....LMB: "Violations of Masculinity, Nachos and a Big Gulp"....

June 24, 2002

In the past week, I saw three different television commercials for two similar stores that followed a particular, unusual theme. I found it bizarre, bizarre enough to research it. But as you can tell from this site, it doesn't take much to get me to leap into research mode.

The commercials were for two convenience store chains (I'm not sure how general that term is. Convenience stores are 24-hour shops that primarily sell alcohol, soda, cigarettes and snack foods), 7-11 and AMPM. The main difference between the two is that AMPMs are attached to gas stations (ARCO gas stations. ARCO, short for Atlantic Richfield Company, a subsidiary of British Petroleum).

Commercial #1 I'd seen for the first time several months ago. A young guy, perhaps 17, is in a parked car, eating snack foods with his girlfriend. He asks her to go in to the AMPM and buy him more stuff to eat. She tells him to do it himself, and he says "but I've already been in there three times today! It's embarassing!" Cut away to a voiceover telling you to buy nachos or something. Then we see that the guy is putting on a disguise to go back into the store: his girlfriend's furry pink sweater and large, feminine sunglasses. He so loves AMPM that he'll dress up like a woman. Tee-hee.

Commercial #2 has a guy sitting in a parked car with a large cup of 7-11 soda in his lap, between his legs. His friend opens the door and sits down in the passenger seat. He places his own cup of soda in his own lap between his own legs. But his cup is twice as big as his friend's. The two exchange glances at each other's soda cups. An oh so subtle play on comparative penis size. We are clearly supposed to identify with the first guy, feeling inadequate because his cup is smaller.

Commercial #3 has two guys sitting in a parked car, with one guy eating some kind of chips. After finishing all the chips in his hand, he begins licking his fingers. After licking several fingers, the hand is wrenched violently away, and we see that the hand actually belonged to his friend. His friend had been holding the chips, and the chip-eating-guy had starting licking his male friend's fingers (to the ladies out there unfamiliar with male-male relationships, licking another man's fingers is usually considered inappropriate among friends).

So we've got three commercials here for convenience stores and convenience store products that all center around violations of the general concept of masculinity: cross-dressing; inadequate penis size; and quasi-homosexual physical contact. What the fuck is going on here?

Interestingly, there is a method to this homoerotic madness. I managed to find this press release on the 7-11 website regarding their new advertising campaign. Some interesting quotes:

"We’re emphasizing the ‘crave’ factor in these new spots,” said 7-Eleven marketing vice president Bob Merz."

"'7-Eleven satisfies your urges; sometimes you’ve just got to have a Big Gulp or a Slurpee or a hot dog. We're conveying that with ads that are clever and surprising, and relevant to our audience,' said GSD&M President Roy Spence. '7-Eleven’s core customer base is young, on-the-go, adventurous and predominantly male. They'll appreciate the humor, but more important, they’ll know we understand them.'"

And, while not relevant to the discussion at hand:

"...constants in the campaign remain the 'Oh Thank Heaven' tagline framed by a new audio 'Slurp … aaah' mnemonic device.

Mnemonic device? Clever bastards.

And if we pop over to the AMPM Franchising site, we can download a brochure entitled Too Much Good Stuff, which explains why you would want to own your own AMPM franchise. On page 10 of the brochure, under the topic of "Marketing Support," there is this revealing quote:

"...the 'too much good stuff' theme has uniquely positioned us as a place where you can give in to your urgent wants and indulge."

So there's our explanation. Convenience stores operate under the assumption that their customers are not making their purchases based upon need or logic, but upon cravings, wants and desires. Which makes sense, because nearly all of the products at a convenience store are unhealthy, and could be bought at other stores for lower prices. And since the customers are primarily young males (according to the 7-11 press release), it makes sense to show male characters giving into their cravings for soda and snacks, cravings so intense that they violate the norms of masculinity or of platonic male-male relationships*. And since we're dealing with heady topics like desire and urges, it makes sense that we see somewhat sexually-charged behavior like cross-dressing and finger-sucking.

If you wanted to take it further, I'm sure you could deepen the analysis to say something about a tendency towards homosexuality in young men, or links between food and sexual desire, but I'm not going there.

*Well, that doesn't totally work. Commercial #2 is not about violating norms. It actually implies that giving into your cravings more fully makes you more masculine: buying more soda gives you a larger penis. Therefore in that case, giving in to your desires is completely in line with masculinity.


Well. That's an hour of my life I'll never get back.

Posted by Jake at 10:21 PM

Could this be any longer?

