Friday, August 11, 2006

The Eternal Boy

In the carefully promoted backlash against feminism more than progress in equal rights has been lost. Before Hoff Sommers leaves another gooey scribble blaming it all on feminists, let me point out that adult men aren’t just endangered, they’re almost extinct.

Today’s idealized male image mostly comes from fascist-chic movies of the Reagan years and those of Clint Eastwood, at least those from before old age came on him with all it many qualms. What doesn't, comes from Porkey’s or other frat fantasies. None of the boys in these guy flicks are what you'd call grownup and the role play provided by video games is infinitely worse. Our popular entertainment doesn't much do grown up men anymore. There might be a few shows or movies that depict a decent, intelligent man but they’re often not what they seem. You see nice guys in movies, you're just waiting for them to be revealed to have secret lives as cannibals or worse.

The roles for males encouraged in pop culture are brainless studs, rapists, sadistic killers, enthusiastic tools of fascism. You know this. It isn't asked often enough why this trend started or grew. I think the oligarchy wanted cannon fodder for its wars of conquest and operators for its computerized machine, the sex is just the draw. Most of all they want males who either won’t vote or who vote reflexively for the “masculine” option of Republican. Grown ups tend towards unprofitable attachment to reality and reality doesn’t favor conservatives.

What else is behind this? As anyone who attended jr. high knows, hyper-masculinity has always been a too-much protesting demonstration that a male wasn’t gay. That is the first and most violent manifestation of it in most cultures*. Straight, male gender anxiety is the basis of it and that fact has been put to most effective use by the political right. Violence and a willful refusal to face reality fits into their economic plans. The only real strength required of most of these tools is to follow orders and to resist reflection.

Least you think that I’m saying they are entirely without discipline let me reassure you. Most conservative men have proven to be rocks of self denial in one respect, depriving themselves the ultimate "male" experience of putting their own sweet fat on the line in combat. But these boys of the ruling class have been provided with a form of cultural consolation. The absurdly mythic image of entrepreneurs has been so calculatedly conflated with sexual potency and the assertion of The Will that business attire has attained the unlikely status of a sexual fetish. No accounting, huh? And if you've seen accountants ..... please, don't tell me.

On the Ursatz level, the role requires, in accordance with the needs of an imperial capitalist system, that the real man treats people as property. Children, women, weaker men are objects that are his to own, his to exploit or there to be trashed, especially if not in his possession. The real man sees all things in terms of his own utilization like a pre-socialized toddler, mitigated only by what he can't get away with. Respect for the rights of other people or for sympathetic understanding are a compromise of the masculine imperative, a willful and shameful relinquishing of the male identity. Even the biosphere he, himself, requires to live is to be used up if he so wills it, And a real man will will it. Real men laugh at giga-death, sustainability is for sissies. It can't be a coincidence that it was the refusal of a zoning permit that motivated Clint Eastwood’s political career.

The detailed implications of cartoon masculinity for gay men, such as myself, are probably for another time. But I will tell you that the stridently defensive reaction on various blogs to my condemnation of the homicidal, objectifying hatred expressed in Tom of Finland’s gay S&M smut proves that fascistic machismo isn’t the cootie shot against being gay that the straight boys think it is.

Adults being sales resistant, the things that define an adult, reasoning, forebearing, self-sacrifice, basic decency and fairness are not encouraged in our commercial culture. When coupled with the traditional male persona their absence is deadly. Their opposites show up in violence directed against girls, women and other people, in our voting patterns and in our politics. They define our foreign policy, where unimpeded exploitation used to be quarantined, but we should anticipate its further expansion into domestic life. **

The "endangered boys" hucksters won't consider why boys are really endangered, the toxic male role models that oligarchic culture presents to them. Neither will they reflect on why so few boys seem to be in any danger of growing up no matter how old they get. But I rather like decent adults and believe every child should aspire to become one. “I won’t grow up,” is an option that should disappear at the age of 14. Yes, for boys too.

* Look at the stream of word play with which Mercutio taunts Tybalt in Romeo and Juliet. More double entendre in one scene than Mae West got off in her entire filmography. I don't think anyone but a gay man could have depicted someone so obviously obsessed with gay sex during that period.

* *In case you think I'm exaggerating, John Podhoretz is afraid that we're getting too nice to have an effective imperial policy. Makes you realize that the body count can't get too high to discourage them from their piracy.

