"Boobs, Ball Sports and Beer:" What's Out There For Guys Online
While browsing the web for guy sites recently, I looked up and noticed the banner ads. "You want it all," flashing across the screen. "Chicks...Cars...Cash..." It was an ad for www.collegebound.com, a website that offers resources for future undergrads and it was selling college as a path to sex and wealth. Later in the "Life" section of the site, I found more of this sentiment. "If you want an extra four years (or more)," it said, "of the sports, tunes and babes you love, the best place to find 'em is college."
Ads like this, and the sites they describe, try to sell major life decisions, like the college experience, as an endless parade of masculine fun--boobs, beers and ball sports. Collegebound.com's marketing tactics for young men wouldn't be a big deal if it was the lone example of sleaze. But it got me wondering, where are the sleaze alternatives? Where are the thoughtful, provocative websites that deal with the real issues young men face? Where are the websites that accurately reflect the interests, concerns and diversity of opinions that young men have?
"Tips to Help You Avoid Buying a Phony Sports Autograph" and More?
Men's Health Magazine just launched a new publication and promotional website, MH-18 (www.mh18.com), which describes itself as having "tons of useful stuff for teenage guys." As part of Men's Health magazine, it makes sense that the site has a distinct sports and fitness focus. But aside from the fast music, flashy splash screen of yoked torsos and floating messages like "get what you want," "have fun," and "get the girl," I found the website lean on excitement and content.
Like most websites for men, MH-18 is broken down into different sections: Fitness, Sports, Girls, Gear, and the ubiquitous "Life." Clicking on Life took me to information about what to do after a car accident, the rules of friendship for guys and how to treat a variety of injuries, from sunburn and muscle strains to penis injuries like snakebites and chemical burns. This could be useful information, if I was accident prone, but mainly it's entertaining fluff.
Most guys are going to listen to the messages these sites send. They're familiar, comfortable and ego-boosting, but shouldn't there be more out there? Somewhere along the line something has kept intelligent, interesting content for young guys from being built. And maybe the biggest question is whether or not it would be read if it was out there.
"Movies, Babes, Dating, Gear, Movie, Babes "
IGN For Men is a stylish resource for buying a male identity. On the home page at formen.ign.com are several articles hawking expensive record players, a 2001 Ford Focus and an Iomega HipZip. This site targets wealthy men and their money by offering products that scream 'I'm a man and I'm hip.' If you can't afford these products, then visit the "Babes" page where you can read the latest news about Hollywood bombshells. There I learned that for the movie "What Lies Beneath," Michelle Pfeiffer was slathered in Vaseline for the tub scenes, and all about how Angelina Jolie has an ass double in her upcoming movie. A certain amount of sexualization and objectification goes along with anything Hollywood, but what does this tell young men? Are they going to the movies to get nothing more than a hard on?
A few sex-specific sites do seem to provide a forum for young men's issues, but they stay within that realm. Boyfriend! (one of thescarletteen.com subsites) includes articles discussing pornography, masturbation and other sexual matters. But it also assumes that readers have a minimal knowledge. The tone of Boyfriend! is of someone older writing for a younger audience in simple language. Letters from clueless teens crowd the Advice section. If you're looking for young men's feelings, you won't find them here.
GIRLS in This Issue -- On Sale Now!
It may be hard to target a website at "young men" because there are so many kinds of us out there. It is much easier to write for an audience when you know exactly who that audience is. But without a specific demographic in mind, you risk that your message will become as generic as the soundbites from the presidential debates. It is not surprising that most websites that try to gain young men as an audience focus on specific groups based on ethnicity, sexual preferences, or specific interests, like video games or mountain boarding. (Yes, mountain boarding is a sport, or at least MH18 says it is.) These are external things that are easily identifiable, and easy to speak to. But are there sites that explore or engage the inner lives of young men, our thoughts about the world and our place in it?
Young women don't seem to have the same problems creating websites that cater to their inner needs. I was really impressed when I visited ChickClick and saw the links to their sister websites. My guess is you would learn more about how young women think at fabulamag.com or any of the ChickClick sites than you would at most of the websites for young men. These "feminine" websites deal with differences among young women by talking about them. The websites for young men pretend all guys are the same. Until we acknowledge our differences and talk about them, we will we ever be represented in positive, complex light?
The solution, as I see it, is to take control of our images. To say, we are not all sex maniacs and sports freaks who are obbsessed with technology--and those who are have complex thoughts about it. If we investigate what it means to be young men for ourselves, then we can refuse to buy cookie cutter representations in the media. We need an online forum where young men with varied interests and different backgrounds can discuss and learn from each other's lives. To borrow loosely from Ralph Nader, if you don't turn on the media, the media will turn on you.
Cody Sisco is an editorial intern at Wiretap. If you've found a site that counters this argument, he'd love to hear about it at firstname.lastname@example.org.