Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Reflections on "silly men"....now and then

And what’s truly interesting, maybe, is television’s elevation of immature, geeky, boy-men figures to stardom. Something is being nourished here – now the geekiest guys are presented to us as the coolest guys on TV. (from "Forget Jen and Anne. I want to talk about silly men" by John Doyle, Globe and Mail, March 3, 2013, excerpted below)
The definition of masculinity, or preferably masculinities, is a subject about which men seem to both obsess, and to deny their obsession. It may be good "ratings" to parade silly men in sit-coms, but it does little to enhance an already weakened archetype of moderation, maturity, subtle comedic self-directed jabs, and most of all "evolvment"...whatever that might mean in the second decade of the 21st century.
Women, the dominant force in most mixed conversations, merely in deference to the training and development of polite behaviour among men, that we defer to our women on the selection of topic, the selection of narratives of experiences to flesh out the discussion and the length of time dedicated to a single issue. That observation is not intended as sexist, given men's consciousness that our sensibilities on any subject might either bore or irritate our colleagues, since we are most comfortable among other men and feel less likely to cross socially accepted "lines" among our "kin".
Clowns, in literature, have been mostly men. For a long time, comics were men; men making fun of themselves has been a traditional way for men to relieve anxiety, at our own expense. And for most of us, it has usually worked. "I pay the barber to find it!" was one example from my bald father, of self-deprecating humor.
Rodney Dangerfield made a comedic career of self-directed lines depicting his "lack of respect".
Another successful American male comic, Foster Brooks, made us laugh for decades with his impersonation of the "classic drunk", as did Dean Martin parallel to his singing career. Jack Benny was the classic "cheapskate" on his own television show, while Red Skelton frequently portrayed characters that evoke both laughter and some pity, like Clem Kadiddlehopper. Roasting male actors and entertainers has been a staple in North American comedy for decades. Shakespeare uses the clown, and the inebriated male, to provide relief from the more serious scenes in his plays. So there is a long and honourable history to the male comic archetype, pointing much of his with at himself
More recently, male comics have pointed their wit at their partners, their children, their parents, and even their bosses, or their political leaders. Lewis Black does an incisive expose of George W. Bush as the most stupid president in history, once again a male comic eviscerating another male politician.
So there is a deep well of "silly men" from which to drink, for those interested in turning their creative imaginations to television drama of the money-making-success variety.
However, comic male entertainers differ from the narcissistic kind of Sheldon Cooper, in that they are not nearly as self-absorbed. Others do matter to most of the comics, whereas, for Sheldon, no one matters, not even his male cohorts on the show...only Sheldon and his intellectual physics.
The Berenstain Bears, too, books read to young children, had much fun at fathers' ineptitude. The butt of the joke is both a male tradition and a male archetype in literature.
In the early years of a young boy's life, inclusion in the group is defined by a form of "dissing" or "making fun of" by other boys...as a sign that he is noticed and that he can "take it" and "give it back" to demonstrate he is not a wimp. And when that "banter" begins within the group, it rarely stops, even years later.
Some three or four decades ago, at least, much of this "familiarity" for men, with men, by men changed, with the tidal wave of the feminist movement. We no longer knew what was expected, or how to behave or how to learn how to behave, or whether or not we even wanted to learn the new "sexual politics" which threw out old chest-nuts like the male calling the female for a date, opening the door for the females upon entering a building, or a vehicle, or holding the chair for the female on a dinner date, or asking for a "first kiss" or????
Many men simply retreated into the various forms of "mancave" that they created...hunt-camps, hockey teams and their parties,  fishing trips, white-water rafting trips, African adventure trips, climbing excursions, biker-trips, and more recently, cycling clubs, running and tri-athletic clubs (often now of a co-ed variety) and the more cliche, the mancave in the former "recreation room" now that it is available after the kids have left home.
Add to this feminist tidal wave the internet forms of communication, the workplace reversals of gender roles, the education reversals of achievment in grad schools, and the seemingly conscious and deliberate silence of most men in any discussion about how men and women really do relate in the contemporary culture.
We have, in effect, turned the field over to our women colleagues, for them to set the rules and the expectations and the cultural norms... at our own, and their, peril.
We have abdicated, for the most part, into our private fettishes, as if in doing so, we can claim some semblance of control over our lives, and avoid how we have effectively and literally abandoned many of the opportunities to play an equal and effective role with our female partners.
Younger generations of men, however, are slowly grasping the brass ring back, not to dominate their female partners, but rather to respect, honour and even confront on occasion, a different point of view.
Younger generations of men, who have graduated from grad schools, and who have found their place in the world of work and community, have found a new energy and a new strength capable of sharing the silliness of the Sheldon Cooper's without feeling embarrassed by their stereotype.
Men making fools of themselves, embedded into our cultural imaginations, will merely find different and creative stages on which to enact the theme, hopefully, providing, in the meantime, role models of healthy, and open and evolving masculinities that deep the dissing and the jokes from becoming mean-spirited, whether directed at other males with different lifestyles or females whose contempt for the male species pours from their every breath.

