Manly men versus slackers

I don’t ordinarily read Time Magazine, since I decided years ago, even before my political transformation, that it held little interest for me. (Although I distinctly remember, in 1982, a “hip” young man I worked with castigating it as a conservative mag fit only for parents.) The only reason I even read it now was because, while I was biding time in the orthodontist’s office, it was the only alternative to a car magazine. As is my practice with all magazines, I started at the back, with the light stuff. And that’s how I got to read Belinda Luscombe’s delightful op-ed about the men populating Hollywood’s recent batch of “romantic” “comedies” (both of those words deserve sarcastic italics, since the movies tend to be neither romantic nor funny). Here’s how Luscombe describes some of Hollywood’s latest offerings (all of which, I believe, have fared badly at the boxoffice):

Pity poor Uma Thurman. In My Super Ex-Girlfriend, her new movie, she plays a superhero who falls for Luke Wilson, a not very successful architect. He does not reciprocate, a less than shrewd response to a woman who, with one glance, can set you alight–and I don’t mean with desire. In her last romantic comedy, Prime, she played a high-powered fashion consultant who’s dating a man who worked as a kitchen hand and moved into her apartment and played a lot of video games. Those are the men Uma Thurman gets. Or doesn’t.

But she’s not alone. In this summer’s The Break-Up, Jennifer Aniston lives with an overweight and slobby tour guide, while in Failure to Launch, Sarah Jessica Parker woos a man who dwells with his parents. Those guys would have bonded well with the lads from last year’s Wedding Crashers, who sneak into other people’s nuptials because they have no life, or with that 40 Year-Old Virgin fella. Or, for that matter, the gentlemen from Hitch or Fever Pitch or Along Came Polly or almost any other recent movie in the opening scenes of which boy and girl meet cute. They are, all of them, spectacular weenies.

She’s so right. These guys aren’t even New Age sensitive guys. They’re old-fashioned losers.

Interestingly enough, these Hollywood movies are the mirror image of the British chick-lit books I’ve been complaining about. In the latter, the women are boozy, pathetic losers who somehow manage to land the best guy in room. Although depressing, these stories are at least probable, since historically men have tended to marry down, and women up. The Hollywood movies, though, with their wildly successful women and flakey men are, well, weird. And just as I wondered why the British would go for stories demeaning to women, I have to wonder, even more strongly, why Hollywood would go for stories demeaning to men. Here’s Luscombe take:

Most of the men in these movies are under 40. Could it be that a generation raised by women who worked at paying jobs before pulling a second shift as homemakers simply find any situation in which women are not heroically gifted and energetic to be too much of a suspension of disbelief?

We know what the schlub love interests are not. They are not a female fantasy. Given Uma-like superpowers or even Condi-like earthly powers, women would not, surely, choose to waste them on bringing numskulls who look like Ben Stiller up to I’m-prepared-to-be-seen-out-with-you standard. Women need their superpowers for more important stuff like fighting illiteracy and deflecting people’s attention away from the fact they’ve gone maybe one day too long without shaving their legs. [Emphasis mine.]

Is this what Slackers, Gen X, Gen Y and the loonier side of Feminism have brought us to? A bizarre Lake Woebegone, where the women are strong, the children are above average, and the men are pathetic failures?

I’m already beyond the stage where I’m affected by these young men (I’m not dating anymore), but I find it depressing that both my son and daughter will be raised in a world where men are demeaned and women are (probably) depressed. Luscombe notes that we’ll never have the society or the wit to take us back to the wonderful snappy romances of the 1940s, or even the Cinderella tales of the 50s and 60s, but she raises a cry for some return to a time when men were men and women were beautiful:

It’s clear we can’t return to the days of Gigi and Daddy Long Legs and Funny Girl, when gawky young women were transformed into Givenchy-wearing lovelies by suave, much older men who danced well. Steve Martin tried that last year with shopgirl. In the scene where he puts his hand on Claire Danes’ naked back, audience members around me practically reached for their cell phones to dial child services. Meanwhile, the vicissitudes of show biz have done in the witty Spencer Tracy–Katharine Hepburn bickerfests, because they require people to actually pay attention. And let’s face it, we have all drunk at the Tom Hanks–Meg Ryan soda-pop stand once too often. So, yes, our romantic-comedy appetites are limited.

But would it be too much to ask to have women occasionally be the losers? Why is it that when stranded men are rescued by women it’s comedy but when women are rescued by men it’s an action film? Females have exactly the same rights to louse up and slack off and be really immature and dysfunctional as men do. If you put a banana peel in front of us, do we not slip? Enough is enough. The time has come to rise up, my sisters! Let’s fight for our right to be in the wrong.

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  • erp

    Why ask that women sometimes be the losers? Why not ask for men to take charge. Lately we’ve been watching “Walker, Texas Ranger” and laugh if you will, but it makes you feel good that when Cordell walks in, you know right and might are in the building. If you’ve never seen, you’d be surprised. They deal with social issues and women are strong in every way, including a Texas Ranger who’s as tough a fighter as she is petite and pretty.

    Is it over the top? Of course, but isn’t it over the top when for a decade everybody loved mama’s boy Raymond, while his intelligent, beautiful and well educated wife was her foil. It was beyond improbable that a woman like that would try unsuccessfully to get her mother-in-law to like her by trying to be a model 50’s hausfrau.

    We’ve also been watching “Upstairs/Downstairs” courtesy of Netflix. It is a distinct pleasure to see how a butler could be portrayed as a strong caring man in what could be seen as a demeaning position yet come across with more dignity than a duke.

