November 07, 2003

Chin UP, Man!

KIM DU TOIT has delivered an epic entry on the subject of manliness, and the relative lack of it which he claims exists in modern-day culture. In short, Mr du Toit argues that men have abandoned their manly virtues -- but lays the blame for that at the feet of a supposed years-long campaign of denigration against the male gender.

While we do agree with some of his points -- particularly those decrying the excessive regulation, aversity to risk, and abdication of personal responsibility which seems to have affected American life -- we do not agree with his knee-jerk argument that a long-standing anti-male campaign is much to blame for it. Rather, we see such changes as indicative of the society of the Sixties and the Seventies, which all people now agree put forward a lot of rather destructive ideas now deemed unworkable. We further find Mr du Toit's essay, while powerfully written and passionate in its appeal, to be a bit much. To our way of thinking, it shows a particular lack of what our father calls mental toughness -- and, as such, is un-manly at its core.

Near the beginning of his essay, Mr du Toit spells out a number of disturbing trends which he argues are asymptomatic of the problem at hand. He writes as follows:

"Now, little boys in grade school are suspended for playing cowboys and Indians, cops and crooks, and all the other familiar variations of "good guy vs. bad guy" that helped them learn, at an early age, what it was like to have decent men hunt you down, because you were a lawbreaker.

Now, men are taught that violence is bad -- that when a thief breaks into your house, or threatens you in the street, that the proper way to deal with this is to "give him what he wants", instead of taking a horsewhip to the rascal or shooting him dead where he stands.

Now, men's fashion includes not a man dressed in a three-piece suit, but a tight sweater worn by a man with breasts.

Now, warning labels are indelibly etched into gun barrels, as though men have somehow forgotten that guns are dangerous things.

Now, men are given Ritalin as little boys, so that their natural aggressiveness, curiosity and restlessness can be controlled, instead of nurtured and directed."

We would not disagree with Mr du Toit that many of these things are unfortunate, particularly the decline of the three-piece suit and the warning labels etched into gun barrels. It is rather dismaying to think that some Americans are both so lawsuit-happy and mentally-deficient they force our society to cater to their stupidity (to say nothing of the conditions which led to that happening).

But we are not convinced that, for example, giving one's wallet to an armed thief is a weak decision. It makes little sense to argue with a man holding a handgun, after all. However, we do note that in the United States, a man is still able to defend his home with lethal force; provided he does not do something so cowardly as to shoot a fleeing burglar in the back.

But Mr du Toit continues:

How did we get to this?

In the first instance, what we have to understand is that America is first and foremost, a culture dominated by one figure: Mother. It wasn't always so: there was a time when it was Father who ruled the home, worked at his job, and voted.

But in the twentieth century, women became more and more involved in the body politic, and in industry, and in the media -- and mostly, this has not been a good thing. When women got the vote, it was inevitable that government was going to become more powerful, more intrusive, and more "protective" (ie. more coddling), because women are hard-wired to treasure security more than uncertainty and danger. It was therefore inevitable that their feminine influence on politics was going to emphasize (lowercase "s") social security.

Well, there you have Mr du Toit's argument. What we find odd, though, is that Mr du Toit fails to draw the natural conclusion of his words: there was a time when it was Father who ruled the home, worked at his job, and voted. Well, today, there are plenty of homes without fathers, plenty of men who refuse to work, and plenty of men who don't go to the polls each November. Women have not even entered the equation yet. So, as such, we find it impossible to hold women responsible for the failings of men: men who abdicated their responsibility to their children, who do not engage in productive labor, either at home or outside it; and who can't even be bothered to take an hour to cast a ballot. Men have only themselves to blame for becoming louts.

In short, Mr du Toit has it entirely backwards.

As for women's participation in industry, politics and the media, we do not see this as bad as all. We find it rather stupid for a society to hold back 50 percent of its potential, much less for reasons which could only be described as nostalgia. We also find it a bit specious to argue that women took American society in a particular direction: for it should be clear that, like men, women do not think in lockstep. It should be clear that both sexes had a hand in things along the way.

Mr du Toit continues:

I am aware of the fury that this statement is going to arouse, and I don't care a fig.

What I care about is the fact that since the beginning of the twentieth century, there has been a concerted campaign to denigrate men, to reduce them to figures of fun, and to render them impotent, figuratively speaking.

I'm going to illustrate this by talking about TV, because TV is a reliable barometer of our culture.

In the 1950s, the TV Dad was seen as the lovable goofball -- perhaps the beginning of the trend -- BUT he was still the one who brought home the bacon, and was the main source of discipline (think of the line: "Wait until your father gets home!").

From that, we went to this: the Cheerios TV ad.

Now, for those who haven't seen this piece of shit, I'm going to go over it, from memory, because it epitomizes everything I hate about the campaign to pussify men. The scene opens at the morning breakfast table, where the two kids are sitting with Dad at the table, while Mom prepares stuff on the kitchen counter. The dialogue goes something like this:

Little girl (note, not little boy): Daddy, why do we eat Cheerios?
Dad: Because they contain fiber, and all sorts of stuff that's good for the heart. I eat it now, because of that.
LG: Did you always eat stuff that was bad for your heart, Daddy?
Dad (humorously): I did, until I met your mother.
Mother (not humorously): Daddy did a lot of stupid things before he met your mother.

Now, every time I see that TV ad, I have to be restrained from shooting the TV with a .45 Colt. If you want a microcosm of how men have become less than men, this is the perfect example.

To argue that such things are part of a concerted campaign to denigrate men is ludicrous. As a writer, we can assure Rant readers that television executives and advertising folks care about one thing, and one thing only: making money with a minimum of fuss.

So it is only natural that as the culture changed, television culture would change along with it. In the Fifties and early Sixties, when the nuclear family was predominant, the television shows would feature ... nuclear families. Now that the old-style nuclear family (Dad works, Mom works at home, 2.3 kids) makes up just 10 percent of the American demographic , it makes less economic sense to feature nuclear families on television when it comes time to cast for a new sitcom. (That's not to say there's not a lot of unfortunate stuff happening with the wasteland of modern American television. We're just not convinced it's an evil plot).

As for the Cheerios ad, why Mr du Toit is so appalled is beyond us. It's a goddamned cereal ad. Get over it already.

Now, Mr du Toit writes on at length, but this condemnation of a frickin' cereal ad is what leads us to the crux of our complaint with Mr du Toit's argument. For it is not merely an argument pointing out things wrong with society, or even a reasoned complaint about where those things go wrong. Rather, it has an element of griping and whining added to it. In fact, it reminds us of that scene in "The Godfather," where Johnny Fontaine breaks down in front of Don Corleone.

At one point, Mr du Toit even said that all the male golfers in a tourney which featured a female golfer should have joined a male colleague in refusing to play. What's up with that? A real man would have accepted the female golfer's challenge, and then done everything he could to have beaten her and every other opponent he had in the tournament.

For crying in one's beer does not remove the challenges put before a man in this life, and neither is manliness about firing weaponry, making crude jokes, or fixing automobiles. Rather, it is about acting with honor and distinction in all things, learning from every situation he encounters, fulfilling his duties to his family, and giving the other fella hell at every possible opportunity. We would humbly suggest that if men across America were to step up to the plate in these and many other areas, they would gain back for the gender a lot of the respect which it has lost over the years.

And, as Mr du Toit recognizes such elements of being a "Real Man," we look forward to him joining us in a call for men in society to step up to the plate like they once did.

Posted by Benjamin Kepple at November 7, 2003 01:30 PM | TrackBack