The Solo man has returned.
Something of an Australian icon, he’s been round since the 1970s, doing his part to make lemon squash masculine.
We never had Solo in New Zealand, but I was introduced to him via an exquisite Fast Forward parody in the 1990s which ended with the Solo man breaking character at the end and complaining in a fey voice to the crew that he “couldn’t open the bloody can”. He had to be saved by a sound engineer, who also struggled with the tab.
Advertising creates myths every day. Sometimes the illusions are innocuous, sometimes ridiculous, sometimes harmful. Often they’re a combination of all three, particularly when they become embedded over time.
The new Solo man image is an appealing one, particularly from a gay man’s perspective. There he is, in his shorts with his powerful legs, effortlessly tipping a barrel of lemon-flavoured sugar all over himself against the backdrop of nature. It’s homoerotic on a number of levels, although I doubt that was the advertiser’s intention.
Yet the image and slogan play to an idea that continues to be damaging for the wellbeing of men in Australia and New Zealand: the idea that to do something to excess is a sign of strength and virility.
The barrel is highly reminiscent of a keg, and the slogan one word away from the timeless “drown your sorrows”, the ultimate illusory instruction.
As much as I hate to draw attention to anything involving the Salvation Army, they released some research yesterday (from a reliable pollster) saying 1.4 million people believe “someone in their immediate or extended family was not able to undertake normal social activities due to alcohol use.”
Since arriving in Australia, the ubiquity of alcohol advertising has been very noticeable. The very newspaper in which the Sallies research was published, the Herald Sun, is a prime offender. Every second page seems to contain full-page spreads for the latest booze specials at the supermarket or Liquorland.
For several weeks recently, I sat next to another giant one at my bus stop.
With all of the time and money being put into crushing tobacco consumption, it seems no-one is really willing to have a national discussion on the effects of alcohol, unless it’s a discussion involving how pissed we all got at the weekend.
“Public drunkenness has lost its stigma. People look the other way. Being drunk doesn’t attract the disdain that it used to.”
Perhaps I’m too young, but I don’t remember public drunkenness ever attracting disdain. It was the thing to do when I was a teenager. I haven’t seen much change in the interim.
I’ve had to curb much of my drinking due to the magnified effects it has on my mood, so this could come across as the opinion of a biased wowser.
But as gay men, a lot of our culture is based around drinking. Walter Armstrong, in an article for RealJock.com, goes so far as to describe it as the “granddaddy” of gay health problems. While he argues against linking drinking problems to sexual orientation – he believes they are coinciding issues rather than interrelated – it’s certainly one of the elephants in our increasingly-crowded room.
“Early-onset alcoholism, defined as prior to age 25, is viewed as the most severe, hardest-to-treat strain; it comprises about 40 percent of the estimated one million American men who have alcoholism. And studies do show that the younger an alcoholic is when he takes his first drink, the less successful he is likely to be at revering from the disease.”
I’ve known older gay men who have managed to successfully kick the booze habit after years of going too far. But it’s a long, hard road.
The effects of a hangover are more than just physical: alcohol is a depressant, and the ‘mental hangover’ can last for days. Thoughts, behaviour and actions are affected. Your performance at work, your interaction with friends and partners, and family. How you feel about your own self-worth.
The Solo man is indicative of a deeper problem with men and how we’re supposed to see ourselves. Rugged, relentless, and individual. After he’s drowned his thirst, who will be there to pick up the pieces?