Posted by: Gideon Stargrave at June 24, 2002 10:32 PM

Yeah, I guess I am not the only one who happens to notice this shitty decline in advertising.

Posted by: Cros-bo at December 1, 2003 08:24 AM

I live down the street from an ampm. all the poor and usually overweight kids are constantly going back and forth buying the junk food and littering my yard with the wrappers. But the worst part is that the ampm management allows beggars,drug sales, pandering and solicitation for prostitutes etc. to go on day and night. I made the mistake of allowing the store to go with out protest to the city, thinking it would raise property values. The opposite happened.

Posted by: at January 7, 2004 10:32 AM

I live down the street from an ampm. all the poor and usually overweight kids are constantly going back and forth buying the junk food and littering my yard with the wrappers. But the worst part is that the ampm management allows beggars,drug sales, pandering and solicitation for prostitutes etc. to go on day and night. I made the mistake of allowing the store to go with out protest to the city, thinking it would raise property values. The opposite happened.

Posted by: at January 7, 2004 10:32 AM
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Lying Media Bastards is both a radio show and website. The show airs Mondays 2-4pm PST on KillRadio.org, and couples excellent music with angry news commentary. And the website, well, you're looking at it.

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Media News

November 16, 2004

Tales of Media Woe

Senate May Ram Copyright Bill- one of the most depressing stories of the day that didn't involve death or bombs. It's the music and movie industries' wet dream. It criminalizes peer-to-peer software makers, allows the government to file civil lawsuits on behalf of these media industries, and eliminates fair use. Fair use is the idea that I can use a snippet of a copyrighted work for educational, political, or satirical purposes, without getting permission from the copyright-holder first.

And most tellingly, the bill legalizes technology that would automatically skip over "obejctionable content" (i.e. sex and violence) in a DVD, but bans devices that would automatically skip over commericals. This is a blatant, blatant, blatant gift to the movie industry. Fuck the movie industry, fuck the music industry, fuck the Senate.

Music industry aims to send in radio cops- the recording industry says that you're not allowed to record songs off the radio, be it real radio or internet radio. And now they're working on preventing you from recording songs off internet radio through a mixture of law and technological repression (although I imagine their techno-fixes will get hacked pretty quickly).

The shocking truth about the FCC: Censorship by the tyranny of the few- blogger Jeff Jarvis discovers that the recent $1.2 million FCC fine against a sex scene in Fox's "Married By America" TV show was not levied because hundreds of people wrote the FCC and complained. It was not because 159 people wrote in and complained (which is the FCC's current rationale). No, thanks to Jarvis' FOIA request, we find that only 23 people (of the show's several million viewers) wrote in and complained. On top of that, he finds that 21 of those letters were just copy-and-paste email jobs that some people attached their names to. Jarvis then spins this a bit by saying that "only 3" people actually wrote letters to the FCC, which is misleading but technically true. So somewhere between 3 and 23 angry people can determine what you can't see on television. Good to know.

Reuters Union Considers Striking Over Layoffs- will a strike by such a major newswire service impact the rest of the world's media?

Pentagon Starts Work On War Internet- the US military is talking about the creation of a global, wireless, satellite-aided computer network for use in battle. I think I saw a movie about this once...

Conservative host returns to the air after week suspension for using racial slur- Houston radio talk show host (and somtime Rush Limbaugh substitute) Mark Belling referred to Mexican-Americans as "wetbacks" on his show. He was suspended for a couple of weeks, and then submitted a written apology for the racial slur to a local newspaper. But he seems to be using the slur and its surrounding controversy to boost his conservative cred with his listeners.

Stay Tuned for Nudes- Cleveland TV news anchor Sharon Reed aired a story about artist Spencer Tunick, who uses large numbers of naked volunteers in his installations and photographs. The news report will be unique in that it will not blur or black-out the usual naughty bits. The story will air late at night, when it's allegedly okay with the FCC if you broadcast "indecent" material. The author of this article doesn't seem to notice that Reed first claims that this report is a publicity stunt, but then claims it's a protest against FCC repression. I'd like to think it's the latter, but I'm not that much of a sucker.

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Mission: Mongolia

Jake's first attempt at homemade Mongolican barbecue:


What went right: correctly guessing several key seasonings- lemon, ginger, soy, garlic, chili.

What went wrong: still missing some ingredients, and possibly had one wrong, rice vinegar. Way too much lemon and chili.

Result: not entirely edible.

Plan for future: try to get people at Great Khan's restaurant to tell me what's in the damn sauce.

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