Posted last night on Echidne of the Snakes where I'm helping to fill in while Echidne is on vaction.

"Our popular entertainment doesn't much do grown up men anymore."

I'm not sure what time we're comparing the present to. Sure, we've got a lot of mindless macho robots in popular movies, but I'm not sure if the Schwartzeneggars and Van Diesels are necessarily the biggest draw, and the past has had it John Waynes and Errol Flynns and countless other macho cardboard cut-out characters similar to our own.

Tom Hanks is probably the most popular male actor today, and he's made a career of playing the decent, self-effacing, sensitive male, whether in romantic comedy (Sleepless in Seatle) or war pictures (Saving Private Ryan).

Other very popular male stars have probably played more of a variety of roles--the macho robot, the eternal adolescent, as well as the character who does eventually grow up--Tom Cruise, Steve Martin, Jim Carey, Hugh Grant. It's not exactly profound work, but we're talking about popular entertainment, and roles of men in movies like "Jerry McGuire," "Parenthood," "Liar Liar," "About a Boy" certainly suggest that the fascist/revenge movies, however much we may deplore them, have something less than a total monopoly on the Hollywood product.

I'd be curious--what would you, or others, list as the best Hollywood portraits of real manhood? (This is not a gay/straight question, by the way.)
It is the movies marketed to boys that have the greatest impact in defining male roles, Sleepless in Seattle wasn't one of those. Clint Eastwood, I would guess, has had a much bigger impact on male self image than Tom Hanks has. I've never heard a male express a wish to be more like Tom Hanks, unfortunately I have heard them wish to be like Dirty Harry.

You can name people who have played decent men in movies, I said as much, though the comment about the psychopath beneath the surface is far from unknown.

The length of a piece like this makes it necessary to condense, my purpose was to bring up, not exhaust, the topic of men being discouraged from being responsible grownups. I don't remember anywhere near as much of that even in the action movies of the 40s and 50s. John Wayne, who I couldn't stand, was a far cry from the typical baby man sex machine found in popular entertainment today. There is nothing in popular music, certainly, that can match hip-hop for violent hatred of women and gay people. Not even country western.

Who would I identify as an heroic adult man in movies? Atticus Finch is probably most peoples' idea of such a man. Henry Fonda played a few. Bogart in Key Largo...

Do you think that this post has any validity? In terms of changes in male self-image and behavior?
I will propose my own "icons of responsible masculinity" from the movies--not all, I hesitate to add, Hollywood blockbusters, but not, I hope, entirely obscure, either.

1) Paul Scofield as Thomas More in "A Man for All Seasons"

2) Gregory Peck as Atticus Finch in "To Kill a Mockingbird"

3) Maxamillion Schell as Antonius Bloch in "The Seventh Seal"

4) Gerard Depardieu as Cyrano de Bergerac in the French movie of the same name.

5) Alex Guiness as George Smiley in the BBC television versions of John LeCarre's "Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy" and "Smiley's People."

Of these Depardieu's Cyrano is arguably a swashbuckling clown--but I think his character illustrates better than any other I can think of that older sense of self-denying honor which the modern macho hero sneers at.

Sorry, the previous post went up before yours. Looks like we coincide on Gregory Peck, at least.

You're right that my examples aren't marketed to young boys, who are, I think, a comparatively lost generation, since I think each generation coming up is raised less by their own fathers than the last.

At best one can look at mindless macho movies promoting at least a surface value that one can root for--the Matrix movies urging the questioning of authority, the recent "V" (which I haven't seen), along the same lines. These tend to have safe themes of safe rebellion, marketed as daring.

The rash of superhero movies lately are an interesting phenomenon. My teenage son loves the Spiderman movies--total fantasy, but the character has enough anxst and self-doubt to make him interesting, and the stereotyped bullies and corporate big shots are conveniently brought down. Superman, Batman, Daredevil, X-men, the Hulk--a flight from reality, admittedly. But what always makes them interesting is always their weaknesses.

But I do agree with you, there does seem to be a huge amount of junk out there, usually teaching that violence is the answer, that revenge is the sweetest thing. (I almost think Arnold got elected governor of California based on a sort of fantasy of that.) I say "seem to" because I typically don't go to violent movies or fratboy movies. But I think there's a lot of teaching going on of things that you and I, with all our admitted differences, would find equally appalling.
Thank u ;-) check out that emo boy one on this blog:
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