    Everyone in the series was good, but Gordon Jackson’s Mr. Hudson was the epitome of a gentleman

  • http://arosebyname.wordpress.com/ Anna

    They are generally portrayed one way or the other…wimp or macho jerk. Which is why I like the older movies! Rhett was always MUCH better then Ashley. I never understood Scarlett’s obsession with Ashley.

  • http://ymarsakar.blogspot.com/ Ymarsakar

    The funny as hell part was when I realized Chuck Norris was taught by Bruce Lee and played several parts in Bruce Lee’s movies. That was just hilarious.

    This miasma of decadence in Western culture and civilization, is also why the military (old school outposts) may like military science fiction romances.

    At the same time you see the decay, you will also see a lot of people counter-react to that decay, Bookworm. If you’ve seen Pat Dollard’s tapes, you should have some taste of what the newest generation of men feel about pop culture.

  • Joseph Libson

    Book: at the risk of being pigeon-holed as one of your many cloying fans…:)

    This argument of yours dovetails nicely with your old articles on American Thinker (I didn’t know that you were famous there too!). You talk about Harry Potter and LOTR as providing strong values messages. And loe and behold they *also* have strong male characters.

    Harry (especially in the latest book) is starting to look more and more like an old school hero from a western: “I don’t care what you all say to me or think of me. I know what’s right and that’s what I’m going to do.” Great stuff.

    Finally: you should lump the latest Batman Begins into your “good values” list. Favorite line (albeit from a bad guy)

    “Like you, I was forced to learn
    there are those without decency
    who must be fought without hesitation,
    without pity.”

    Or one that you might like better:

    “it’s not who you are underneath,
    it’s what you do that defines you.”

  • Trish

    Unfortunately, this is the feminut version of role-reversal. They don’t respect the women of the past; their ideal human being is the man in the gray flannel suit: cold, materialistic, utterly-self-centered. The men in the modern films are what the feminuts sincerely believe women used to be.

    It wouldn’t surprise me if this is the real reason heroic/adventure/roleplaying video games are so popular. They appeal to something essential in teenage boys (and in this aging “hausfrau” as well): the idea that men should have courage and honor.

    I don’t care if a male character in a movie has a blue-collar job, but I do care if he’s a self-centered, self-satisfied jerk. And I care even more if a female character is. I think it’s about time the movies grew up.

  • Danny Lemieux

    I taught my son how to shoot, get his black belt, compete in the ring and stand face to face to anyone with the strength of his arguments. We also taught him to cook, love kids, appreciate gardening, fix his own clothes and do mission work on behalf of his church. We taught him the importance of strengthening his mind, body and soul. We taught our daughter exactly the same things. He is very masculine, she is very feminine. They both know how to be gentle and how to be tough as nails, as the occasion demands. I pity the poor *@ that ever crosses them. I also wonder which neat little stereotypic sex roles they fit.

  • Joseph Libson

    Mr. Lemieux, you bring up an excellent point.

    I would assert that your son is a “real” man and your daughter is a “real” woman. And as such they fall into neither sterotype.

    Real men and women both should be capable of being tough as nails for their enemies and gentle as a feather for their loved ones.

    What has happened is we have removed all of the “tough” from the men and we are trying to remove much of the “gentle” from the women. And so we end up with caricatures of both.

    We have a very young son and 2 daughters. We hope to raise them to be “real” men and women.

  • Christina

    Here is a link to James Bowman’s review of MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA, which you might find interesting. According to him, it seems that the only way to have chivalric, manly male characters and women who are awarded for their patience in a new movie is to set it in the past, because it was OK to behave that way back when women had less “choice” in their lives. Such behavior would be too retro today.

    http://www.jamesbowman.net/reviewDetail.asp?pubID=1672

    I’m trying to think of a contemporary romantic novel that would make a good movie and provide interesting male characters, but I’m getting a headache so I should stop.

  • Christina

    Here is a link to James Bowman’s review of MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA, which you might find interesting. According to him, it seems that the only way to have chivalric, manly male characters and women who are awarded for their patience in a new movie is to set it in the past, because it was OK to behave that way back when women had less “choice” in their lives. Such behavior would be too retro today.

    http://www.jamesbowman.net/reviewDetail.asp?pubID=1672

    I’m trying to think of a romantic novel set today that would make a good movie and provide interesting male characters, but I’m getting a headache so I should stop.

  • Jim

    Without disagreeing with Trish’s comment, I wish more people would actually read Sloan Wilson’s novel, THE MAN IN THE GRAY FLANNEL SUIT. It’s protagonist, Tom Rath, is truly a manly man underneath the gray flannel – quiet, unassuming, and strong – but inexperienced in the culture of the business world. As he tries to climb the corporate ladder, he has to make some difficult choices, both professional and personal, that will have impact on Betsy, his wife. The movie portrays them reasonably well, but the book is better, and far more intense. If you want to look into the private life of a man of ‘the greatest generation’ when the shooting stopped, read this book.

  • Trish

    Jim. Since I know what the protagonist of that story did, I can’t in any way agree that he was a manly man. No offense, but he behaved very badly, and his wife had to suffer for it. That’s not “making some difficult choices”, that is being a jerk.

  • BigEar38

    All of this is part of a continuing effort, whether intentional or not, to feminize our K-12 schools, indoctrinate our college students, create an Orwellian media, empower women and demean men in movies and on TV. Sadly, these efforts are succeeding.