The Marlboro Man, who was he really? For those old enough to remember the television cigarettes commercials that featured him The Marlboro man was the undisputed stand-in for the great American manly man. This cowboy figure captured the essence of the ideal American man. He was tough, and weather-beaten, he was a man who valued a hard day's work. The Marlboro Man wore a cowboy hat, rode a horse, and his clothes were covered in dust. He was part of the American zeitgeist for almost fifty years, until the government banned television cigarette commercials in 1972. Yet the stereotypical American male lives on in the persona of him, and any number of newer advertising symbols. These icons unfortunately are the de-facto role models that many young American boys look to for guidance on being a man.
While there have been many role models of the quintessential American man portrayed on television and in movies for boys to aspire to, many, if not all depict a one dimensional man. It would be much better if there were a set of icons that showed there is no one single way of being manly. Because the boy who grows up with permission to be fully himself will grow up to be a better man.
When boys struggle to fit themselves into a limited image of what a man should be, like those portrayed in the media, a great disservice is done to these boys. It’s far better to show boys how to grow up into human beings that happen to be male rather than growing up into Men. Boys who are given the chance to grow up fully featured will serve the world better than any one dimensional television hero.
Looking back to my boyhood one thing is clear; I knew and followed many rules on how to be a boy. These rules came from many sources. Perhaps most pervasive and persuasive was television. For me television was relatively new source of information, and, maybe because of that, trusted beyond reason. From the television came many of the rules I would come to follow throughout my boyhood and beyond. Television gave boys like me many examples of what a man should be. The Marlboro Man was one for sure. The Lone Ranger and Superman were two more, and there was the very young Clint Eastwood, who played the rough around the edges Rowdy Yates in Wagon Train. I watched theses and many others. All of them were powerful men, all without the need of anyone else, and all very sure of their decisions.
Pollack (1999) calls the unwritten rules spelled out for boys in pop culture and elsewhere The Boy Code. “The boy code functions as a set of rules and expectations that come from stereotypes of gender that seem to be outdated and highly dysfunctional” (p. 6).
The code is enforced by boys themselves, and others. I know that when I was on the school playground all of the boys, including myself, were forever ready to taunt and censure any other boy who appeared sad or afraid, especially afraid. It was well known to every boy there that they were all required to join in the chorus if need be, to...