Post: Have we reached our turning point yet? No.

Have we reached our turning point yet? No.

You may recall that some months ago I wrote a blog dedicated to the abomination of an ad campaign run by hair loss (men’s hair loss specifically) company Mosh. The way too short summary of that post is that Mosh decided the best way to sell product was to label hair loss as a health problem and say it was the most important thing in the world. Underpinning that is a narrative that men’s issues are more important than women’s; that aesthetic concerns should be your top priority and those aesthetics are so important you should consider them a medical probelm to be corrected.

Mosh seem to have moved onto another campaign now which is probably because of my post calling them out which 30 people read and no other reason at all. So fresh off the back of that stunning David vs. Goliath victory, it’s time to put fellow hair loss veterans Ashley & Martin (A&M) in the crosshairs of my next expose. You can watch the 15 second offending ad below:

Like the original Mosh ad, this ad made my ears prick up and pay attention. A&M have quite a few ads in this “have you reached your turning point” campaign. While there are issues with asking people if they feel bad enough about their appearance to seek medical intervention, I get that they have a product and they are trying to show a relateable story for men to encourage them to buy it. So none of them really bothered me, until this one.

The ad begins with a shot of our hero, Taylor, reminiscing that he didn’t really enjoy watching the game with the boys because the A&M ads would come on and they would all tease him by saying, “have you reached your turning point, Tay Tay?”. The ad finishes with Taylor, full head of hair, joining the boys to watch the game and the A&M logo coming up on screen and the familiar “Have you reached your turning point? The doctors at Ashley & Martin can help” catch phrase.

I hope the reasons this ad is so problematic are obvious. Let’s break it down anyway. That’s what we do here. Let’s start with ‘the boys’. This ad continues the harmful and outdated mantra that bad behaviour from boys is fine and can be washed away with a quick rinse of ‘boys will be boys’. ‘The boys’ in this case have ganged up on Taylor, for no good reason, teasing him about his (perfectly natural and in no way harmful to his health) hair loss. Relentlessly enough that he didn’t enjoy his time with ‘the boys’ and felt his only recourse was to fork out for expensive and unnecessary treatments to stop the harassment.

This ad legitimises bullying, so much so that bullying isn’t the thing that’s out of place, it’s Taylor’s hair loss. Taylor really needs to sort that out if he wants to enjoy the game with ‘the boys’. As we all know, boys will be boys, so he should expect to be teamed up on and belittled for completely meaningless reasons and the way to stop that is to change himself, at high cost.

This ad is victim blaming. You would think, in 2021, when we know exactly how harmful groupthink and bullying are, that this ad should be so unrealistic as to not exist. Taylor should be allowed to enjoy the game with ‘the boys’ without fear of being harassed for childish reasons. Failing that, the ad should have ended with Taylor saying: “That only happened once because one of ‘the boys’ kind of butted in and said that wasn’t cool and then they were all like ‘my bad’ and apologised and we got on with our lives, my hair is fine.” Failing even that, the ad should end with Taylor saying either that he told ‘the boys’ he didn’t appreciate the treatment and they stopped doing it or that he found people to hang out with who weren’t mean to him. And that his hair was fine.

I watched a Four Corners episode recently, about the pervasive and viciously protective ‘boys club’ of exclusive private school St. Kevin’s in Melbourne. In addition to being able to personally relate to it as an ex private school boy myself, it showed that behind all the talk to the contrary, the ‘boys club’ is still alive and well. You can view the episode below:

One of the take-aways from this program was that St. Kevin’s, like schools of similar pedigree, will engender the best opportunities at the most influential positions in the country – through academic excellence, the influence of having the school on your CV or the connections that go hand in hand with being able to afford to such a lucrative education for your child. It perpetuates the cycle. Those in the richest positions send their young boys to exclusive private schools which then ‘groom’ them to inherit those same positions. Nothing needs to change because it suits the privileged few quite nicely.

You can take a cursory glance at this to see that the harmful effects are still going on, and nothing is being done about it. Look at all the fallout from federal politics at the moment. Sexual harrassment, assault and rape, begotten by a misogynistic and protective culture. Look at Andrew Laming among many others. Corruption and rorts, look at Christian Porter – also among many others. Add to that a shocking inability to suffer any scrutiny and pernicious retribution, see Peter Dutton – again, among many others. All well-off, white men with a history of being able to do whatever they want without consequences.

There is a saying that the plural of anecdotes is data. This is not a factual saying. So I would caveat the next section by saying this is a collection of similar stories and that while you or I may choose to reach a view about all of this, what I present here is not conclusive data. I think it demonstrates that further exploration and transparency is definitely required.

St Kevin’s school was outspoken in their defence of George Pell, as well as choosing to protect a convicted sex offender on staff rather than offer support to the victim. There is a culture that is fostered and encouraged at St. Kevin’s. I felt the same culture was entrenched in my high school, Hutchins, as well. In fact I found out not too long ago that while I was there they were busy doing all they could to cover up historical sexual assaults and ignoring the victim’s pleas for acknowledgement. I was unaware of any of this during my time there. To keep in theme, the politicians I referenced above came from Churchie (Andrew Laming) and Hale (Christian Porter), both prestigious schools for boys in the same mold of St. Kevin’s and Hutchins. Peter Dutton attended St. Paul’s which started as an all boys school before adopting a co-ed model. The school came under public scrutiny for alleged sexual assaults and also stuck to the party line of ignoring the students calls for help.

