Now I’m male too, and most emphatically heterosexual, so it’s not like I’ve got anything against this particular sex. In fact, it’s because I’m male that I am so offended by the parody of them that has developed over the past 30 years.
No, I don’t mean they’ve become feminised or overly sensitive. That particular cliche really needs to be terminated with extreme prejudice. Sure, we’ve got our share of the New Age fops running around spouting nonsense about universal love and trying to solve the world’s problems by sympathising with terrorists, but they make up a minor (if vocal) portion of the male population. Far more common is the thickheaded, barely literate moron, contemptuous of anything beyond sports, sex and power tools.
There was a time that a real man was expected to know basic scientific principles, to have read at least some of the more influential books, to critique a play or movie with wit and insight, to understand the important political issues, to work with his hands, to earn a living, and to defend his family. Speaking of humans in general, Heinlein once said:
A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. (Time Enough for Love, 1973.)
Today, a “real” man hardly dares be seen reading in public, and admitting to any intellectual pursuit not involving fantasy baseball is tantamount to walking up to the school bully and begging for a wedgie.
Think of Sean Connery’s James Bond: at home among the wealthy, able to argue philosophy with master criminals, an expert shot with virtually any weapon, and a ladies’ man whose charm and wit could round the heels of any woman, no matter how beautiful or unattainable. In the seventies and eighties he became a parody of himself under Roger Moore, floated in near-obscurity under Timothy Dalton and Pierce Brosnan, and has now morphed into a somewhat sophisticated thug under Daniel Craig.1
Or compare the men of today’s situation comedies with those of 30-40 years ago. Dick van Dyke’s Rob Petrie (The Dick van Dyke Show) was suave, intellectual, and talented (despite the clumsiness that made up his slapstick humour). Robert Young’s Jim Anderson (Father Knows Best) had a good job, was able to carry on intelligent conversations, and enjoyed many of the finer things in life2. This pattern was true of virtually all the men on TV from the ’50s and ’60s. They were well-read, well-rounded, smart, and liked to spend time with their wives. Yes, they were also idiots about domestic issues, but then men on TV have always been portrayed as household morons – but that’s a different story. Today, however, and for the past quarter century or so, fathers and husbands have become total dorks, and the sad thing about this portrayal is that it is not too far off from the reality. Their only reading material (if they read at all) is the latest Sports Illustrated (generally the Swimsuit Edition), the only movies they watch consist of things blowing up (or porn), and the less time they can spend with their wives, the better.
So what happened? Did militant feminists put something in the drinking water? Did a secret government experiment to create super-soldiers go haywire resulting in couch-potato jocks?
Personally, I think it’s the fault of homophobia.
Before the seventies, homosexuals were essentially invisible. They were not only unseen, they were also unspoken. Boys in grade school may have been accused of being wimps or sissies, but this seldom referred directly to homosexuality, merely to an excessive feminine nature. Throughout the seventies, however, gays moved into the public eye. There were Gay Pride marches, and gay rights protests. The homosexual moved out of the closet and into the living rooms of the nation.
To homophobes, this was a disaster. It meant that a man who had remained a bachelor into his thirties could no longer rely on other people simply assuming he was an unmarried heterosexual – there was a good chance the people around him might begin thinking he was gay. Guys who read novels or went to the theatre were in danger of being tagged as queers. Even spending too much time with the opposite sex could be misread, unless the man was careful to emphasise that he was only doing it to get laid.
It was time for the homophobes to panic. They needed to distance themselves from anything that might, just might, indicate they were secretly gay. Anything associated with homosexuals was dropped. Did gays enjoy going to the theatre? Then the real man hated it. Did gays enjoy trying different foods? Then real men didn’t eat quiche. Did gays read? Then real men were functionally illiterate.
The new man is a joke. And the joke is just getting worse. Men have been so successful in removing any trace of homosexuality from their nature that they have become flesh and blood Golems.
And that’s why I probably don’t like you.
1. That’s not to say the new James Bond films aren’t good; they’ve completely redeemed the franchise after the unbearable parodies they’d become under Roger Moore. But the noticeable difference in the character of James Bond is still indicative of the modern view of man-as-brute. [Return to text.]
2. Much feminist literature has been written which uses Father Knows Best as one of the prime examples of patriarchal control in the early days of family television. Any such drivel is proof that the writer has never seen the show and is basing her criticisms of it entirely on its misleading title. The show originally appeared on radio where it was called Father Knows Best?, with a very meaningful question mark at the end, because the irony of the premise was that the father most definitely did not know best. When it moved to TV it lost the question mark, but not its ironical intent. Jim Anderson was a well-read and intelligent man, but when it came to the home, he was as much of an idiot as any of the modern fathers from Ray Romano to Homer Simpson.[Return to text]