Mexican guys who pour out of the back end of a truck and sanitize your lawn in about ten minutes, but now applied to your face.
You know who hates the Gillette Fusion5 ProShield razor?
Mennen. Aqua Velva. Old Spice. Every product ever invented for Morning Face Repair—that moment when you splash scented alcohol onto your cheeks and watch tears pop out of your eyeballs from the pain.
The Gillette Fusion5 ProShield is painless. We can just go straight to the moisturizer, like women do, and start singing the Julie Andrews version of “I Feel Pretty.”
I’m actually a third-generation Gillette cheerleader. My grandpa was a troubleshooter for AT&T and so he managed to wrangle one of the first 17-inch Philco Predictas sold in Dallas in the late 1940s and immediately became a big fan of the Gillette Cavalcade of Sports and an even bigger fan of the Gillette Friday Night Fights. His enthusiasm faded a little bit after the night Emile Griffith killed Benny Paret in the ring at Madison Square Garden, but he beamed with pride the day I performed the “Look Sharp Be Sharp March”—better known as the Gillette sports theme—with the Arkansas All-Star Marching Band, using a crisp eight-to-five crossing pattern on the sacred turf of War Memorial Stadium in Little Rock. When you have only one week of rehearsal with high school band nerds who have never marched together, you always program two numbers that everybody knows—“Hey Look Me Over” and “The Gillette Look Sharp Be Sharp March.” If you have extra time, you spell something out and stand in formation with the trumpets out front while playing “Lara’s Theme” from Doctor Zhivago but that’s only so the drum major can stand on a ladder and pump that baton like a rock star.
At any rate, I digress—my point being That’s how awesome Gillette was. Even the Boston Pops recorded the “Look Sharp Be Sharp March.”
Now. The only reason I’m talking about Gillette at all is that, for the past month, people have been sending me tweets, emails, texts, instant messages that say . . .
“Joe Bob, when are you gonna write about the Gillette commercial?”
“Joe Bob, you have to tell us what you think about Gillette and toxic masculinity.”
When did I become the spokesman for toxic masculinity, by the way? I never heard the term till about a year ago and I don’t even know what it is. I really need to take a continuing education course at Yale just to get up to speed on terminology.
“Joe Bob, did you know that Gillette is attacking men?”
“Joe Bob, did you notice all these men with their Fruit-of-the-Looms in a bunch because they can’t deal with criticism in a shaving commercial?”
I didn’t even know they included social criticism in shaving commercials. It makes me wanna go back and find out whether Gillette took a stand on reforming boxing rules after Benny Paret died during a televised event they paid for.
So this is me saying, Okay okay okay, I’ll watch the goddamn commercial!
So, yeah, I had to watch it four times. It took me a while to understand it, and I’m still not sure I do.
So my first comment to the marketing department of Gillette is, That’s a fucking complicated message! Don’t they teach you in advertising class to open big, make one clear point, and close big? This thing would have been rejected by Jean-Luc Godard as Too Confusing For The Audience.
Let’s break it down.
In the first six seconds of the video, you have all these disembodied voices assaulting us over the images of four men staring at themselves in the mirror (but not shaving). And the voice snippets say “bullying,” “the MeToo Movement,” and “toxic masculinity,” as though they’re being plucked out of news reports.
So right away you’re dizzy with possibilities. That’s three things, none of which have anything to do with shaving. But then the Gillette logo comes up and the Gillette slogan:
The Best A Man Can Get
And then the Scary Announcer starts in on us.
“Is this the best a man can get?” he says in a deadly serious way.
And let’s talk about this guy’s voice for a minute. This is the guy who comes to the school assembly and tells you that, if you don’t use condoms, you’ll die of syphilis. This is a voice so wrapped in Stern Moral Attitude that it should be used to sentence serial killers to death. This is the voice of the football coach who sends half the team to the hospital because he thinks two-a-days in the hundred-degree heat are a way to build character. If I had to come up with some new words to describe this guy, those words might be . . . wait, I’ve got it . . . toxically masculine.
