A little fun speculative post today.
It has been widely recognized that women generally initiate the decision to attend an arts and cultural event. Now given that the vast majority of playwrights, composers, visual artists, choreographers, etc have been Caucasian males and most audiences are comprised of Caucasians, I wonder what it is in their work that seems to speak to Caucasian women more than any other group.
As much as you can point out that it is no longer true that Caucasian male creative artists are responsible for as large a percentage of creative output as they once were, I can link to tons of blog posts and articles that note that the ratio is still too large. I am sure there will be many who will suggest that an even larger number of women would attend if the creative content was actually geared to them.
So I ask, albeit with a little tongue in cheek, how have Caucasian male artists failed Caucasian male audiences and how can we get those men back?
This is where I want to play my speculative little game. I am not going to advocate for more White male centric art. I think its good that what is out there appeals to a wider spectrum of the community. Given that people have shown the capacity to identify with art created by those who are unlike them and that doesn’t speak directly to their experiences, I think there is room for more to be created by artists of diverse backgrounds.
But in fact, I am not going to really argue directly for artistic content at all but rather suggest maybe we need to think about how the experience is positioned.
Earlier this month, Smithsonian.com had a piece about how the United States was sold on using deodorant. It an interesting story about how deodorants and antiperspirants were formulated and ultimately advertised to the American people by playing on their insecurities about smelling bad.
However, the earliest efforts were aimed at women which resulted in deodorant use being regarded as feminine. A man was supposed to possess a manly odor!
But with half the population not buying the toiletries, manufacturers felt they were missing out on untapped potential. Early attempts were made to get women to buy deodorant for their husbands but it was still largely seen as a female product.
Comments in a 1928 survey read:
““I consider a body deodorant for masculine use to be sissified,” notes one responder. “I like to rub my body in pure grain alcohol after a bath but do not do so regularly,” asserts another.”
Now if rubbing your whole body with pure grain alcohol isn’t manly, I don’t know what is. I feel less of a man for only splashing it on my face after shaving.
Later attempts were aimed at male insecurity as well.
In the Great Depression of the 1930s men were worried about losing their job. Advertisements focused on the embarrassment of being stinky in the office, and how unprofessional grooming could foil your career, she says.
“The Depression shifted the roles of men,” Casteel says. “Men who had been farmers or laborers had lost their masculinity by losing their jobs. Top Flite offered a way to become masculine instantly—or so the advertisement said.” To do so, the products had to distance themselves from their origins as a female toiletry.
For example, Sea-Forth, a deodorant sold in ceramic whiskey jugs starting in the 1940s, “because the company owner Alfred McKelvy said he ‘couldn’t think of anything more manly than whiskey,’” Casteel says.
At this juncture, I think it is pretty much a moral imperative that I insert the following:
I think if the arts and culture industry is going to take its cues from deodorant advertisers, (and why wouldn’t you?), it is going to need to move beyond depending on women buying tickets for husbands and boyfriends and reframe the experience in some way.
While I am not necessarily above using someone’s insecurities to motivate them into action, I think I would rather take a more constructive approach to making men believe initiating a trip to an arts and cultural event is socially acceptable and perhaps even expected.
Obviously, the arts and culture industry needs to replace the word “men” in the previous sentence with other segments of their community in an effort to serve a greater portion of their potential audience.
And while we no longer get our deodorant packaged in whiskey jugs, (pity), reformulating and packaging the product for wider audience segments is still going to be required. Can’t get away selling the same old stuff.
While it is a lot of fun equating theatre and deodorant, I have to confess I don’t really have a lot of ideas in regard to what an effective approach might be. Anyone have any thoughts?