What Stace had to say on Wednesday, February 16th, 2011
Movie Milquetoasts

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.

23 comments to “Movie Milquetoasts”

  1. Christine
    · February 16th, 2011 at 2:24 pm · Link

    Gosh, my hubs and I were just discussing this! How now men even dress like big toddlers with their shorts and puffy sneakers. He likes to call it the “domesticated man”. Just like in the way that if you breed a fox for all the submissive qualities vs the aggressive qualities the ears eventually become floppy, and the tail curls. Like puppies.
    (fun side note: He was pontificating this as he was pulling out his own stitches from a bike wipe out…I watched. Hee hee)
    We were also saying how so many fathers these days are like vice-moms, taking the role of “where do you want it honey” instead of fathering their own way. (Louie CK made a great comment about this last fathers day..) This is new territory though. Perhaps a new mens movement is in order. There has to be a beautiful balance between the rugged lumberjack shitkicker and the p-whipped gortex vag guy.
    And as far as the latest crop of hollywood stars, gosh seems like a desperate time in poor old tinsel town. I mean love Johnny depp and all, but holy crap we need some fresh blood. I guess they are all about marketing to teens who have the time to go to a film. That and families…
    We all know teenage girls love dudes that actually look like girls. I think HBO is doing and ok job digging more masculine fellas out of the woodwork.
    I blame Jason Preistly! JK :)
    Great topic!

  2. Kiersten
    · February 16th, 2011 at 2:52 pm · Link

    I agree, but submit for consideration Jon Hamm, particularly as Don Draper. Also, Bradley Cooper can bring the manliness when he wants too. And Michael Fassbender. Also, Tim Olypaunt is be still my heart, take control manly as he plays Raylan Givens on Justified.

    I think this kind of man is portrayed more often in television shows than in movies these days b/c more and more movies are being marketed to teenagers who swoon over the delicate man – and have the disposable income. See the Peffyer kid in I AM NUMBER FOUR (I really spelled his name wrong).

    For my part, I like a strong man (tho perhaps less hirsute than Gable, tho damn that man is fine). With my crazy life, it’s a requirement for survival. πŸ˜‰

  3. Allie
    · February 16th, 2011 at 3:03 pm · Link


    This is why I love shows like Sons Of Anarchy – the men in it are… manly. Yeah they are criminals blah, blah, blah and I would kill anyone who referred to me as their ‘Old Lady’ – that’s not what attracts me. It’s the old fashioned provider/protector role the male takes on – and not just for his own family – they look out for each others families too, because in their circle, that’s what men do.

    So that’s where you can find them. On FX.

  4. Barb
    · February 16th, 2011 at 3:18 pm · Link

    Interesting post. I have to add another vote for Timothy Olyphant as Raylan on Justified. He’s got the real-man thing down pat.

    Tom Selleck is great too, I’ve been watching him on Blue Bloods. Stellan Skarsgard is another of my favorites as well.

  5. BernardL
    · February 16th, 2011 at 3:58 pm · Link

    I vote with Barb on Timothy Oliphant. There are a lot of actors on ‘Justified’ that fit your wish list.

    In real life there are a whole lot of guys wearing uniforms here and overseas that put any of the Hollywood bunch to shame.

  6. Betsy Dornbusch
    · February 16th, 2011 at 4:11 pm · Link

    It might be why I’m so ridiculously enthralled with Spartacus: Blood and Sand right now. Besides the naked men and the blood–oh the blood–these are guys who believe in a certain thing and stick to it, damn it. If one wants glory in the arena, they go out and get it. They protect those they even hate because they are brothers in the arena. And they aren’t “traditionally” handsome. Some of them are pretty bulky for the average guy walking around on the street; stomachs that stick out with muscle and they look each other in the eye. Every single one of them has some nasty scars and the damage from fights don’t miraculously fade away.

    It seemed kinda dumb when Spartacus was so stuck on his wife at first, just a silly device. But when it brings him and his enemies together, when they realize that in a different life, they’d be friends, and then they go create that extra life, all the while intending on either avenging the dead wives or protecting and nurturing the live ones, well, damn. It worked after all.

    Sure there’s some posing and posturing. But real men do that too. It’s part of their culture.

    I happen to be married to a “real man” type, as well, so I hope I actually write them half way effectively.