So that’s the framework. Voice-of-God Dude is gonna tell us what’s wrong with men, and to do that he’s gonna use “The Best A Man Can Get.”
Now. Am I the only person who has heard that phrase for the past 30 years and thought it meant the best shave a man can get? Was it some kind of sleeper-cell slogan? Was Gillette soaking our brains with it, like the messages in They Live!, so that three decades later they could reveal the true meaning? And were they saying that if you don’t live up to their standards—if you’re, say, a bully or a toxic male—you won’t be able to shave with Gillette products anymore?
Let’s find out. On to the 7th second:
A woman kisses a young man’s cheek (is it an old Gillette commercial? some art director’s idea of an old Gillette commercial? some generic moment in a generic movie that happens to have a protagonist with smooth cheeks?), but wait! It’s not a commercial at all because it’s on a huge movie screen, and bursting through that movie screen are a bunch of adolescent boys with backpacks and—I’m guessing here—one of the boys is being chased by the bratty (but oddly clean-cut) middle-school wolfpack. Cut to:
A mom cradling her young son, keeping his head turned away from something she’s staring at (a computer screen? a tv?) as various words pop up in cartoon dialogue balloons: “FREAK!” “You’re such a loser!” “Sissy!” “Everyone hates you!”
But before we can wrap our minds around what exactly is going on there (I’m assuming online nastiness toward the boy), the racing bullies from the previous scene break through the wall of her house and continue running, but she doesn’t notice, because she’s so intent on studying the online haters.
Stentorian Announcer: “You can’t hide from it. It’s been going on far too long.”
Well, no, I guess you can’t hide from it when the entire freshman class at Covington Catholic just demolished your living room wall. (Again, I can’t emphasize this enough, these are extremely well dressed white boys.) Cut to:
Cartoon men leering at an attractive leggy babe on a vintage tv set (not a Philco Predicta). Cut to:
A man dressed in 1950s attire in some kind of black-and-white tv show grabbing the ass of a maid as she’s dusting. Cut to:
Guys and girls on the beach. Hard to see what’s going on here because everything is in extreme closeup, but the girl is smiling. (I watched this part over and over expecting to find some kind of sexual harassment going on but it just looks like outtakes from Floribama Shore.) Cut to:
Three bored kids sitting on a couch with a remote control, watching the same goofy black-and-white man grabbing the ass of the same generic maid, and as the camera tracks back and the field of vision widens, we see that the three boys are part of the old sitcom, they’re sitting on a tv set with a studio audience, just a few feet away from the ass-grabber.
From this point on in the video, I’m too confused to follow anything else that happens.
Let me repeat that. I am a professional film critic who can tell you what happens in both Memento and Donnie Darko, and I can’t tell you what happens in this commercial. We’ve not only broken the fourth wall here, we’ve broken eight other walls that we didn’t realize were there until the Galloping Bully Horde broke them down.
And, by the way, while we’re stopped: most of this thing is about bullying, not grown-up behavior. At least half of it seems to be preaching at ten-year-old boys. But by all means let’s continue.
Voice of Zeus: “You can’t laugh it off” . . . as our 1950s black-and-white maid-fondler makes the breast-grab sign with both hands and the fake studio audience bursts into laughter. Cut to:
A huge mahogany conference table on a high floor of a city full of skyscrapers, with the Condescending CEO putting his hand on the shoulder of the only woman present and saying “What I actually think she’s trying to say . . .” while we show the pained expression on the woman’s face.
Voice of Coach Godzilla: “Making the same old excuses.”
Next we have the Three-Hundred-Lame-Dads-at-a-Barbecue Sequence. It starts with three guys in barbecue aprons watching two extremely young boys fake-fight. One of the dads says “Boys will be boys” and then the camera angle widens to show an endless line of barbecuing fistfight-enabling father figures repeating in unison “Boys will be boys,” clutching their spatulas like extras from Invasion of the Body Snatchers.
Voice of Gillette Master of the Universe: “But something finally changed.”
Dramatic energetic music over a female anchor saying “allegations regarding sexual assault and sexual harassment” quickly dissolving into a dozen screens filled with anchors and reporters all talking over one another.
Voice of our now familiar Public Scold: “And there will be no going back.”
Cut to a room full of men and women sitting in somber attentive silence, as though at a funeral, watching something off screen, we know not what. Are they scowling at the Ass-Grabbing Maid-Abuser?
Voice of our Manga Flamethrower-bearing Father Figure: “Because we . . . we believe in the best in men.” (Yes, he says “we” twice. I don’t know if it’s for emphasis, for dramatic effect, or because it used to say “Gillette believes” instead of “we believe” and they needed the extra beat.)
An older man stares meaningfully into the eyes of a younger man. (No idea.)
Terry Crews appears in a C-Span clip, saying “Men need to hold other men accountable.”
Two young women at a lawn party drink out of plastic cups and are distracted by a guy saying “Smile, sweetie!” when another guy steps in front of him, cutting off access to the two girls and saying “Come on!” (I’m not sure if the offense is the “smile” part, the “sweetie” part, the walking up to a girl at a party part, but obviously this guy has broken the Gillette Code.)
Magnanimous Gillette Moral Teacher: “To say the right thing. To act the right way.”
A guy sees a girl on the street and starts to follow her, presumably to chat her up. Another guy stops him and says “Not cool!” (I need to call my friend in Israel about this one and tell him it’s time to get a divorce. He saw a girl on the street, thought she was attractive, followed her—and a few months later they were married.)
But suddenly the speeding bullies are back! They’ve chased some kid through the entire commercial but they haven’t caught him yet and now the whole pack is racing through the Wall Street Financial District. (I told you these were rich white boys.)
Voice of Righteous Morality: “Some already are. In ways big and small.”
A dad forces his pre-school daughter to repeat after him: “I am strong.”
One of the barbecue dads runs over and stops the fight. Neither kid seems to be even slightly scratched.
Some guys on the street shake hands.
Voice of Our Collective Male Conscience: “But some is not enough.”
A dad with his own young son in tow breaks into a run in order to save the kid who’s being chased down Wall Street.
The Only Good Barbecue Dad lectures the two boys about fighting.
Voice of Omniscient Gillette: “Because the boys watching today will be the men of tomorrow.”
Sequential closeups of young boys’ faces.
Then, text materializing over a kid’s face:
THE BEST A MAN CAN GET
(Well, yeah, because that kid is too young to shave!)
Ominous text crawl:
IT’S ONLY BY CHALLENGING OURSELVES TO DO MORE
THAT WE CAN GET CLOSER TO OUR BEST
WE ARE TAKING ACTION AT THEBESTMENCANBE.ORG
If you go to the website to find out about the “taking action” part, you discover that they’re giving money to the Boys and Girls Clubs of America. (I learned to box at the Boys Club, by the way, so maybe they’re getting behind my own father’s bully-protection strategy: “Put on the gloves, son, you can’t let ‘em push you around.”)
So my message to Gillette is the same one hammered into us by my 10th-grade English teacher: Communicate in a clear transparent way.
There’s no way to figure out what Gillette is asking us to do, and therefore it’s pure virtue-signalling without knowing what virtue they’re signaling! If the four best examples they can come up with of Bad Male Behavior are:
Being nasty online.
Letting young boys fight too much.
Trying to talk to girls you see on the street.
Using the term “sweetie” or being condescending in a business meeting.
. . . then Gillette is not exactly calling for Mass Sensitivity Training. We had tougher standards than that in the Boy Scouts.
My message to the people who are angry about this is a) it’s a shaving company, b) any communication from them is intended to sell shaving products, c) they have degrees in “social responsibility marketing” at places like Dartmouth and the people who take those courses need jobs, and d) the Gillette Fusion5 ProShield is a fucking amazing razor.
You know how you buy vegetables and handicrafts and homemade candy from the Amish people in the train station but you don’t really wanna converse with them or become Amish yourself?
It’s like that. Their religion is not our religion. We’ll never understand it.
But the Gillette Fusion5 ProShield is a fucking amazing razor.