Jeff Gordinier's piece in Details on "The Remasculated Man" is less obnoxious than it could be, but it still reveals how difficult it is to talk about modern masculinity without falling back on lame testicular cliches.
Gordinier's thesis is that a confluence of cultural factors — including the recession and, somewhat oddly, the departure of Conan O'Brien — are creating a new, riskier, more exciting archetype of modern masculinity. He writes, "After years of dutiful, dues-paying obsequiousness, men seem to be coming to the realization that surviving (and even enjoying) the wide-open Wild West gestalt of 2010 demands a different response than testicular retraction." The man of the '00s was apparently a sissy who "endured the shocks and shifts of the past 10 years by collectively cowering-by retreating into a safe, soft, risk-averse, and often narcissistic fortress of solitude." But the man of today is a badass, like ... Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes. Or James Franco! Gordinier writes,
The man of the moment is a sniper. He knows that getting ahead in a fractured, fluid world is no longer a matter of fishing with dynamite; it's about taking aim and going after what you want. You can see it with actor James Franco, who drop-kicked a stagnant bucket of Hollywood's conventional wisdom by enrolling in writing classes at Columbia University, taking on gay-friendly roles in films like Milk and Howl, gamely air-dropping into General Hospital, and proclaiming his love of poetry while squiring his gorgeous girlfriend Ahna O'Reilly to red-carpet parties-and becoming a bona fide star in the process.
I'm not really sure what "fishing with dynamite" is a metaphor for here, but I do know that a straight actor playing gay roles is neither especially groundbreaking nor particularly courageous. When Hollywood has the courage to let gay actors play straight roles, then we'll have something to talk about. And by the way, if taking creative writing classes makes you a man, I guess it's time for my prostate checkup.
Seriously, though, I'm totally willing to buy that men are in need of more and better role models. While I don't believe that modern life is creating a race of girly-men (people, Augustus Caesar said this), I do think there's room for a version of power and badassery that's not also about misogyny or rape or anti-intellectualism or beer commercials. Of course, power and badassery aren't exclusively the province of men, and one problem with ideas of masculinity today is the difficulty of constructing them while acknowledging gender equality. Is it possible to have a feminist conception of masculinity? Would masculinity and femininity be passe in a truly equal world? These are interesting questions, but, unsurprisingly given his venue, Gordinier doesn't really consider them.
He's more interested in military metaphors ("The mood of the collection is a saying we have in Italian," Gianfranco Ferré designer Roberto Rimondi declared in the New York Times. "Use the final bullet in your gun."), and, of course, testicles ("Conan the Barbarian got his balls back, and probably not a moment too soon"). And while he does offer some support for brocade waistcoats and gentlemanliness, his ultimate exhortation to be more like "the exceptional caveman [...] who went out and discovered fire" seems like it would be right at home in a Miller spot.
Look, I know dudes didn't ask me for my opinion on masculinity, and I know that despite my creative writing degree, I lack the necessary qualifications in this area (balls!). But: I do think some of the problem with conceptions of modern manhood has to do with stale language. Gordinier seems to be trying to make a new point, but he's making it with the same hoary metaphors dudes have been stuck with for generations. And maybe if we really want a new idea of manliness, we should start in the brain rather than the scrotum.
The Remasculated Man [Details]