By David Schrock
How long does it take to lose a proper view of biblical masculinity?
Assuming that someone has been exposed to a true vision of manhood, the amount of time depends. For those who have gleaned from Scripture that God made men and women different, it would take some time and convincing. But tragically, in a (church) culture devoid of strong biblical literacy, a biblical view of manhood could be stolen in sixty seconds or less.
The Normalization of the Neutered Male
Recently, three television commercials caught my eye. Individually, these commercials would have had some impact. Yet, arranged one after the other, they provided a bizarre catena of gender confusion that arrested my attention. You are probably familiar with them, but let me summarize.
The first commercial was for the Volkswagon Passat, the one that shows a father playing catch with his son. The boy clearly lacks the throwing mechanics necessary to play little league. His ineptitude is sad but sweet, until it becomes apparent that—like father, like son—this boy has simply adopted his father’s pitching motion. The commercial goes on to contrast the errant game of catch with the enduring promise of giving your son “something that he will be thankful for.”
The next commercial featured a stay-at-home dad folding laundry and describing the advantages of Tide Boost, along with his new vocation. The commercial celebrates the erasure of gender roles—where this ‘dad mom’ stays at home to get out stains and braid hair.
The third commercial follows an urban dad taking his baby girl out on the town. Sporting his baby carrier, all eyes are on daddy and daughter. The twist in the commercial comes as he makes his way to Taco Bell to enjoy a big, beefy burrito. In its own sophisticated way, Taco Bell has embodied the new masculinity—a sensitive dad who sports a baby carrier in public while still taking time to satisfy his age-old craving for red meat.
What are we to make of these commercials? Each presents something very wholesome and good—a father and son playing catch; a dad willing to serve his wife and children around the house; a man being unashamed to care for his baby on the streets of the city. Yet, without changing camera angles, each commercial distorts God’s vision of manhood.
Mocking a Father’s Greatest Gift
In the Volkswagon commercial, the game of catch makes the father look foolish. His attempt to pass down his throwing motion subtly mocks the rite of passage that is having a “catch” with dad. Without saying it, this commercial reinforces the standard portrait of men on television—a father who just can’t get it right.
In this case, Volkswagon takes the television stereotype and offers dad a new solution. Instead of imparting your weakness, dad, why not try to give him something of real worth? The commercial pits the father’s baseball skills against the Passat’s enduring value. In this setup, the father has no chance. Sadly, it reinforces a greater tragedy: Men who give their children stuff but fail to give themselves.
Here is the pitching error: Playing catch (even poorly) does far more for a boy than simply imparting a physical skill. Playing catch (or for that matter, fixing an engine, planting a garden, or casting a fly rod) imparts life to boy. When a father goes into the yard to play ball with his boy(s), he gives his son attention, time, energy, and love. He gives himself. There is far more going on in a game of catch than just some kind of commodified investment. Need a visual aid? Just watch the end of Field of Dreams. You will see the difference.
In the name of commercial humor, Volkswagon subtly applauds men whose fathering centers on giving stuff to their children. Simultaneously, it questions men who attempt (and may fail) at giving themselves. In the process, they make father’s look silly and boys look forward to what thing their dad might give them next, all the while missing the greatest gift a father can give—himself.
Redefining Masculine Heroes
If Volkswagon mocks men, Tide affirms them, or at least, a growing demographic of men. In its shortened version, Tide portrays dad as the ‘hero’ of the home front, but to do so, the commercial invents a new category of men—the ‘dad mom.’ This confused nomenclature is reinforced by the clever ways that removing stains becomes a serious case of problem solving and the ‘supercharged’ Tide Boost is the power tool necessary to get the job done. Like the laundry in view, the language is carefully cleaned and folded.
Yet, language is only part of the problem. A great problem arises with the way that Tide suggests why a man should become a dad mom. The payoff for this new role is presented as a way to get more ‘me time.’
There it is. Tide’s ideal dad mom willingly stays at home so that in the end he can do more for . . . wait for it . . . himself. Regardless of vocation, this hardly befits a man.
Though “me time” has become a staple idea in our culture, the concept is rife with self-centered smallness. As Eric Metaxas has recently argued in his book Seven Men, God has endowed men with strength not so that they can supercharge the laundry, but so that they could change the world around them—at home and abroad.
In reality, Tide is not to blame for this weak vision of manhood. They are simply reflecting a culture that expects men to live for themselves. And when adolescent boys, whose hearts are filled with selfish folly, see a picture of a man who stays home and has ample ‘me time,’ they are invited to find a woman—probably multiple women—who will take care of the finances while they take care of the home—and themselves. This is not what God had in mind when created mankind as male and female (see Titus 2:1-10).
Confusing Sacrifice and Reward
Last, the Taco Bell commercial continues this same gender confusion. The problem is not that a man cares for children or that he is seen in public with his baby—the anterior papoose, on the other hand, is another story. The problem is the acceptance that men will do things they don’t want to do with great joy (i.e., take care of a baby), in order to do something they do want to do (i.e., eating a big, beefy burrito). Again, there is truth in this. Men (and women too) should be motivated to do hard things for the sake of a later, greater reward.
Jesus used this logic: Whoever wants to save his life (later, greater reward) must lose his life (antecedent sacrifice). However, the problem with the Taco Bell commercial, as with the Tide commercial, is that the payoff is self-absorbed. So long as you get your stomach filled, the trial of taking your child into public—and it is often a trial—is worth it.
By contrast, men should embrace their fatherly calling to parent their children. Admittedly, I am much better playing ball with my boys than I was at burping them. Still, the call to care for our youngest children is not a calling on men that we should endure with the hope of food, fantasy, or Monday Night Football on the other side. We should labor and suffer to bring joy to the ones who God has brought into our care. The Taco Bell commercial inverts that. The burrito, not the baby, becomes the apple of this daddy’s eye. By consequence, it reaffirms me-centered mentality that our culture accepts as normal for adult men.
Distortion Happens in Sixty Second Sound Bites
In the end, these commercials play to and perpetuate public perception. They each display an unbiblical worldview concerning gender roles. Though, none of them seek to redefine manhood at a cognitive level, they reinforce the normalcy of neutered men. They teach adolescents and those who do not know better that men are typically incompetent, small-minded, and self-seeking. Tragically, through commercials like these and countless other pixilated images, the erosion of manhood continues.
We must learn to think more critically and to engage the media with greater biblical sensitivity. We must opens our eyes to see the endless string of images supplied by commercials or any other entertainment program that contradict God’s plan for masculinity. We must watch carefully the images we put before our eyes, because if we are not careful, in less than sixty seconds our vision can be undetectably distorted. And over the course of a lifetime, such a series of miniscule distortions steals away a biblical view of manhood.
May God give men the grace to behold the glory of God in the face of Christ, so that they might reflect his godliness in every masculine feature of their lives.
David Schrock is the Pastor of Calvary Baptist Church in Seymour, Indiana. He graduated from Albion College and then obtained a M.Div. at Southern Seminary. He is currently pursuing a Doctorate in Theology from Southern Seminary. He is a husband and father of two children.
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