Forget Jen and Anne. I want to talk about silly men
By John Doyle, Globe and Mail, March 3, 2013
...Late last week came reports that ABC, which broadcasts the Academy Awards, is already pushing for Jimmy Kimmel, who has a talk show on ABC, to host next year. This is just business. All about branding and promoting the network.

What’s interesting, maybe, is that Kimmel is not actually irritating. He’s cutting and agile in his sarcasm aimed at the entertainment racket. But he is outrageously adolescent. MacFarlane is kind of geeky too, and indeed famous as the creator of the sort of television that appeals to callow, childish men.
And what’s truly interesting, maybe, is television’s elevation of immature, geeky, boy-men figures to stardom. Something is being nourished here – now the geekiest guys are presented to us as the coolest guys on TV. Enough with Anne Hathaway and Jennifer Lawrence. Enough with the ladies. Let’s talk about some guys.
As an important for instance, take Jim Parsons, who plays the narcissistic, childish, uber-geek on Big Bang Theory. The magazine GQ, devoted to manliness, and photos of large-breasted actresses in their undergarments, features Parsons in its new issue. He gets a GQ makeover and presents a guide to loafers. The shoes, that is, not guys who loaf around devoted to not growing up. It seems he favours $420 loafers by Emporio Armani.
But check out the description of Parsons – “With his giant eyes, vulnerable face, and noodle-thin body, Jim Parsons at first looks harmless playing scientist Sheldon Cooper on The Big Bang Theory. Then, on the show, he will say something like: ‘My father used to say a woman is like an egg-salad sandwich on a warm Texas day – full of eggs and only appealing for a short time.’ ”
Excuse me? Sheldon is a comic trope. That paragraph reads like a mash note to a teen idol.
As another for instance, I point to the character Schmidt on New Girl, who is by far the most interesting thing on the show. It is the ridiculousness of Schmidt (Max Greenfield) that makes the show watchable. (By the way, Schmidt and Sheldon/Jim Parsons seem to share a shoe thing. Schmidt has been known to declare, “Damn it! I can’t find my driving moccasins anywhere!” He also famously remarked, “Can someone please get my towel? It’s in my room next to my Irish walking cape.”) Last week’s episode of New Girl was actually an orgy of comic celebration of utterly hopeless men.
Schmidt decided to throw a party to celebrate 10 years of having the eternally depressed Nick (Jake Johnson) as a roommate. He went to elaborate lengths, staging a swanky party and at one point was unavailable for chatter because he was sending an angry e-mail to his florist.
It was very, very funny. But done with enormous affection for impossible men.
Both Sheldon and Schmidt are fascinating characters, and I really don’t know what’s going on with the elevation of such characters to the level they now occupy. Sheldon is the creation of two men – Chuck Lorre and Bill Prady, who co-created Big Bang Theory. Schmidt is the creation of Liz Meriwether, who dreamed up New Girl. So it’s not a matter of such men being the emanations of a male or female imagination. It doesn’t matter, apparently.
Figuring this out is a lot more fun than squawking about Anne Hathaway being horrid or Jennifer Lawrence being nice. And in the meantime, I need to buy some shoes. Which I really shouldn’t do. You see, recently I happened upon a certain store in my neighbourhood and noticed it was clearing out the men’s shoe department. So I went in and bought six pairs. Yes, six. What fun that was.

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