Identity vs. The Mythical Norm by Paige Schaffer

I chose the theme identity vs. mythical norm because the idea of the white, heterosexual, physically fit, financially stable male has always stuck out to me. Everywhere we turn we see images of this mythical norm, and how successful or happy they appear to be. It makes the other groups, the ‘misfits,’ strive to achieve something similar to this norm in order to gain that same type of gratification. The man that fits into the ‘norm’ always seems to be privileged in ways that most people never will be. Only recently have we began to see a break from the constant media and advertisements including only this very small group that is a piece of a wide variety of identities in America. I chose to display a variety of mediums such as commercial ads, print ads, and magazines, in order to convey the universal message that these men are dominating pop culture.

Artifact #1 GQ Magazine

zac efron GQWGSST artifact #3c


In this particular piece, we see two different covers of the men’s magazine GQ. On both covers, the men look very similar in a variety of categories. They are white, young, heterosexual, successful, fit men donning tailored suits. This appearance makes a multitude of suggestions about these particular men that the magazine wants readers to recognize. Race, sexual orientation, economic class, body type and style are all the exact same; this idea of the “mythical norm” that Audre Lorde describes in her article on redefining difference. The titles of these covers include “Hide Your Daughters” and “The Continuing Education of Zac Efron.” The photos, the reputation of the men pictured, and the titles are all hinting at the media’s version of the most sophisticated man, or what most men should strive to be. They are seen as powerful, dominant, captivating men that look and act a certain way, buy specific brands or products, or wear certain cloths. GQ displays a particularly dominant view of the mythical norm male in these covers, portraying them to be on a level that most people who do not identify with these categories would never reach.

Artifact #2 Axe Commercial

In this axe commercial, we see a young, white male attracting hundreds of women with the scent of Axe body spray. This ad utilizes a completely dominant outlook on gender norms, portraying the women as lusting over him, competing with each other to get to him first. The women in this ad are wearing hardly any clothing, and they are seen as chasing after this man who is a picturesque version of the mythical norm. He holds power, dominance and privilege over the women that are trying to get to him. It represents women in a way that is hypersexualized and easily manipulated, while he is represented as the driving force behind their actions. Miss Representation discusses this widely used idea of women being seen as merely objects to please men. In this case, the women are objectified to please a once-again normative, white, heterosexual young man.

Artifact #3 Cologne Advertisement 

WGSST artifact #2WGSST artifact #1

In this piece, there are two separate cologne advertisements. We can see that each fragrance is a brand name, fairly expensive product. The men in the photos illustrate a typical dominant and similar physical appearance, along with suggestive unmarked features. From the ad we can conclude that both men are white, fit young males. Aside from the marked characteristics, it is also assumed by both ads that they are economically stable enough to afford either the perfume itself, or the clothing or hobbies outlined in the image. This suggests a higher economic class or a more privileged background. The cologne distributors responsible for this ad are clearly appealing to a specific type of American male- one that has similar attributes to identify with the ad, who can afford the cologne, or ones that wish to attain attributes such as the ones pictured. These ‘wishful’ consumers may purchase the product as well due to the appeal of what they are “supposed” to look like, and in turn smell like. In this case the mythical norm works as a way to sell a specific product, making the cologne’s appeal exaggerated through the hyper masculine, dominantly appealing models.

Artifact #4 Donna Karan Fashion Advertisement 

WGSST artifact #4

This advertisement seems, on the surface, to be oppositional to the idea of mythical norm. In some ways, it is. We do not see a white male anywhere in the ad. However, what we do see here truly speaks to the power balance and public view of groups outside of that ‘norm.’ The model, an attractive white woman, is seen wearing high fashion clothing and jewelry in an area of less fortunate circumstances. This suggests that she has a level of economic comfortability or stability to allow her to have brand name clothes such as these. Despite the power her race and economic status might bring, we still see her subjected to the gaze of men in the background and her body being put on display. On the other hand, the men in the picture, who hold a slight amount of power due to their gaze on the model, still have very little dominance in any other area. They are portrayed as poor, black, not physically muscular men. They are placed behind her, in the shadows of the background. Hooks describes this particular occurrence in her article. Although she is discussing the ‘absent presence’ of black women, it is clearly displayed in this ad for the black men. They are a part of the ad, but not in a main role, merely as a background or a prop to further the agenda of the clothing ad. While there might not be a normative white male figure in the advertisement, the groups that are represented are done so in a way that reinforces their passive nature and powerless demeanor.

