Saturday, June 3, 2017

Whose Afraid of Girl (and Gay) Cooties?

First there was rolling coal:

More recently, there were people who declared they would celebrate Turnip withdrawing the U.S. from the Paris climate accord by going for long drives in their 15 mpg trucks or turning up their air conditioning with the windows open.

In some ways, 45’s motivation for removing us from the accord seems like more of the same poking at liberals, except at a much larger scale.

What is all of this vitriol about? It seems completely illogical to me, except as utter troll behavior. What do they get out of it?

A guy named Michael Sweeney (@mtsw), whose Twitter bio says he is a daytime-Emmy-winning editor, had an interesting analysis that makes some sense to me. He starts off with Trump’s reference to representing Pittsburgh and not Paris from an angle I had not keyed into:

Okay guys, we need to talk about this Pittsburgh and Paris stuff. People are confused. It's about gender.

This has been one of the biggest messaging oversights for Democrats and it needs to be discussed. The GOP plays on it explicitly all the time. After all, "everyone knows" Pittsburgh hasn't really had a mining or steel economy in decades.
BUT! Forget what you know. What image of a person pops into your mind when you think "Pittsburgh?" Something like this right?

Who comes to mind when you hear "Paris?"

These are stereotypes, but stereotypes are important in political messaging because they're easy for our mind to remember and recall. People vote on their IDENTITY and VALUES before self-interest. It's a basic tenant of persuasion (read George Lakoff for more on this).

What Democrats and Progressives need to understand is that for many people across America, masculinity is a big part of their identity. THIS IS NOT ONLY TRUE OF MEN! Many women are just as invested in these traditional gender roles for men. Expect men to "act like men"

Conservatives understand this! There's a cottage industry of memes/messaging that's basically just calling liberals gay with no subtext. Sidebar: A lot of this has been cultivated on Madison Avenue to sell shit to people, notably shitty beer and trucks:

But there's an entire sector of the ad industry that's basically just selling, like, bath soap – but in a "tough" way. Trucks are significant. For practical reasons, trucks are associated with a lot of "manly" jobs, especially agriculture and construction. Truck advertising understands this and pitches trucks as manly using association with these jobs as the hook:

Therefore, what's NOT manly? Small cars (Priuses) and bicyclists. The sales pitch is that you aren't a man if you drive something smaller. People internalize this to the extent truck drivers will run cyclists and Priuses off the road as a hobby.

So you can see that the "be a man = get a truck" sales pitch rubs off on neighboring or opposing concepts in people's heads. Not a big leap from "Priuses = gay" to "caring about the environment = gay."

So if you're someone who is invested in your identity as a man, you're getting messages that caring about the environment is against YOU:

Conservatives, and Donald Trump, are not confused about this – hence "Pittsburgh vs. Paris." Why are progressives?

Labor leaders get it too. Check out this great, and sadly mostly unseen ad from the United Steel Workers. They even smartly turn the masculinity frame around on Donald Trump as "soft handed boss."

It's Democrats in Washington who don't seem to get that they're losing workers' votes across the country not because of self-interest but because of IDENTITY and VALUES. They're making "YAS KWEEN" pitches to guys who seem themselves as truck guys from the ads.

It's easy to reframe Progressive values as something compatible with masculinity. But you have to actually try, and Democrats aren't right now.
Sweeney is right, but he misses (or maybe disagrees with) the idea that this type of masculinity is toxic to human happiness and long-term survival. It's shouldn't be catered to, in my opinion: it should be countered. An alternative needs to be portrayed. That could be done in much more effective ways than in current progressive messaging (like the Steel Workers ad and yes! by listening to George Lakoff), but I am not down with a campaign that sells Democratic candidates as new-wave masculinist gender essentialists.

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