I was talking this morning about Billy Joel, and how his toxic masculinity narratives got sold as love ballads (if you don’t believe me, go visit the video for Uptown Girl which somehow manages to be a rip off of the Thriller video but with entitled white men as the zombies) (or the lyrics of Just The Way You Are which can basically be translated as “who else would love this monster, but I do, because I’m super enlightened, though baby, don’t talk, no, no clever conversation, just listen to me”) (or how about She’s Always A Woman To Me, in which said woman ruins your life with her casual lies and her desire for free gifts.) Discussion culminated in a legitimate speculation on just how much the songs of Billy Joel shaped a generation’s views of relationships, entitlement, and hierarchy, and thus… our current political climate.
This led to a random consideration of other bits of 80’s pop culture that shaped this moment in American political life.
It’s time for a slightly goofy but also weirdly relevant discourse on the late 80’s icon, Spuds MacKenzie.
Stay with me.
Spuds MacKenzie was the symbol of Budweiser in the late 80’s, if you don’t know – a bull terrier who was never referred to as a dog, but as a “fabulously wealthy executive” who traveled with a posse of models called the Spudettes.
Budweiser rented limos and hotel rooms, and Spuds often wore a tux. The narrative of masculine privilege was a huge part of this – and it was combined with the idea that YOU could *also* drink a beer with Spuds and his sexy ladies. Spuds was not only powerful, he was a little bit dumb, but jolly, very relatable, and most of all, Successful. Spuds could party. If you hung out with Spuds, you’d probably get laid.
Here’s where I get large with this situation.
The brand of Spuds Mackenzie was almost identical to the similarly timed development of the brand of our current President.
Part of the joke of Spuds MacKenzie, of course was that he was clearly a dog. This paragon of privilege was non-sentient and worshipped by women anyway. The women in the above photo were billed as his conquests.
All this is to say: American society is incredibly weird. Budweiser managed to convince America that the highest status position for an American man was to be a hyper-masculine-branded dog.
No, really, look at this video. It’s surreal. It’s worse even than I remember.
When Spuds Mackenzie was outed as a female dog named Honey Tree Evil Eye (surely the most glorious name for a female dog who had represented all of American Goal Masculinity for 18 months at that point) it was a national scandal. People magazine actually printed the address of Honey Tree Evil Eye’s owners.
To be in a position of peak symbolic masculinity and actually be a female dog was something that caused a nationwide betrayed freakout.
All this, of course, has bearing on our current national toxic situation regarding trans* rights, and the way that the patriarchy depends increasingly on a rigid assessment of who is male and who is not, who is female and who is not – the binaries support the hierarchy and keep straight white cisgendered men in power. The notion of gender fluidity, and especially of accepted gender fluidity causes a panic in the power structure, given that it depends on rigidity.
It also has bearing on the way narratives of power are sold. Look at the man in the tuxedo here.
Why does he have power? Because he has shaped his own narrative into one very like the one Budweiser created for Spuds MacKenzie. A little dumb, but fun to party with. Successful. Surrounded by hot women. If you hang with him, you might get some success too. Money. Women. Limos. Hotels. A place on the National Security Council. A capacity to play with big bombs.
If you watched the Super Bowl this year, you might have seen Spuds MacKenzie in ghost dog format. Thirty years after the debut of the most successful dog in America, the commercial generally bewildered anyone who wasn’t around in the 80’s, but it was relevant. The ghost dog isn’t a ghost. The ghost dog is still with us. It’s reasonable that Budweiser saw fit to bring that thing around again in this moment. We have a Very Successful Man making the rounds.
In this case, sadly, the man in question is not secretly a woman named Honey Tree Evil Eye. (Oh, it would be glorious, but no.)
He is, however, a dog in a man suit.
He does not represent leadership. His suit and tie and entourage, his “money” and “success” signify power only to a society that has been brainwashed so hard by patriarchal structure that it was possible for us to see a bull terrier in a tuxedo as the man all men wanted to be, and to miss the fact that Spuds MacKenzie was a joke, not a goal.