In Hyundai’s Super Bowl commercial entitled “First Date,” the advertisement highlights the new feature of car tracking in their vehicles by showing a concerned father allowing his teenage daughter’s date to borrow his Hyundai so that he can follow the pair around during their evening out. The advertisement comically exaggerates the lengths to which this father will go to ensure the safety, and sexual abstinence, of his daughter. This advertisement illustrates the assumption of heterosexuality as the norm, the way race and ethnicity effect definitions of masculinity, and reaffirms binary gender roles in its portrayal of a Black couple out on their first date followed by an overprotective father.
The first image that flashes onto the screen in this commercial is that of a teenage boy waiting at the door of a house, and it unsurprising when a teenage girl comes to meet him. The pair represents a typical teenage couple, with the boy affirming his heterosexuality at several points. At the very beginning, he looks the girl over and comments on her appearance in a way that suggests his physical attraction to her. Later, when the pair is in a movie theater, the boy attempts to put his arm around the girl, so initiating more intimate physical contact, only to be stopped by the girl’s father sitting behind them. Finally, the boy takes his date to a secluded area overlooking the city in a scene that mirrors traditional stories and movies in which couples go to such spots to engage in sexual activity away in a semi-private space away from parents and others. Each of these actions affirms the boy’s heterosexuality, which is assumed from the beginning. Heterosexuality is assumed because it lacks a large amount of scholarship on it, which Katz writes “continue[s] to privilege the “normal” and “natural” at the expense of the “abnormal” and “unnatural” (231). Heterosexuality maintains an unquestioned status as the normal in such a way that marginalizes every other sexual orientation, and in a way that fails to reflect the dynamic understandings of heterosexuality and what is the norm. The sexual component of the relationship featured in this commercial, although never fully realized, speaks to another aspect of common understandings about heterosexuality: fecundity. The 1940s gave rise to the image of heterosexual couples as fertile and productive, making part of heterosexual identity the ability to procreate (237). While this partly relates to earlier ideas about natural sex drive or libido, it also speaks to a sort of responsibility on the part of heterosexual couples to engage in sexual activity in order to be productive members of society. The actions of the boy in this commercial to assert his heterosexuality affirm heterosexuality as the norm and marginalize non-normative sexualities.
Among the striking things about this commercial is that it features exclusively Black individuals as its main characters. Because the commercial itself focuses on the men involved, this analysis will also focus on the way race effects perceptions about masculinity. The boy featured in this advertisement enacts several key points of traditional hegemonic masculinity, which “embodied the currently most honored way of being a man, it required all other men to position themselves in relation to it” (Connell and Messerschmidt 832). Although most men do not entirely fit the mold of hegemonic masculinity, they must still demonstrate how they compare or fit into some parts of it. For example, the boy in this commercial wears jewelry, which is typically seen as feminine, but counterbalances this by asserting his sexuality and in proving his athletic prowess by winning a stuffed animal at the carnival game for his date. Historically, Black men have been portrayed as hypersexual, harkening back to times when there was a pervasive fear among Whites, especially women, of Black men’s sexuality (some of which persists today). It is the final portion of the advertisement that most clearly speaks to this point. The advertisement is titled “First Date,” and the beginning is much of what one would expect from a first date—a movie and an activity in a public place, in this case a carnival rather than dinner, for example. However, in the final part of the date the boy takes the girl to a secluded area where it is clearly suggested he intends for them to be physically intimate, although to what degree his expectations extended is unclear. This presumption of physical and sexual intimacy on a first date when it is unclear whether the couple is even exclusive speaks to a hypersexualization of the main character as a young Black man in that it demonstrates his desire for physical intimacy and the ways in which he leads, and one could argue even pressures to a certain degree, his date to meet his desires and expectations.
The role of the father in this advertisement also conforms to traditional notions of masculinity enacted in a different way given the difference in the relationship between a father and daughter rather than between heterosexual partners. Hegemonic masculinity positions women as subordinate to men by way of culture, institutions, and social structures (Connell and Messerschmidt 832). In this commercial, the father enacts hegemonic masculinity by establishing his dominance over the boy, who he sees as seeking to in some ways dominate his daughter. He seeks to give off and imposing and threatening presence that makes the boy reconsider and ultimately decide against actions the father deems inappropriate. In this way, the father not only dominates the boy but also his own daughter by deciding what is and is not appropriate for her. In fact, he does not even allow her the agency to decide for herself or weigh in on what is appropriate. This demonstrates the cultural aspect of hegemonic masculinity in that the father asserts himself within a role society has traditionally assigned him as head of the family and so dominant over each member and all decisions made by the family, as well as its protector. Perhaps the father’s aggressive assertion of his dominance speaks to a desire to counterbalance his short stature, which does not conform to traditional ideas of manhood, with something that does align with hegemonic masculinity. In conforming to some ideals of masculinity and failing to conform to others, the father illustrates the flawed nature of masculinity that “essentializes the character of men or imposes a false unity on a fluid and contradictory reality” (836). The restrictive nature of traditional masculinity speaks to what Butler’s argument that identity categories are by nature repressive, while they also provide a unifying point around which to rally support (308). The father seeks to negotiate his own masculinity in a repressive box that he does not wholly fit into but also belongs in some ways to. The father in this commercial conforms to hegemonic masculinity in his assertion of dominance over another man and his daughter, as well as in his enactment of the role of father itself as being one of protecting and controlling the family and its members.
The Hyundai advertisement affirms traditional notions of heterosexuality in its portrayal of the couple on their first date and specifically the boy’s assertion of his heterosexuality. The boy’s sexuality also speaks to the hypersexualization of Black men, which is distinct from broader understandings of masculinity. Finally, the father’s gender performance demonstrates the repressive nature of identity categories, specifically hegemonic masculinity, which he neither fits completely nor eschews.
Butler, Judith. “Imitation and Gender Insubordination,” in The Lesbian and Gay Studies
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Connell, R.W., and James Messerschmidt. “Hegemonic Masculinity: Rethinking the
Concept.” Gender Society 19 (2005).
Katz, Jonathan. “The Invention of Heterosexuality.” Socialist Review 20 (1990).