It seems to me that you could probably look at the cultural tradition of the ‘boys club’ in all of these schools and the same ‘boys club’ that exists within federal politics at the moment and see a connection. Privileged, white men are in positions of power and the culture that put them there is what is taught to their priviliged, white sons who will succeed them. The system works great for them. It’s not confined to the political sphere either, there are ‘boys clubs’ across all sectors. You can look at examples in sports – Richmond and St. Kilda football clubs spring to mind. You could also look at Swimming Australia as Cate Campbell and Maddie Groves detail. How about the Sony culture under Denis Handlin? Or AMP?

When you take the broad view of the prevailing culture in these high-power positions and then see the same culture being instilled in young boys across the nation, it puts a lot of perspective on how the marketing team at A&M came up with this ad. To them it’s nothing to worry about: ‘Boys will be boys’, right? I said in my previous blog that the ad Mosh produced belonged in the 1950’s and even then it would have been a bad look. I hoped that this was an overreach and tonedeaf effort by one particular company in an effort to stand out in a crowded market.

This ad by A&M shows that probably isn’t the case. I also said previously that one way to measure success in a storytelling marketing campaign like this one is to be relateable to your audience. If they feel that the ad speaks to them, or even better they see themselves in the ad, you have successfully completed half of the job. The other half is to show the audience you can give them the thing they need to feel better. That is capitalist marketing 101. Show someone that you understand where they’re at, show them somewhere they want to go and present your product as the best way to go from where they’re at to where they want to go.

It’s quite astonishing that A&M have put their heads together and decided that their target audience are people who feel really bad about the – completely natural and harmless – bullying inflicted by their friends. It’s pretty obvious the place the audience wants to go is where they are no longer bullied. It’s all kinds of messed up that their proposal to get their audience away from bullying is to charge money to change their appearance to be more ‘conventionally attractive’. They have no problem with a person suffering emotional hardship from bullying. In fact they present the idea that the person has brought it upon themselves with their hair loss and it is their responsibility to fix it by shelling out for expensive and time-consuming procedures. Once again typifying the excuse making and victim blaming culture of the ‘boys club’ that has been passed down from one priviliged white male to another through the generations in Australia.

It’s equally appalling and unsurprising that this idea wasn’t immediately put in the bin. I was about to write that I don’t think companies should have to be bastions of morality but on further reflection I think that if you are taking a step into the public sphere where your voice has the potential to influence people you should be held to a higher ethical and moral standard than a private citizen expressing a viewpoint. Private citizens are free to express their thoughts and we can assume, unless presented with evidence to the contrary, their views are as fallible as yours or mine and shouldn’t be taken as fact without evidence to corroborate those facts. People in positions of influence, whether it be politics, sport, entertainment or advertising have more weight added to their messages as, often incorrectly, they are viewed as trusted sources. That trust is routinely abused and used for reprehensible purposes.

To summarise the problem into a soundbite: The wealthy and powerful have created the institutions that perpetuate their exclusionary, toxic culture. They have a stranglehold on most of the positions which have the influence to force change. An almost total disregard for others, a palpable lack of empathy combined with almost no meaningful consequences due to largely policing themselves has meant this continues unabated to this day. In fact it’s flourishing. It’s probably the only thing that has actually trickled down. So what can we do?

I like to try and offer solutions in these articles. I don’t want my blogs to become a sadfest where I make well referenced complaints about everything and leave it at that; offering nothing more than annoying anecdotes of problems in society. Normally I would like to reverse out of the problems that I have identified with an equally well referenced discussion on the potential solutions. This isn’t one of those times. The ‘boys club’ is entrenched, disinterested and has a proven track record at every level of refusing to evolve. It’s time for them to go. A clean slate is required. I have lost all faith in those at the top, across the board. Not one has shown anywhere in their chequered past a willingness to approach anything close to the sort of cultural shift we need to reach a turning point in this country. They have to go. It’s that simple. Take away their platform, take away their microphone. These cultural fossils cannot be changed, they need to be excised and new people with new ideas need to take over.

I’ve said many times how much I love sports and how I’m an absolute sports nuffie. Sport is a results based business. While it certainly has as many problems with toxic culture as any other industry when it comes to the on the field product, results speak loudest. If a coach running a team simply cannot get the team to perform and be competitive, they will be released from their contract. Fired. They may get a long leash, they may get a short leash but eventually if they are not living up to the expectations of the team, they will be looking for work. It is absolutely clear that the leaders and people of influence in this country have fallen abysmally short of our expectations and it is time for them to start looking for work. No committee, no inquiry, no recommendations of policies to adopt. Just go. pack your bags and get out. You had your chance and you wrecked it. The private school boys need to be ushered away from the podium – there are so many amazing candidates who deserve the chance to take their place.

The bad behaviour has become completely institutionalised. Until we can see a cultural shift, over a sustained period of time from the incubator of all of this – exclusive (predominantly all boys) private schools – the ‘boys club’ have forfeited their right to a seat at the table. They can win it back with their deeds and pull themselves up by their bootstraps, as they tell the rest of us to. I understand that I fall into the demographic of the priviliged, white male so I am trying to do an inside job. To show that all people should be capable of introspection, empathy and accountability. When the majority of people who come out of the same education system that I did can show these are the qualities they aspire to not just by their words, but in their actions, then, and only then, will I believe we have reached our turning point.

Until then, let’s kick every one of the bastards out. And, as always: