What these four young men represent is a challenge to the common portrayal of male friendship in our popular culture. It is difficult to find, especially on television, an example of male friendship (outside of the military or law enforcement) that is neither transactional nor idiotic. For cheap beer, it’s the wingman trope. In sitcoms, it’s stupid men doing stupid things in stupid attempts at liberation from wives or girlfriends. Male friendships, we’re taught, are about finding or fleeing women; they are not valuable in themselves.My deepest friend is my dear wife Stacey. But I'd rather go bankrupt than lose the handful of brothers who are coming to mind as I reflect on this commercial.
In the Tullamore Dew spot, the bride, though beautiful, is an afterthought. The ad has already achieved its effect before she arrives on the scene. The implicit promise that is so appealing is not that this whiskey will bring you a beautiful wife, but that it will bring you worthy friends to see you off on that marital journey.
And most men desire this friendship—this tender, warm, (dare we say it?) loving friendship—but that desire receives no affirmation in our culture. Men’s desires are circumscribed within a perverse Venn diagram, with one circle labeled “sex,” the other “mammon.” Such friendship seems as foreign as the virgin Irish countryside, unattainable in the normal course of life in the 21st century.
And so, lacking the vocabulary even to describe this desire, we call the ad “poignant” and “melancholy.” But our melancholy does not derive from identification with the bittersweetness of the passage of time or a friend’s life transition. Rather, it is the melancholy of knowing, or at least suspecting, that we will never experience that bittersweetness quite as intensely, quite as tenderly, ourselves.