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Hyundai + the Invisible Man

CALM director, Jane Powell, responds to the recent Hyundai advert

“For me the interesting aspect of the Hyundai ad wasn’t the depth to which advertisers will plunge to sell a product, but the subject that they had chosen to send up – a depressed, middle aged guy.

What was pernicious about the ad was the very normality of the guy at the centre of the ad.  The suburban house, an average looking guy, the treatment of the film showing a humdrum reality.  Nothing stood out.  Here was the invisible ‘everyman’.  Had this been a pretty woman attempting suicide, or an elderly man – or had he been disabled, or poor, or younger – then our sympathies and outrage would have been differently directed.  But this was an unexceptional, middle-aged white guy.

White, middle aged men are, by definition, the status quo.  They are the measure by which the progress, the success of every other ‘group’, is measured.  To focus upon them as a group which may have any kind of need is, surely, a contradiction in terms? Yet, therein lies the problem.

The suicide rate among this very demographic, men aged between 35-50, is rising and is at its worst in men aged 40-44.  From CALM’s experience, they’ll be white, average guys – living no-where very special.  It is precisely this group who know that, in the pecking order of deserving and undeserving, they are bottom of the list.  As a group, middle aged, ordinary white men are the status quo and therefore by definition do not require any support.

So, how does it feel to know that you can be mocked for not coping, all for the sake of selling a car.  How does it feel that because of your age and gender, you cannot expect any help, and shouldn’t even need help in the first place?  Men don’t go to see their GP or ask people for help, in part, because they don’t feel they are supposed or allowed to.  As a consequence, because they are trying to fit into the “strong and silent” ideal they keep quiet and sit on their problems, and/or self-medicate with alcohol and drugs.  

Holly Brockwell wrote eloquently about the ad and the impact it had on her, and summed up what it was like to have a father die in this precise manner.  Holly is not the status quo.  The media focussed not upon all those men out there feeling just like the man in the ad, but upon a traumatised daughter.    I applaud her for writing the blog, as I’m sure everyone else did.  It was straight from the heart and brain – it hit the target square on and was just what was needed.

But now that Hyundai has raised the issue, let’s talk about suicide.  Let’s talk about the biggest killer of men aged under 35 in this country.  Let’s think about why it is that 75% of all suicides are male, and why it’s rising most among middle aged men.  If the ad had mocked women with breast cancer, then the media would be racing to supply content and support women worried about the issue.  But on this I don’t see a scrum wanting to talk about male depression, or what the symptoms are.  I haven’t seen a call for men feeling this way to seek help.    There’s a perfect circle here.  Suicide rates aren’t going to drop anytime soon unless men DO feel able to look for support when they need it  – and this is going to require a complete culture change.  Middle aged men need to know that they are part of the human race and have no fewer rights than the rest of us, and that includes the right to be respected and the right to access healthcare without fear of censure or ridicule.  We need to talk about men because until we do, 12 men a day in the UK will continue to take their own lives.   And we won’t notice.”

Suicide statistics for the UK

Suicide statistics UK 1981 – 2011

Suicide around the world by gender


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