The Republicans keep sexualizing the fight for pecking order dominance in tasteless yet traditional ways. First came the vulgar insinuations regarding genital size, with its unspoken subtext that you had to have something to measure to qualify for president, or at least for the Republican nomination to America’s highest office.
More recently we have witnessed the dustup about the wives of Donald Trump and Ted Cruz, in which both candidates reveal their deep-seated sexism. Somebody’s campaign suggested that the fact Trump’s wife had posed for nude photos somehow disqualified Trump from the presidency. Donald then compared his wife favorably to Ted’s, based solely on the Laddie Boy-Rat Pack definition of female attractiveness. Ted’s answer was to further commodify women in his counter comparison by defining his wife solely in terms of homemaker virtues. Sex toy or housewife? That’s pretty much the choice Donald and Ted are giving women.
This injection of sexuality into the fight for top dog is unseemly because it is so irrelevant to the tasks and responsibilities related to serving as president. Sexuality is, however, an important component of celebrity. Both the news media and the Republicans seem determined to wage the nomination battle based primarily on the criteria by which we judge celebrities.
The Republican race for top dog reminds me of the imaginary world created by a current television commercial in which there is no doubt who is at the alpha male, and in fact, no doubt as to the precise pecking order. The civility, mutual admiration and joviality of this commercial contrasts sharply with the crass and tasteless accusations and assertions by the various Republican presidential hopefuls.
The commercial, for the anti-clotting drug Xarelto, depicts the Republican utopia—four prosperous and well-dressed guys playing golf on a beautiful course on a sunny day. Except that these aren’t business owners or trust fund babies, they are three athletes and a comedian—all among the most celebrated in their highly competitive fields. The golf foursome includes golfing legend Arnold Palmer, basketball all-star Chris Bosh, stock car racer Brian Vickers and comedian Kevin Nealon.
Despite the fact that these are all extremely competitive guys used to fighting for everything they get (except for perhaps Nealon, who comes from wealth and is not in a field in which merit derives from winning something measurable), there is not even a hint of competition in the ad. In fact, the ad enforces a strict pecking order that each of the four men embraces openly and happily. The hierarchy has the comedian as low man on the totem pole, while the aging white male, Arnold Palmer, is the top dog, followed by Bosh the greatest athlete among the bunch and then Vickers.
In a single minute, the commercial packs a large number of visual and verbal cues that tell us that Arnie is the leader and hero and that this small society has a rigid hierarchy:
- At the end of the commercial, the four sit together in a golf cart in pecking order, Palmer closest to us, followed by Bosh, Vickers and Nealon.
- Bosh passes a helmet behind his back to Vickers. Nealon says “Nice pass” in open admiration.
- Two practical jokes are played on Nealon, the non-athlete, one by Vickers, the least athletic of the athletes. It’s a jovial version of what happens on many teams—the weakest starter is frequently the “bad ass” to the non-starters, who represent the greatest threat to his/her status. Note that it is the non-athlete, who probably has the greatest verbal skills, to serve as the buffoon.
- Palmer appears to be giving Bosh advice, and when Bosh hits a good shot, Palmer compliments the basketball player, who beams like a little kid whom the coach has just complimented.
- As they drive in carts from one hole to the next, Palmer and Bosh drive in the head cart, followed by Vickers and Nealon.
- At the narrative denouement of the commercial, all eyes are on Palmer in open, almost cloying admiration, as he makes a putt.
The good will and friendly joking between the four men makes for a light-hearted commercial, but the hierarchy by which this micro-society rules itself manifests itself in every shot. We can describe this pecking order in three ways: 1) By money made; 2) By quality of the athlete; 3) By importance of the sport to American culture.
Yet, by any of these measures, except perhaps importance of the sport, the creators of the ad appear to break ranks by putting Arnold Palmer first.
But it makes perfect sense for everyone to be looking up to Palmer as the leader if we consider the Xarelto commercial as an idealized version of the traditional image of the Republican Party—rich and connected people who in their own minds got to the top by being better than others, with the richest, oldest white guy at the summit. No testosterone explosion. No bullying (except the mild twitting of the comic). No over-the-top statements. Everyone knows his place, and it’s always a good place to be. It’s the kind of world the Republicans would love to install, although most would like the role of Palmer to go to someone other than “The Donald” or “Lyin’ Ted”.
Just like Republican utopia, the world of the Xarelto commercial is missing a lot of things. For example, we don’t learn about the awful side effects that have led to a large number of lawsuits against the makers of Xarelto. That kind of reminds me of the bad side effects of lowering taxes on the wealthy, making it harder to unionize and reducing environmental, health and safety regulations that Republicans never mention. The Xarelto world also exists without greens keepers, caddies, waiters and other members of the working class.
Finally, the Xarelto world also lacks women. I imagine they’re either getting a bikini wax or baking pies.