Applebees Knows Men

5 Feb

It took a few tries to find the commercial on YouTube, but when I finally searched “Applebees Men,” there it was:

“[4 men walk into Applebees; football on the TVs in the background; distorted guitar music plays] [Narrator] It’s a new year and time for a fresh start. [Man A] ‘What are you gonna have?’ [Man B] ‘Real burger.’ [Man C] ‘Double-glazed ribs.’ [Man D] ‘House sirloin.’ [Man A] ‘I’m gonna have one of these under 550 calorie meals.’ [throws down menu] [music stops] [camera pans to each man, looking embarrassed] [Man A laughs to himself]. Time for Applebee’s unbelievably great-tasting and under 500 calories menu. Great tasting, generous dishes like new Teriyaki Shrimp Pasta, new Sirloin with Garlic Herb Shrimp, and more. All under 500 calories, and starting at $8.99. [cut back to table; food arrives] [Man B] ‘That’s under 550 calories?’ [other guys try to steal his food]. Only at Applebess. There’s no place like the neighborhood. Open until midnight or later.”

So what’s happening here? Applebees is teaching a number of misguided lessons through this commercial. The first is that men are tough, sports-loving, carnivorous beings. Male bonding can only happen in the presence of food and competition; anything else would be far too feminine. That Man A’s companions laugh at him for choosing one of the <550 cal menu items reinforces the notion that heathy eating is not the activity of “real men”. This is no exaggeration; I’ve experienced this identical situation when ordering salads at restaurants. The fact that those companions eat their words (no pun intended) at the end of the commercial is irrelevant; the damage has been done – Man A is still the low man on the totem.

The commercial replays the classic homophobia that Kimmel calls the “central organizing principle of our cultural definition of manhood” [1]. The companions’ emasculating behavior mirrors the homophobia that shames men and boys who do not live up to society’s definition of “masculine.” Seeing this ad on TV made me furious, but I imagine that the general public reaction was not so critical. Indeed, when I raised a fuss afterward, my partner said to me: “Lighten up, TCM. It was funny.” Was it?

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[1] Kimmel, M.S. Chapter 33: Masculinity as Homophobia: Fear, Shame, and Silence in the Construction of Gender Identity. In Adams, M., Blumenfeld, W.J., Castaneda, R., Hackman, H.W., Peters, M.L., & Zuniga, X. (Eds.) (2000). Readings for diversity and social justice. New York: Routledge.

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One Response to “Applebees Knows Men”

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