In 2007, General Motors launched the Hummer H3. GM produced a commercial about tofu, meat, and masculinity to advertise this military-inspired civilian vehicle.
Slate ad critic Seth Stevenson offered this review, "SUV for Hippies?"
"The Spot: A man waits in the checkout line at the supermarket. He's buying organic tofu and leafy vegetables. Meanwhile, the guy in line behind him is stacking up huge racks of meat and barbecue fixings. Tofu guy, looking a bit insecure, suddenly notices an ad for the Hummer H3 SUV. Eureka! In a series of quick cuts, he exits the supermarket, goes to the Hummer dealership, buys a new H3, and drives off—now happily munching on a large carrot. 'Restore the balance,' reads the tag line."
To be a man during the so-called War on Terror—the Hummer representing a universal tool of empire—meant eating cooked flesh outdoors and driving a mini-war machine. A big truck, big gun, big this, big that, big everything, is often about small… egos.
Stevenson writes, "It's stunning how enthusiastically the ad embraces this idea. The entire plot is based on it. A guy feels wimpy because another guy saw him buying tofu, so he dashes out and buys a Hummer to feel better about himself."
This commercial is both hilarious and revelatory, as well as cultural and pedagogical. I remember seeing this in "real-time," laughing and realizing how insidiously brilliant advertisers could be: from wimpy hippies to noxious virility in thirty seconds—at the height of the so-called "war on terror."
Why respond to climate change or a global war for oil by purchasing an electric or hybrid vehicle that saves gas and oil when you can "support the troops" by buying a little Hummer? Coaling—altering a truck's diesel engine to burn fat and create black smoke—was becoming a more common practice as a political statement at this time. Check out this HuffPost article, "Political Protest or Just Blowing Smoke?"
General motors did not ignore the gender binary; according to Stevenson, "A second, similar spot—with a woman in the lead role—is no better. This time, the scene is a playground, and the woman is standing alongside her son when another boy cuts them in line for the slide. "I'm sorry, Jake was next," she says politely. "Yeah, well, we're next now," replies the other kid's mom with a scowl. Once again, our wounded protagonist races straight to a Hummer dealer and drives off with a truck seconds later. The tagline this time: "Get your girl on." Interestingly, no one seems to have complained about this take on femininity. But one of my readers suggests the message is this: "Even women can have tiny dicks, and the Hummer is the cure."