Pajama Boy . . . and the rest of us

Princess Pajama Boy croppedAs far as the Left is concerned, Pajama Boy — the ultimate androgynous metrosexual — represents a significant majority of young people.  Certainly that’s where the White House is betting its money.  As Rush Limbaugh said, they wouldn’t have put together an ad campaign aimed at 1,00o or 2,000 people.  The White House genuinely believes that, across America, there are tens of thousands, or even hundreds of thousands, of Pajama Boys who want to get cozy in their onesies and talk about how to promote government growth.

I wonder if the White House’s money men are right, or if the White House is deluded by the bubble in which it lives (a bubble with lots of Pajama Boys) or by the ideology that both strengthens and blinkers it.  The White House is essentially saying that, for too long, we’ve been assuming that men are . . . well, manly, when all that they really wanted was society’s permission to be girlie.  As far as the professional Left is concerned, traditional masculinity is one long, biased, societally-imposed construct that has nothing to do with biology.

I think (or maybe I just hope) that the White House is wrong.

Here in Marin, conscientious Marin parents do their best to raise their children free of gender stereotypes, yet the kids embrace those stereotypes with gusto.  Boys play war games; girls sit around and share their feelings.  That’s not all that the boys and girls do — they’ll come together for lots of shared activities — but even in shared activities, boys are rambunctious and girls are bossy.  The kids who gather in my house each represent perfectly the highest points on the bell curve defining typical male or female behavior.

Slumber partyThese behavioral differences are mirrored in their physical differences.  The boys shoot up, their voices deepen, their legs get hairy, their faces more square (and hairy), and their shoulders broaden.  The girls grow too, but not as tall, their faces soften, and they get curves in all the right places, something that they’re happy to show off in feminine clothing.  These formerly somewhat androgynous little children, once they hit adolescence are manifestly different from each other.  Moreover, as they flirt gently with each other, I do believe that each would agree with that old French expression, Viva la difference!

But back to the boys especially.  I just learned the other day that another young man of my acquaintance enlisted in the military.  On Facebook, his father showed a photograph of the young man in his fatigues after ending basic training.  I wrote a comment congratulating the young men and saying that I’m seeing more and more young men look to the military as a way to learn self-discipline, have a purpose in life, and be part of a team, all as a way to hasten the maturation process.  The boy’s father wrote a response saying that I had hit the nail on the head.  He noted that, while his son’s choice was a surprise considering his Marin upbringing, it was precisely those goals that drew him to the military.  In other words, this 19-year-old boy, despite Marin’s assiduously asexual upbringing, still wanted to be a man.

One of the things the insulated White House ignores is that, just as was the case for this Marin youth, boys want to be men.  I don’t know if the White House ignores this reality because its ideology cannot accept it, or if it ignores this reality because, as Rush Limbaugh posits, it’s filled with Pajama Boys, whether youthful interns, or wrinkled and grizzled senior advisers.  Either way, whether because they’re true believers or actual Pajama Boys, the White House has given us an insight into what it thinks the American young man is, or should be, like — and that’s like a girl.

Boys in the movies

Almost exactly a year ago, I did a post I entitled Manly men, Girly men and Peter Pan. In it, I tried, ineffectively, I admit, to figure out America’s cultural trends regarding men. There’s the manly trend, exemplified by the Marines and much admired in certain romance novel genres; the Peter Pan trend, which sees boys remaining in perpetual adolescence, something manifest in the infantile clothes young man wear, with the falling down pants, backwards caps and unlaced shoes; and lastly, there are the girly men, who claim to be heterosexual, but who are so feminized a new word has been created for them: metrosexuals.

As for me, I like manly men, although I can tolerate a few metrosexual touches, such as remembering to put the toilet seat down or helping to tidy up after dinner. Perhaps another way of saying that is to say that I like manly men with good manners.

Because of my preference for men, I’m not much of a fan of modern movie stars, all of whom I find too boyish to be attractive. I got over my boyish star phase when I was 11 and had a mad crush on David Cassidy. Then, when I was 12, I read Gone With The Wind and discovered Clark Gable, both of which made me a lifetime fan of men, as opposed to boys. (And do keep in mind that one of Rhett Butler’s distinguishing features amongst Scarlett’s many admirers is the fact that he is a man while they are boys, even when they are boys who go off to fight and die.)

Think about it: if you’ve been lusting after Clark Gable for your entire life, what’s the likelihood that, as an adult, you’re suddenly going to switch gears and find attractive a little weenie like Brad Pitt, Orlando Bloom or Leonardo DiCaprio. Although all are nice to look at and DiCaprio is, I think, a real actor, they simply don’t exist in the same testosterone universe, and that’s true no matter how much the latter try to buff themselves up. Gable was a man, the others are mere boys.

I’ve always thought that the boy phenomenon in Hollywood originated with James Dean, although it didn’t become the only game in town until the 1990s. (There were leading men before the 1990s; now there seem to be only leading boys.) However, I’ve run into another theory, this one cropping up in Jeanine Basinger’s completely enjoyable book The Star Machine, which examines the way in which the studio system created stars. With regard to the changes in the star system once World War II began, Basinger posits that it was the deficit of grown men, and the necessary rejiggering that the studios had to do that created the legion of hairless boys in lead roles:

The first and most pressing need for the [studio] machine [when the War started] was to find new male stars. Hollywood immediately set to work to develop other stars to replace the actors who had gone to war. The top priority for what the machine wanted in a man was simple: one who was available. That was going to be older men, star look-alikes, foreigners who had escaped to America, guys who were 4-F, or young and boyish-looking fellas. Some male movie stars had legitimate deferments from combat. John Wayne was thirty-five years old in 1942, and this put him at the ceiling for draftibility (the cutoff was age thirty-five). He was also a married man with four underage dependents. Gary Cooper and Fred Astaire were over forty. William Powell was forty-nine, Bogart was forty-two, and Tracy was forty-one. These men did their part, but they were too old to be drafted into active service. New movies to star those who stayed behind were immediately put into the works. Handsome men with accents — and in a war story an accent was an asset — were groomed: Philip Dorn, Helmut Dantine, Paul Henreid, Jean-Pierre Aumont, and Arturo de Cordova. When Gable enlisted [a manly man thing to do], all the studios created Gable look-alike: John Hodiak, Lee Bowman, John Carroll, James Craig. But the main fodder of the star machine as World War II hit the studios in the pocketbook was the last group — the young, boy-next-door type. The all-American man was about to become a 4-F kid.

After the boys of World War II, the “leading man” would never be the same. The teen idol was born with the retooling of American manhood into a younger, thinner, more sensitive-looking guy. The effect of World War II on shaping the “new hero” as a “sensitive” male has never been fully explored. [Here Basinger adds this footnote, with her own emphasis: We've still got him. He's basically taken over: Johnny Depp, Leonardo DiCaprio, Brad Pitt (who has since transferred himself into the "man" category by muscling up and buzzcutting his hair), Orlando Bloom. Once the "boy star" emerged, he would not go away.] *** When the men went to war, the boys took over. (pp. 467-468.)

Isn’t it ironic that the most manly war in modern American history should leave as its legacy the “boy-ification” of American culture?