The Great Recession and the subsequent structural changes in the United States economy have resulted in severe disadvantages for the unskilled worker in American society. Latino immigrants make up a disproportionately large subset of the unskilled labor force for a variety of intrinsic and extrinsic reasons unique to their ethnic group. Faced with clear social disadvantages, it is natural for a group of individuals who share similar ethnic and socio-economic ties to find inspiration from charismatic figures as an escape from the brutal realities of daily life. The entertainment industry is keenly aware of this phenomenon and is vigilant in creating diversions, such as in film and television, that American society craves.
Although it provides a means of escape, the entertainment industry and its dramatized characters also reflect popular cultural values. The Dos Equis Most Interesting Man in the World is an idealized extreme manifestation of the American Dream: the idea that “life should be better and richer and fuller for everyone, with opportunity for each according to ability or achievement regardless of social class or circumstances of birth” (Library of Congress). This dream is an inspiration that anybody in the United States who works hard can enjoy opportunities for success. For disadvantaged immigrants, he serves as a role model and an icon of hope. For natural-born integrated citizens, he is an imaginary representation of universal upward mobility and boundless opportunity, incongruous with the true status of most immigrants. The Dos Equis “Most Interesting Man” is popular in American culture because he provides a symbolic and ideal escape for disadvantaged immigrant workers, while at the same time conveying to all US citizens a disproportionately optimistic portrayal of the plight of uneducated, oppressed immigrants seeking the American Dream.
The United States has seen a gradual decline in employment opportunities for the unskilled worker from its peak immediately following World War II. This trend has significantly hastened in the aftermath of the Great Recession and with the advent of a more globalized economy. Increasing attractiveness of markets in countries like China and India who have large populations of unskilled cheap labor, allows multinational corporations to outsource commercial activities overseas in order to maximize profits. As a result of a decline in its manufacturing base, the United States is in the midst of a transformation from a production economy to a technological and information-based service economy (Pastor). Ultimately, this phenomenon demands a more sophisticated and highly educated workforce. Parallel to the rising level of requisite skills a worker needs to maintain a job, the competition for these kinds of positions is also increasing as foreign competitors raise their standards of education. Unfortunately, according to the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), the United States ranks in the lower half of industrialized nations in student performance in mathematics, reading and science (Lemaitre). In addition, according to experts, most top-performing countries do a better job of closing the disparity of education standards between high and low-income families than the United States.
Susan Engel, senior lecturer/expert in psychology, frames the problem this way: “too many kids have no choice but to go to schools that are dangerous, badly staffed, educationally indifferent, and underfunded…too many kids in America go to schools that don’t even begin to offer them the hope of getting to average” (Engel 25). Unfortunately, there are virtually no jobs that will provide a decent standard of living anymore for those who cannot obtain some form of high school education. Prior to the Great Recession, the booming economy provided a cushion for employment of the undereducated workforce in the form of the construction industry, which was a source of jobs for the unskilled laborer. Once the housing bubble blew up, a whole swath of low-skilled blue-collar jobs vanished. The unskilled and poorly educated Latino workers, desperate to maintain the only jobs available to them, are disproportionately consigned to low-paying domestic jobs such as gardeners, cooks, and maids (Pastor). As immigrants fall further behind in American society, they seek solace in entertainment and popular culture.
The success of the entertainment industry derives from its ability reflect the popular mood, culture and values of the time. According to Drew Casper, Professor of Cinematic Arts at the University of Southern California, artists who create entertainment “obtain character portrayals from what the people in the culture want to see. They reflect the conflict and tensions of the culture” (Casper). The Dos Equis Most Interesting Man in the World is a paradigm of upper-class male etiquette in a time of increased class disparity and alarmingly high poverty within the labor force. With his unbelievably hyperbolic statements, the larger-than-life character portrayed in the Dos Equis beer commercials is meant to be comical; however, the underlying ideals of the perfect male citizen prevail. “The Most Interesting Man” exudes class as he speaks with a refined Spanish accent, drinks sophisticated cocktails (with the exception of an occasional Dos Equis), and wears a tuxedo even when performing strenuous activities. “He is a man rich in stories and experiences”: he is ostensibly wealthy; he is so intelligent that he definitively and convincingly gives advice to men everywhere on everything from world peace to the purpose of drink umbrellas; and he is constantly surrounded by beautiful women (Helliesen). He is educated, informed, and his opinions are valuable. The Most Interesting Man is an “over-the-top, sophisticated male hero based on our common cultural memes of Zorro, James Bond, the Saint, and Indiana Jones” (Helliesen). People strive to be the Most Interesting Man in the World.