Artifact #5 Gillette Commercial 

This commercial is truly an oppositional piece that speaks directly against societal norms. Not only are the men non white, from many diverse backgrounds and with no suggestion of economic class, but they also hold no power or dominance over the women. In fact, the ad is encouraging the respect of women. While it is still an advertisement for Gillette shaving products, they utilized their position in the media to further a message and gain attention. They do not use a stereotypical, normative, attractive white male and they do not even show their product in the ad. Instead they associated their brand name with a new idea of pushing back against these norms, respecting women and embracing diversity.

Cumulative Analysis

All of the texts included in this playlist are either reinforcing or diminishing the popular media idea of a ‘mythical norm.’ This normative figure includes a white, heterosexual, fit, financially stable male. Most of the texts show evidence that brands and companies use this norm to create a feeling of need in the consumer. This desire to attain whatever it is that the model or actor is encountering. It creates a power balance, a dominance that one group creates over the others without stating that fact blatantly. Lull describes this phenomenon known as ‘Hegemony,’ particularly ideological hegemony. These companies only show representation of a particular group, and therefore gives advantage, privilege and power to that group that is highly represented. If you are outside this elite group of Americans, where do you stand? Who do you identify with? Jhally outlines in the article “Image-Based Culture” that what we consider to be normal or acceptable is shaped through advertisements in the marketplace. The companies responsible for these ads have purposefully created this mythical norm, which can be considered a small percentage of the American population.

With this norm established, there is an ongoing desire to acquire everything that will put you in close range to identify with what American culture considers ‘normal.’ This furthers the power dynamic between the white male and all the other groups that are underrepresented or represented in a way that is not ideal. Minorities are often portrayed in a subtle background, and women are objectified or dominated. Both of these groups fall under the constant contradiction with the norm that society and media have established. As seen in the ads, most women do not have a powerful role in these media texts, but rather a role that displays them as a prop or a means to an end. An end that usually includes gratification of the white heterosexual male that has the protagonist role of the text.


Artifact #1

“Robert Pattinson Covers GQ.” JustJaredJr. Just Jared Inc. n.d. Web. 6 Oct 2013.

“Zac Efron Covers GQ May 2009.” JustJared. Just Jared Inc. n.d. Web. 6 Oct 2013.

Lorde, Audre. “Age, Race, Class and Sex.” Reading Women’s Lives. Ed. Amanda Rossie. New York: Pearson Learning Solutions, 2010. Pg 19.

Artifact #2

burley1988. “The AXE Effect.” YouTube. 3 Oct 2006Web. 6 Oct 2013.

Miss Representation. Jennifer Siebel Newsome. Oct 2011. Web. 6 Oct 2013.

Artifact #3

Arscott, Susan. “Moving On to the Next Section.” 11 Dec 2012. Web. 6 Oct. 2012.

“Calvin Klein Man Cologne Ad.” Photograph. Flickr. Web. 6 Oct 2013.

Artifact #4

Kearney, Ariana. “When Inspiration Strikes.” 31 May 2012. Web. Oct 6 2013.

Hooks, Bell. “The Oppositional Gaze.” The Feminism and Visual Culture Reader. Ed. Amelia Jones. 2nd ed. New York: Routledge, 2010. Pg. 107-109. 6 Oct 2013.

Artifact #5

Vipin Ranwa. Gillette the Soldier in You TV Ad Commercial 2013.” YouTube. 23 Feb 2013. Web. 6 Oct 2013.


Lull, James. “Hegemony.” Gender, Race, and Class in Media: A Critical Reader. Ed. Gail Dines and Jean M. Humez. 3rd ed. Los Angeles: Sage, 2011. Pg 61-63. Print. 6 Oct 2013.

Jhally, Sut. “Image-Based Culture.” Gender, Race, and Class in Media: A Critical Reader. Ed. Gail Dines and Jean M. Humez. 3rd ed. Los Angeles: Sage, 2011. Pg 199. Print. 6 Oct. 2013.


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