"You poke it, you own it"

A delicate new ad campaign from Miller Lite.

Published May 23, 2006 11:00PM (EDT)

Flipping through TV stations last night, I came across a Miller Lite ad that caught my eye. A bunch of guys are sitting around a large table in an enclosure that looks unsettlingly like the stand-alone glass cell in which Hannibal Lecter chomped his security guard in "The Silence of the Lambs." Except in the ad, Burt Reynolds and Jerome Bettis are there.

"Men of the square table," Reynolds says, calling the group to order. "What if your friend sticks his finger in your beer while he's carrying multiple bottles back from the bar?" What's the big deal? one of Reynolds' compatriots asks. "I don't want your stinky fingers in my beer!" Reynolds exclaims. How can this be avoided? "Make two trips, whatever," pipes up one guy, "but if you poke it, you own it." Another dude likes the sound of this. "I propose an 'if you poke it, you own it' man law!" Then someone else: "Second the 'you poke it, you own it' law!" And then, for good measure, an elderly man repeats the new law as he enters it into a ledger: "You poke it, you own it." "Man law!" cheers the group, hoisting their longnecks.

Yup. These guys really, really liked saying the sentence "You poke it, you own it," which, call me crazy, stopped being about the fingers in the beer somewhere around the second recitation.

The commercial invited viewers to check out more "man laws" at manlaws.com, so I skedaddled to my computer, where I found the ad replaying with two other spots, one about how long you can wait to date your best friend's girlfriend if she's really hot, and the other about whether beer still belongs to you if you let it rest in another man's cooler.

On the site, you can propose your own man laws, and some of them were streaming in a banner at the bottom of the page (though today on my work computer the banner seems not to be working). They included pearls like "compliment a guy's six-pack, you had better be talking about his choice of beverage," "a man-to-man call can last no longer than five minutes, no exceptions," "salmon is a food, not a color" (don't tell that to our stalkers over at the salmon-hued weekly's Cockpit), "at no time may you touch another man's barbecue and barbecue accessories without permission" (because that would be like touching his penis) and the most out of control: "We men have power over everything on this planet and shall continue our rein [sic] of power through all countries and to new planets."

A quick search told me that I am late to these ads; they've already been covered in the New York Times and by Pandagon. Mind-blowingly, Miller Brewing's V.P. for marketing, Erv Frederick, told the Times that the guys in the ad "are true men" and that his company created the campaign because they "wanted to move beyond that stereotype of men as sophomoric ... We're trying to position it as a smarter, more intelligent light beer." Mysteriously, Times writer Julie Bosman concluded that the ads "to some extent" keep their "no-dumb-guys promises. There is no raucous behavior and no sexual innuendo." She must have written her piece before the premiere of the "you poke it, you own it" ad.

If Miller thinks that it's doing men any favors by creating a forum in which to portray them as homophobic, threatened brutes who overidentify with their grilling gadgets and get way too excited about "ownership" of anything they've "poked," the company must have a skewed idea of what "a smarter, more intelligent light beer" really means.

By Rebecca Traister

Rebecca Traister writes for Salon. She is the author of "Big Girls Don't Cry: The Election that Changed Everything for American Women" (Free Press). Follow @rtraister on Twitter.

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