From the Marlboro Man to Pajama Boy

Marketers know that images imprint themselves on our minds and on the collective soul of society. They use images to create a need for a product—choosing images that elicit our identification with the image or stir up in us the desire to emulate that image.

The cowboy, circa 1887
The cowboy, circa 1887

A picture is worth a thousand words. Images imprint perceptions. So, for the fun of it, let’s look at two images of men, one from 2013 and one from the 1960’s, and tease out some things these images may be saying about manhood now and a generation or two ago.


The left image is the iconic 1960’s image of the Marlboro Man (in this picture is David McLean). Is an image that contains a rugged, masculine cowboy in his work, to smoke. The man is dressed in work clothes and behind him, there are and other workers too. They are men of work and action. They are living for the adventure, ready to grab a bull or an horse. His face is rough, his eyes full of intensity, looks as he knows that everything depend on him. A tough, manly photo.

Right is something recent. It is the so-called “pajama Boy”, a part of the Obama Administration’s marketing plan for the Affordable Health Care Act, published online in 2013 and is targeting Millennials. For the record, the young man in the photo is one of the OFA’s employees, Ethan Krupp.

What does it say about a man in the 21st Century? The photo shows a effeminate (or metrosexual) young man, with thick glasses and plaid pajamas, drinking hot chocolate with accompanying text reads: “Wear pajamas, drink hot chocolate and talk about getting health insurance“.

This man is inside his house wearing his pajamas, resting on a sofa, an image that suggests that he is not going anywhere soon. The atmosphere is completely passive in terms of physical activity, and yet the way that keeps the cup is passive. Perhaps preparing to make a conversation. The body posture shows self-indulgence.

What does this marketing image want to say to young men? “This is you. Being relaxed in your house, comfortable, with your pajamas, hanging out with friends and talk about things that matter“.

These two images are saying a lot about how masculinity perceived a generation ago and how is perceived now. A few decades ago, a male like him would cause disgust to other men.

Marlboro men were hard workers, often at the expense of their relationships and health, they died early, or they died with regret that they had worked so hard. But they were men of action.

The men today are still boys. Instead of working hard, they are passive, soft, can easily be hurt by “words”, sitting all day in pajamas drinking their beverage, trying to solve their problems through conversation and not through action. Will a man like this grow up someday? Get of the couch? Do something to make the world a better place? To avoid being momma’s boy?


Perhaps you can say that both images are extreme, but those images depict the today’s era perception of reality. What does Pajama Boy mean for masculinity in the 21st century?

This advertising was considered a failure and was the target of ironic comments from Obama’s opponents. On the other hand, critics of those critics went so far as to speak of attacks by “conservative” full of “misogyny”, “homophobia” and “anti-Semitism”!

Jay Michaelson, from the ‘Daily Forward’, wrote that the criticism of “Pajama Boy”, signified “anti-Semitism” because Krupp is Jewish and the “Jewish men have been accused of being unmanly for hundreds of years“.

The fact is that men are less manly than they used to be. When today’s men are compared with their grandfathers, they just don’t seem to stack up. Many theories get thrown around as to the reason behind this perceived decline in manhood and for me, besides everything else, is the declining of testosterone levels.

Studies have shown than men today, have about 20% less testosterone than men the same age did just two decades ago.

In the fall of 2006, scientists studying fish in the Potomac River reported an unsettling discovery. Collecting fish near the Wilson Bridge, the scientists found that the females were normal, but the males weren’t. When the scientists examined the male sex organs, they didn’t find sperm, they found eggs. At least, 80% of the male smallmouth bass they examined were feminized: the sex organs in the male fish were making eggs instead of sperm.

What’s causing this? Could that something, whatever it is inside the waters, affect boys and men in a similar way? Could that something causing the testosterone decline? And what else is causing this decline?

For sure, obesity and smoking affecting the testosterone levels. Environmental toxins are also playing a big role. Many modern household products and foods contain chemicals that raise your levels of estrogen (the main female hormone), and decrease your testosterone.

This testosterone declining problem, negatively impact men’s health and well-being, their fertility, but it also likely affects the preponderance of traditionally masculine ways of thinking, acting, and feeling.

So if you are wondering where are the masculine men, or the Marlboro Men, start by looking in today’s society, were men are more like Justin Bieber, than the men decades ago. It’s because the new standards society is forcing to us, the plastics we are eating and the low testosterone levels today’s men have.


Article’s sources: here, here, here and here.


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