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Divide the Genders

Jerry Maguire
Andrew Cooper

Sensitive Guy or Sports Jerk?: A new TV campaign for "Jerry Maguire" paints hero Tom Cruise as a romantic find (above) or a male-bonding jock, depending on which channel you're watching.

TV ads for upcoming films promise
different things to men and women

By Zack Stentz

THE LONG MARCH toward gender equity seems to be fraught with wrong turns, switchbacks and stalls. For every kick-ass feminist role model on the airwaves like Lisa Simpson or FBI agent Dana Scully, there's a whining "I want a baby" throwback like Friends' Monica or Tori Spelling (whose continuing employment sets women further back than a hundred Phyllis Schlaflys).

And while Susan Faludi's Backlash may have reigned at the top of the nonfiction bestseller list a few years, its perch is now occupied by The Rules, a retrograde guide for women to snaring an eligible man. Despite advancing a view of gender relations that feminism was supposed to have put a stake through the heart of two decades ago, and containing advice that wouldn't have looked out of place in Redbook magazine, circa 1962 (pretend to share his interests, subordinate any sign of independent thought until you see a ring, etc.), The Rules has won a frightening amount of praise and attention.

And though no one you know may be reading this man-catching manifesto, its contents and central message regarding the supposed mutual hostility of the sexes appears to be getting studied and applied by the canny marketers who are creating the television commercials for Hollywood films.

Witness the gender-bifurcated campaign now being waged on behalf of Jerry Maguire, the new Tom Cruise­as­sports agent movie. Running with football games, Home Improvement and other manly programs, we see a commercial that emphasizes the sports-crazy, buddy-buddy world of the agents, with many scenes of Cruise gettin' down with his African American athlete clients and generally engaging in more male bonding than the last hundred beer commercials you've seen.

In contrast, the trailer being aired with Melrose Place and other shows that skew toward a young female demographic gives us Sensitive Tom, emotive declarations of love and all. Also played up in the "chick film" trailer is the point of view of Cruise's love interest, as acted by Renee Zellwiger, not that you'd figure out who she was from the TV ad, since both text and voice-over name only Tom Cruise as a cast member, leading one to half suspect that he's playing all the roles in the film, a la Eddie Murphy in The Nutty Professor.

BIG STUDIO projects aren't the only films engaging in this kind of cynical narrowcasting. Even the semi-independent The English Patient has engaged in some gender-bifurcated marketing. Originally positioned as a sweeping romance, the film is now hawked in ads that have improbably taken the rather minor war-movie aspects of the film and given them center stage.

Rapidly edited shots of crashing planes, Nazis with guns and sandstorms make The English Patient look like Ralph Fiennes of Arabia, with a little Juliette Binoche cleavage thrown in for good measure. And while the deceptive Miramax campaign might get a few reluctant boy friends to agree to see The English Patient as a "date film," they'll certainly be disappointed when what they get isn't exactly The Dirty Dozen.

Of course, the categorization of motion pictures into "dude flicks" and "chick movies" isn't new, and has been discussed at length both by Mike Myers and Dana Carvey on an old Saturday Night Live Wayne and Garth sketch and by Tom Hanks in the one funny scene from Sleepless in Seattle.

Hollywood executives have long desired to maximize profits by bringing these male and female audiences together, seeking to bridge the gender gap by creating the aforementioned "date film," which typically consists of allegedly boy-friendly and girl-friendly elements unsteadily pasted together in one assemblage. One such Frankensteinian creation was 1995's Forget Paris, which featured Billy Crystal as a basketball referee (sports!) dealing with relationship problems (love!) Sound familiar?

But the creation of individual TV campaigns, ones that promise different things to men and women represents a new, Marianas Trench­like depth of Hollywood cynicism, and just as The Rules or John Gray's repulsive Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus series do in print, it attempts to repudiate the long-sought ideal of men and women sharing common interests.

Instead of a partnership of equals making open-eyed, informed decisions, we see trickery and guile used to coax the opposite sexes into the same room. But while deception might fill seats in the theater or the pews, it's no foundation on which to build a lasting relationship, or enjoy a movie, for that matter. But at least if the film's rotten, you're only out $7.50.

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From the December 19-25, 1996 issue of Metro

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