  7. Kris
    · February 16th, 2011 at 6:08 pm · Link

    At least I see I am not the only one who’s a little “old fashioned” in thinking that men should be MEN and not boys. I pride myself on my being an independent woman but I’d still love to have a man who is…”chivalrous” I guess works. Has some respect (for himself and others!), has at least the most basic of manners, doesn’t have 50 kids by 50 different women…isn’t a “delicate flower”!!!! That’s not to say I want a jacka– who beats me and controls my every living moment, but the prissy little boys (no offense to ACTUAL little boys) who start bawling when they stub their toes that I see in movies and on TV are not my idea of a man either.

    I second this, which Allie said: “It’s the old fashioned provider/protector role the male takes on – and not just for his own family – they look out for each others families too, because in their circle, that’s what men do.”

    And Stacia, I would like to look at Jeffrey Dean Morgan every day if at all possible…

  8. Tyhitia
    · February 16th, 2011 at 8:32 pm · Link

    You know I love you, right? LOL. πŸ˜€ Awesome post.

    I was hoping that Salt N’ Pepa song meant that he was at work all day and spent time with the kiddies after that. LOL.

    This is why I love your writing. πŸ˜‰

  9. Tyhitia
    · February 16th, 2011 at 8:42 pm · Link

    And I LOVE Jeffrey Dean Morgan! πŸ˜€

  10. Karen
    · February 16th, 2011 at 11:06 pm · Link

    Hi Stacia,

    My daughter and I were discussing this very thing recently! She is expecting her first baby in July, and we were discussing “manly” names, should she have a boy. (Yes, I am beyond excited πŸ˜€ )…we were in total agreement of the fact that a true gentleman is a rare thing. And by that, I mean the whole chivalrous, well-mannered, masculine, “in charge” kinda guy. She raised a pretty cool question, which was: is feminism partly responsible for creating this milquetoast type? Food for thought.
    I am so enthralled with the Downside series; after finishing City of Ghosts, it stayed in my head for some time, which is rare… Excellent, outstanding series, can’t wait for the next book!

    P.S. I picture Jemaine Clement as Terrible.. πŸ˜†

    • Stace
      · February 16th, 2011 at 11:10 pm · Link

      Oh, wow! I had to go look Jermaine Clement up–I have seen the show a couple of times but didn’t recognize the name–but wow, yeah…he’s closer than anyone else I’ve seen suggested. Quite close, in fact. Good choice!

      And congrats on the impending arrival! I hope your daughter has a healthy & happy pregnancy. :)

      • Karen
        · February 16th, 2011 at 11:42 pm · Link

        Thanks Stacia!

  11. krupke
    · February 17th, 2011 at 10:00 am · Link

    ” 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.”

    I’m definitely with you on the “they knew what had to be done, and they did it.”

    However, the problem with the commandeering, hard drinking and hard fighting is that in reality that shit often spills over into their domestic life. I definitely like a firm “manly” responsible man in my books and movies (and in real life), but there’s also a “trade off” if you know what I mean. It’s hard to find a good balance.

  12. April Morelock
    · February 17th, 2011 at 1:51 pm · Link

    I want real men… darn it… and I agree — there are NOT ENOUGH of them out there.

    It’s hard to raise a boy and try to bring home these values when all the boys around them are so juvenile and obviously on the path to quasi adulthood.

    Oh save us all…

  13. Katie
    · February 17th, 2011 at 2:32 pm · Link

    Sing it sista for the manly, hairy, testosterone soaked men of the past. Great post! I pictured Alexander Skarsgard as Terrible when I was reading DS 1-3. He’s gigantic, sexy-handsome, lots of hair to whip up into T’s signature do. SO HOT!

    • Allie
      · February 18th, 2011 at 1:29 pm · Link

      Really??? Wow, I love him as Eric, but he’s kind of my anti-Terrible! πŸ˜€

      • Katie
        · February 18th, 2011 at 2:47 pm · Link

        Oh crap, no I didn’t mean the guy who plays Eric. Though very HOT, he’s no Terrible. I meant the guy who plays Alcee. That’s what I get for trying to google their real names. Thanks for catching that. :)

  14. Allie
    · February 18th, 2011 at 4:23 pm · Link

    Oh! Joe Manganiello! He is delish:



    • Katie
      · February 18th, 2011 at 4:36 pm · Link

      Wow is a picture ever worth a thousand words where Joe is concerned!!! Thanks for that link it made my day πŸ˜‰

  15. SarannaDeWylde
    · February 20th, 2011 at 5:30 pm · Link

    Oh, preach it. It’s hard to get lost in the story and envision these men as “heroes” when I know I could snap them like twigs.

