These are troubled times indeed for male hubris. Testosterone once reigned supreme, free from the twin threats of female emancipation and New Age manhood. But now, in Australia, day-to-day displays of virility are under threat from the unlikeliest of sources: the little finger.
Australian machismo has had its good moments (See: “Crocodile Dundee,” “The Crocodile Hunter,” and crocodiles generally). Yet to Steve Irwin’s affable Jekyll, there is a dangerous Hyde: the culture of speeding.
Government shock campaigns had consistently failed. Something else had to be done. Enter the Roads and Traffic Authority (RTA) of New South Wales, Australia’s most populous state. After a series of expensive tests and surveys, the assembled gurus of the RTA discovered that a young man’s greatest fear is having his masculinity questioned.
In June 2007, they unveiled a multimedia campaign designed to strike at the deepest heart of male bravado. Television ads terrorized young men with clips of blokes wielding their cars at tremendous speeds, only to be met with derisive sneers and wiggling pinkies from the bonzer sheilas on the footpath.
The slogan for the campaign—worth 1.9 million Australian dollars—would then come up alongside the pouting face of the most bonzer of the sheilas: “Speeding. No one thinks big of you.”
The RTA recorded the campaign as a wild success. One test subject raved enthusiastically in the official report: “The thought of being ribbed by your mates is much more relevant than the thought of crashing your car. I’m going to put dirt on my mate the next time he’s speeding like that!”
And in a nation so constitutionally opposed to smug accomplishment, insinuations of phallic inadequacy met anyone appearing to show off. The finest anecdote of Friday night triumph and the subtlest name dropping could be instantly derailed by one deft turn of the digitus minimus manus.
Man lives under a cruel tyranny, to be sure. But he probably deserves it.