Commonly shared ideals of all ethnic groups in America are personified in “The Most Interesting Man,” but most specifically he is a portrayal of a mythical Latino-American immigrant. Imagery and iconography hint at his Latino heritage, most obviously through the fact that he is advertising for Mexican beer. Evidence of the man’s heritage can also be heard by his accent as he rolls his “r”s and speaks with a suave debonair style characteristic of a Latin-born aristocrat. The background music of the Dos Equis commercials sounds sophisticated and exotic with subtle Mexican undertones of maracas and acoustic guitars. This character has the iconography of a Latin American including a thick mustache, and bronzed skin. Despite this evident Latin heritage, the “Most Interesting Man” also represents North American ideals. This immigrant speaks fluent English, dresses in American-style clothing, and is constantly surrounded by beautiful women, almost all of whom are Caucasian. The Most Interesting Man does not have a name. He is a manifestation of the American Dream because he represents those who are inspired to be successful. This mystery and intrigue not only heightens his charisma, but they also symbolize the fact that he could personify any immigrant seeking the American Dream and enjoy all the trappings of accomplishment within American society.
“The Most Interesting Man” provides a symbolic escape for Latin Americans who are subjugated and oppressed as a result of inequalities in the domestic labor market. This successful, but fictional, character offers hope for an ethnic group with significant disadvantages for social mobility and educational and career opportunities. His stories in the Dos Equis commercials are rare exceptions to the current fate of unskilled Latino immigrants in America. The Dos Equis mascot has managed to accumulate wealth and power in American society even though he is foreign-born, and he does things that most Latino immigrants cannot. While his global adventurous mobility is in stark contrast to the life of most Latino immigrants, his evocative experiences are inspirational to them.
In addition to the economic and social escapism the “The Most Interesting Man” provides for immigrants, he also personifies a moral escapism for mainstream American citizens who are more privileged. Natural-born Americans find comfort in believing that all immigrants and classes are given an opportunity to achieve the same things that the Dos Equis mascot has achieved. The sad truth is that this American Dream is increasingly a denial of the true social issue of class disparity and inequality between natural-born citizens and most Latino immigrants. In reality, the actor that plays the Dos Equis man is not even Latino. He is a Jewish man named Jonathan Goldsmith, a “real life Renaissance Man, a self-made millionaire businessman, and longtime TV actor” (Helliesen). It is perhaps sad irony that the real-life story of Jonathan Goldsmith is that of a natural-born Caucasian rather than a Latino immigrant. That the marketing specialists at Dos Equis chose a faux-Latino as more suitable a spokesperson than an authentic one is itself testimony to the fantasy of equal opportunity for Latino immigrants.
Beer is not typically viewed as a sophisticated beverage compared to others such as wine, champagne, or Scotch. In using the character of “The Most Interesting Man in the World,” the Dos Equis ad campaign attempts to make beer consumption appear more refined; however, the campaign also ends up subtly reflecting a conflict within American culture. The debonair character is a façade for the harsh socio-economic realities that exist for Latino immigrants in American society as they face ever more bleak employment opportunities. The Most Interesting Man reflects the ideals of American culture for all US citizens, but he especially resonates as an inspirational figure for immigrants because he, too, is a person from another place. He provides a social and economic escape for Latino immigrants who seek a better life, as well as a moral escape for mainstream Americans who cling to a false sense of fraying American ideals. The Most Interesting Man in the World ad campaign has been extremely successful, increasing the beer sales of Dos Equis by 22% while all other beer sales have dropped 4% (Lunau). Clearly, American citizens, immigrants and native-born alike, want to believe in “The Most Interesting Man in the World.”
Casper, Drew. “Genre in the Entertainment Industry.” CTCS 190. University of Southern California, Los Angeles. 25 Oct. 2011. Lecture.
Engel, Susan. Red Flags or Red Herrings?: Predicting Who Your Child Will Become. New York, NY: Atria, 2011. Print.
Helliesen, Gunnar. “The Most Interesting Ad in the World – Seattlepi.com.” Seattle News, Sports, Events, Entertainment | Seattlepi.com – Seattlepi.com. Web. 02 Nov. 2011. <http://www.seattlepi.com/business/article/The-most-interesting-ad-in-the-world-890702.php>.
Lemaitre, Georges, Thomas Liebig, and Cécile Thoreau. “Harmonized Statistics on Immigrant Inflows – Preliminary Results, Sources and Methods.” (June 2006). Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development. Web. 2 Nov. 2011.
Lunau, Kate. “King of Beer Sales, Amigo – Business – Macleans.ca.” Macleans.ca – Canada News, World News, Politics, Business, Culture, Health, Environment, Education. Web. 07 Nov. 2011. <http://www2.macleans.ca/2009/08/13/king-of-beer-sales-amigo/>.
Pastor, Manuel. “Immigrants and Domestic Labor.” AMST 101. University of Southern California, Los Angeles. 15 Oct. 2011. Lecture.
Tucker, Marc. “National Center on Education and the Economy.” The National Center on Time & Learning. Web. 2 Nov. 2011. <http://www.timeandlearning.org/?q=node/88>.
“What is the American Dream?” Library of Congress Home. Web. 02 Nov. 2011.
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