    “You think you’re going to…what? No, sweetheart. Not until you can see over the counter.” *pets head*

  16. Eridani
    · February 23rd, 2011 at 2:08 pm · Link

    You know, Stargate: SG-1 was actually good for some real-man action. Since an Air Force colonel leads each SG team, you end up with a lot of late 30s, early 40s guys with the whole commanding military-guy thing going on. I was just thinking about that the other night. In addition to Jack, Teal’c and Daniel, you had Colonels Reynolds, Emerson, Makepeace, and Pendergast, etc. No man-boys there.

  17. Analisa
    · March 2nd, 2011 at 1:23 pm · Link

    While I’m glad men now are more in touch with their “feminine” side, in aspects like learning to talk about their feelings, learning that they are an important part of their children’s life, learning that women in general are not only good for cleaning, cooking and f******, I see your point and I agree, but as you said, I see it as a general tendency, not only men’s. We all tend to be more childish, for longer and longer time. I know people who are at their 30’s and still living with their parents (in every sense). Immaturity is an everyday issue. But not only for men, IMHO.
    As for where do we get real men, old fashioned men, imperfectly perfect men we do love and go crazy about ??? BOOKS, that’s where. At least that’s where I find them, LOL.

  18. Alexandra
    · March 4th, 2011 at 2:28 pm · Link

    It’s strange, I quite often read your blog with great pleasure ans appreciate its insights into life and writing. But this time I find I have to disagree with your conclusions enough to get out of lurking and post a reply. Everything is of course just in my opinion.

    I believe those many men gave the *illusion* of being dependable. In the end plenty of them did disappoint. They cheated, they didn’t bother to help with raisin their children, and yes, many of them abused their women, physically and emotionally. And lets not forget that all of them expected their women to be much younger than them, take care of them, and hopefully never argue with them. Those are the same men that thought our opinions to be of less importance than theirs, that expected to “lead” the family without ever checking if maybe their woman might be a better leader.

    My sister spent her 20s, 30s, and 40s looking for those manly men. She found them and paid the price. She now has 4 children she’s raising on her own and nothing in the way of happiness. And yes, there was abuse, there was domination, there were men trying to decide how her children are to be brought up without considering that she has a full right to decide that. And in the end they all disappointed and showed a lot of immaturity.

    The idea of what a man (and a woman) should be, changes throughout history. So a generation ago he had the manly man as the ideal. Look before that – a gentleman was actually supposed to be gentle, far away from the working class, without any muscle, very well behaved. Some time before then we had men who wore makeup and rouge. Before that we had rough warriors. Looking back for the “right” man ideal doesn’t work – there are too many of them to choose from.

    You also mention how love has lost its importance in our lives.
    “something they should just sort of have in their lives while they achieve whatever lofty ambitions they may have”
    Well, love is also an invention. Its importance rose in the late 18th century. Its definition changed a lot over time as well. Success in life, raising a family, learning, wealth, etc, were all seen as more important before. Lately we tried out putting romantic “love” on a pedestal; in the end it lead to unrealistic expectations of what life and especially marriage should be like and then it resulted in a lot of painfully broken illusions. I’m all for love, but there are many things that are also important.

    I admit I’ll take a floppy puppy that I know won’t be a challenge and that I clearly see ahead of time won’t be responsible, over a manly man that will *appear* to be responsible, demand dominance, but in the end will disappoint. I am glad my little nieces will not see the manly 35-55 year old hard drinking man as the ideal.

    As for “Gone With the Wind” – Rhett Butler was the only man that came close to domesticating Scarlett. He seemed to be different, seemed to be a man that appreciated her free nature, but once they were married he wanted her to conform and fit in (for the sake of their daughter’s standing in the society he so despised before). He is yummy, he makes my primitive instincts dance a happy dance, but I’d not wish him on any woman seeking equal partnership or freedom for her spirit. It would draw him, but he’d still try to quell it. Just imagine how the book would have continued if he walked back 5 minutes after he walked out.


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