Man in nursing fights "male spice loss" with Slim Jims!
August 2013 -- In recent months ConAgra Foods has been running video ads for its "jerky snack" Slim Jim that feature a self-identified "murse" distributing the product in a hospital waiting room to men suffering from different forms of "male spice loss." That malady is the subject of a broader ad campaign ostensibly aimed at helping men who have chosen to forego accepted macho pursuits in favor of weird, vaguely feminine activities like yoga and matching outfits. That is, the ad campaign is aimed at selling jerky to young males who might actually fear such an absence of traditional maleness. For nursing, the ad is surprisingly complex. The term "murse," used at least as early as 2003 on the sitcom Scrubs, is basically a cute contraction of "male nurse." And like that term, it may imply that men in nursing are not simply "nurses," but something else, questionable both as nurses and as men. On the other hand, we know that some men in nursing don't object to "murse" and may even use it themselves. Anyway, the Slim Jim nurse in this ad is not exactly displaying great health care expertise. And when he notes that "it's my job to distribute Slim Jims to patients suffering from male spice loss," there may be an implication that he's just doing what someone else told him to. But on the whole, the ad is laughing with the nurse, not at him. He projects traditional masculinity, with his authoritative voice and military fatigue pants. And he says and does things viewers are supposed to be amused by, mocking the "patients" by publicly labeling them (e.g., "tantric yoga guy") and throwing their prescribed snacks to them (naturally, they can't catch). The nurse also uses relatively large, clinical-sounding words, suggesting some level of education. We wondered if men in nursing were being singled out, but traditionally male health care figures play similar roles in other ads in the company's "spice loss" campaign (see ads featuring physicians and first responders). The idea seems to be simply that men help men be men. And so, despite the "murse" term and the gender-role intolerance in the ad, it may actually be a small step toward normalizing the idea of men in nursing with some of the ad's target audience. We're not suggesting anyone thank ConAgra, but it's food for thought.
The "male spice loss" campaign, which one critical web site accurately described as "policing masculinity," appears to have started in 2011. It is not clear when the "murse" ad first appeared, although we found a reference to it as early as February 2013, and we know it was being run at least as late as July 2013. Other ads in the same series appear to involve physicians and paramedics rescuing men from the same kinds of masculinity erosion.
In the nurse ad, we first see the bearded young main character in a blue scrub top and military fatigue pants. He stands in front of a hospital "dispensary," which an onscreen identifier says is the "Center for Spice Loss Pharmacy." He speaks confidently to the camera while eating a Slim Jim, projecting a kind of deadpan mock-professional competence:
Nurse: As a registered murse, it's my job to distribute Slim Jims to patients suffering from male spice loss as discreetly as possible. Nobody likes to be embarrassed.
Next we see the nurse walk into an emergency waiting room. He is equipped with a clipboard and some Slim Jims, which he proceeds to distribute by throwing them to/at several patients (none can catch), giving each patient a cute name based on their apparent masculinity failing and informing all those present in the room which type of Slim Jim has been prescribed.
Nurse: Tantric yoga guy: Jalapeño. Matchy match [this refers to a guy wearing the same type of clothes as his girlfriend is]: Monster Stick, twice daily. Recumbent bike guy [who rides into the room on his bike]: You're staying overnight for more observation.
Recumbent bike guy growls.
Deep-voiced male announcer: If it's not a Slim Jim, it's just a stick of meat. Slim Jim. Made from stuff guys need.
Again, the "murse" term is a problem because it's pretty clear that the mass media uses it derisively, suggesting that "male nurses" are not real nurses or real men; otherwise, they would just be "nurses." However, it must be said that not every man in nursing objects to "murse"; some Massachusetts General nurses who appeared in the 2010 ABC documentary Boston Med seemed to be trying to reclaim the term, much as other disempowered groups have tried to reclaim slurs directed at them. In any case, it's clear that viewers of this Slim Jim ad are meant to see the world as this character does. He is the viewer's representative, mocking but still trying to help the "spice loss" victims, whose maladies serve as a cautionary tale for regular guy viewers. The campaign's use of a male, along with the character's ironic suggestion that he will distribute the jerky "discreetly," made us wonder if the idea was that a man in nursing would have special expertise in gender-related dysfunction. But physicians and paramedics do play similar roles in other Slim Jim "spice loss" ads. And it's likely that the use of a female nurse character here would have been worse for the nursing image. A female in this role would probably have been a naughty nurse playfully promoting more masculinity, or a battleaxe attacking the men for not being macho enough, or both--a relatively recent hybrid we have called the naughty-axe.
The nurse here also speaks with clinical authority, using words like "discreetly," "recumbent," and "observation." Some might argue that having any nurse distribute Slim Jims does not exactly present nurses as having a keen sense of what is healthy, but again, the campaign's use of other health workers shows nurses are not being singled out. Associating any nurse with the masculinity policing in the campaign may be problematic in that it conveys the kind of intolerance for gender diversity that can pose real threats to social progress--such as by discouraging men from becoming nurses. But this ad seems basically OK with the idea of men in nursing, and because gender-role intolerance is not a nursing stereotype, viewers are unlikely to associate it with the profession generally.
Associating any nurse with the masculinity policing in the campaign may be problematic in that it conveys the kind of intolerance for gender diversity that can pose real threats to social wellbeing. However, that is not a nursing stereotype, and viewers are unlikely to associate it with the profession generally.
On the whole, to us the ad seems to be more or less a wash for nursing. It may even provide a small boost to the idea of men in nursing for some in the target audience, although we imagine some men in nursing may not agree that the ad has any "stuff guys need" to hear.
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