One of the most iconic TV commercials I remember seeing as a kid was that one in which the blonde lady sings about how she can bring home the bacon, fry it up in a pan, and never, ever, ever let you forget you’re a man. Seriously. Those are the actual lyrics. The year was 1980. And I still remember the commercial all these years later, not because it was such a great ad (truthfully, I needed a quick Google search to remind me it was for Enjoli perfume), but because even at seven years old, I think I knew the whole thing was a total crockpot of shit.
Obviously this ad wasn’t just selling perfume. It was selling the You-Can-Have-It-All lifestyle to a new generation of women who had previously been shut out of serious positions within corporate America and who were largely relegated to the domestic realm. But thanks to the Women’s Lib movement of the 1970s, now BOTH realms were open to women. At the same time. This commercial was more than just a commercial; it was a sign of the times.
The fine folks at the now defunct Charles of the Ritz company were trying to attach their product to the now defunct idea that it’s a breeze for any woman to be a successful professional, a doting wife, an attentive mother, a gourmet cook, a meticulous homemaker, and a satin gown wearing sex kitten – all at the same time.
Here is what the ad was really saying:
I can bring home the bacon.
(Nice double entendre, Enjoli.) The first meaning of the word bacon in this line is obviously money. But perhaps, this line would have been more accurate had it said, “I can bring home 73% of the same bacon you can bring home – even though I worked just as hard for my bacon as you did for yours.”
The second ‘entendre’ of the word bacon here is actual bacon. The message being, “Yes, dear, I’ll stop at the market on my way home from work and pick you up some bacon.”
Fry it Up in a Pan.
The point here is clear: That bacon ain’t going to cook itself.
And never, ever, ever let you forget you’re a man.
“After I’ve worked all day, shopped, cooked, cleaned up, and read the kids a bedtime story, there’s nothing I’d rather do than spray on some atomized pheromones (aka, Enjoli), slip into that Some Like It Hot white satin number I have lying around and rock your world.”
Enjoli. The 8 hour perfume for the 24 hour woman.
This is the official tagline of the commercial. Maybe it’s just me, but the subtext here seems to be something more subversive. There seems to be an implied threat here: You wanted it all, sweetheart? Well, here it all is. Be careful what you wish for.
If this commercial were to be update for today’s world, I think it would go something more like this.
Same jazzy woman’s voice singing:
You can bring home the bacon (but don’t forget to grab a gallon of milk and some greek yogurt on your way home).
Fry it up in a pan (or microwave it, I don’t care –I’m not eating that shit. I’m ordering sushi.).
And I’ll never, ever, ever let you forget that you’re a man… with a pre-disposition for arterial sclerosis, so slow down on that bacon. And for the love of pete, would you do some crunches once in a while?
The tagline would also need to be changed because clearly this is now an ad for bacon. Or The American Heart Association. Or perhaps sushi. But in any case, it is no longer an ad promoting the idea that women can Have it All. And thank goodness for that. We all know that while women CAN have it all, we really don’t WANT it all. We want to split it. We’ll cook. You clean. We’ll fold. You put away. We won’t let you forget you’re a man, if you get up with the kids in the morning. Our trail-blazing, bacon-frying, Enjoli-wearing mothers taught us that while having it all is a nice idea, the reality is fraught with boobie traps. (Oh, yes. Pun intended.) And the load is lighter when shared.
Of course, TV ads today don’t really have the influence they once did anyway. Thanks to DVRs, most seven year old children, rather than ponder the sociological implications of a quasi-feminist-while-being-actually-misogynistic perfume ad, are more likely to ask the far more concrete question, “Mommy, what’s a commercial?”
For a more serious analysis of the Enjoli commercial, check out Jennifer Ludden’s piece on NPR.