The other night the hubs and I were watching GONE WITH THE WIND. Well, we didn’t watch the whole thing, just part of it. He took me to see it in the theater, though, when they did that reissue a while back. That was when I stood in line at the concession stand behind Dan Marino. He was BIG. And then a few minutes later as I was getting on the escalator, I saw him, and pointed at him like a moron, and he looked right at me to see me standing there gaping at him. It was a proud moment. I digress.
So we’re watching GWTW, and it’s one of those scenes where Rhett Butler is being all take-charge-y, and hubs says, “You don’t see men like Clark Gable anymore in movies.”
It’s something I’ve actually thought about for a while; a few of you who’ve been with me for years might remember “Macho Week” 2007. (Those of you who go back and look at them might find the first glimmerings of inspiration for a certain character in a certain series I write there, too.)
Why don’t we see men like that anymore? Why are we constantly given these irresponsible, semi-effeminate little boy-men? Don’t get me wrong; I appreciate good-looking men, and I see the charm of a lot of these characters. But seriously. Is this what we want to teach our daughters to expect and appreciate? Men who run from any sort of responsibility, men for whom calling when he says he will is just too big a damn commitment for him? Men who use “products?”
Yeah, I know, the metrosexual thing has been done to death, and that’s not what this is about. It’s more about the fact that as our lives become more and more consumed with computers and video games and stuff like that, as we hide from the real world more and more as a society, as we cut out manual jobs and refuse to give them dignity anymore, as we become more and more fixated on money and material things, as we grow lazier and lazier…our men become more and more childish. Why should they have to take care of anyone when they grow up/get married?
I’m not saying real men don’t exist. I’m sure they do. But…where are they?
In the 60s and 70s, you could see real men in movies anytime you wanted. Lee Marvin. Steve McQueen. Paul Newman. Clint Eastwood. Charles Bronson. John Cassavetes. Gene Hackman. Sean Connery. Burt Reynolds (of course). Jack Nicholson. George C. Scott. James Garner. James Coburn. The list is endless. These were men. They drank hard and fought hard and played hard. They were commanding and decisive. They knew what had to be done, and they did it.
Where do we see men like that anymore? When is the last time you saw a man like that in a movie, seriously?
I suppose you could say Hugh Jackman is sort of manly, or at least he was in the first X-Men movie. Then he showed up doing cabaret on TV and the cloud of testosterone just disappeared. Nicholas Cage looked promising in the 80s and 90s, but now he spends all of his time doing silly B movies. You could mention Liam Neeson, but he keeps getting shoved into second-fiddle type roles; men have gotten younger, just like women. By which I mean, where a leading man might once have been in that 35-55 range (which I personally have always believed are a man’s sexiest years, when he’s all confident and authoritative but not knee-jerk-y or too set in his ways, when he’s wise but still youthful) now it seems they’re all in their early 20s. Movies aren’t about men doing manly things now, they’re about men running away from manly things so they can just hang out with each other.
I’m not saying some of those movies aren’t good, and/or funny. I like Judd Apatow movies. I thought OLD SCHOOL was hilarious. And sure, people just don’t go see westerns so much anymore, or action dramas like THE FRENCH CONNECTION. And yes, at the same time those men were on the screen, we also had the first glimmers of the child-man, the sensitive man who expected to be petted, in Woody Allen movies and Alan Alda and Dustin Hoffman.
(Incidentally, while hunting around the internet for names and examples I found this article by Tracy Quan. Quite interesting, and speaks to my point, so it’s worth a read. So is this NYT story from 2004.)
A while ago I talked about TWILIGHT, and why I think the book and movie have become such phenomena. For those of you who missed it, I think–I believe pretty strongly, in fact–that a big part of the reason is because TWILIGHT is a book which tells young women that love, and being in love, is a worthy goal on its own and that it’s important, instead of being something they should just sort of have in their lives while they achieve whatever lofty ambitions they may have–and if they don’t have lofty ambitions, there’s clearly something wrong with them. TWILIGHT tells young women they have every right to expect a man to pursue them, to protect them, and to commit to them. (NOTE: This is *not* me saying I approve of the particular methods used by the character in that book, or that I don’t see the way that relationship moves beyond caring and into controlling, or anything like that. I do see it. But I believe it is–or at least it was–the only book out there that condoned teenage girls putting love first, so all of that is less important to readers than that main message, which is that it’s okay to expect a man to be responsible and it’s okay to want love and romance instead of being focused on a career.)
Where else do we see that message anymore? Where else does anyone tell young women that they have a right to expect young men to stick around and behave responsibly, and where do young men see the massage that they should behave that way? (It always makes me laugh in a sad way when I think of that Salt n Pepa song from a while back, the “What A Man,” song, remember it? And the line “He spends quality time with his kids when he can.” Because apparently the idea of finding a man who hasn’t already impregnated someone–or more than one–is impossible; we assume he has children somewhere, because all men do, I guess.) Where do we tell young women they should expect commitment, and they should expect romance and love?
Instead it seems like everyone is on a treadmill–a hamster wheel–spinning faster and faster to stay a teenager as long as they can. We don’t demand responsible behavior from our young men anymore (and lest you think I’m being sexist here, we don’t demand it from young women anymore, either, which I think is just as bad), and we don’t show them role models like that anymore, either. We don’t teach them to be men; they grow up without fathers, and when they look to the media they don’t really see men there, either. All they see are millions of variations on the emo boy who needs a cuddle. Or maybe, if they see a manly man, he’s some sort of sexist caricature or violent maniac, a cautionary tale. In our entertainment today, you can either carry all of the responsibility of the relationship so your man can stay home playing with his Wii, or you can be beaten and locked in the bedroom because you have too much eyeshadow on. There doesn’t seem to be much of a middle ground.
I know there are some movies out there, yes. But actors these days…they’re delicate. They’re almost feminine-looking, it seems. They’re not very tall. They’re not hairy. They’re not gruff. They cross their legs at the knee and drink cocktails, if they drink at all, which they probably don’t. We used to have men like Richard Burton, Peter O’Toole and Richard Harris, Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin, whose wild exploits were legendary and who’d rather curl up and die than swear off drinking because it wasn’t good for them. These days it seems you have to have floppy hair and slight features if you want to be on-screen as a man, and be in bed by eleven. You’d never see Clark Gable now; Clark was manly and sexy, but he wasn’t exactly handsome, was he, with those big sticky-out ears?
The only one I’ve seen is Jeffrey Dean Morgan, who I looooove, but who never seems to get work. Who doesn’t seem to get work despite the fact that every woman I know loves him, but whatever. He’s not pretty, I guess, and he’s not boyish, so he wouldn’t be appropriate for any of the tee-hee-let’s-stay-children movies we put men in these days (unless they’re comic book heroes, of course. Comic book movies are the only place men get to be men anymore, and even then they’re sensitive and motivated not by honor or what’s right but by their feelings).
It just bothers me, and I think it’s sad. It bothers me that we don’t encourage men to be responsible and we don’t encourage women to expect men to be responsible. And I think it’s time we started changing the message of our popular culture. Because I’m sick of paying money to see a bunch of fifteen-year-olds in men’s bodies running around on the screen.