David Brooks, known recently for rewriting the work of one of his college students and expressing that in his humble opinion, the Egyptian people aren't ready for Democracy, has chosen to yet again comment on something that means nothing. His most recent column is devoted to The New Problem That Has No Name: the plight of today's men.
Brooks uses half of his allotted and coveted New York Times columnist space to recap The Searchers, a 1956 western by John Ford labeled by many as the greatest movie of all time (what, have they never seen She's the Man?). The movie is about a man who travels across the American West in search of his niece, who has been abducted. But to Brooks, it is a grave metaphor for the death of true masculinity and the suffering that American men have felt due to current economic struggles:
Over the past few decades, millions of men have been caught on the wrong side of a historic transition, unable to cross the threshold into the new economy.
Oooh my interest is piqued! Tell me more about this "threshold."
Their plight is captured in the labor statistics. Male labor force participation has been in steady decline for generations.
Plus In This Economy doesn't help! But what else?
The definitive explanation for this catastrophe has yet to be written. Some of the problem clearly has to do with changes in family structure....Some of the problem probably has to do with a mismatch between boy culture and school culture, especially in the early years.
Boy culture v. school culture. Okay...you're losing me.
But, surely, there has been some ineffable shift in the definition of dignity. Many men were raised with a certain image of male dignity, which emphasized autonomy, reticence, ruggedness, invulnerability and the competitive virtues. Now, thanks to a communications economy, they find themselves in a world that values expressiveness, interpersonal ease, vulnerability and the cooperative virtues.
Surely, part of the situation is that many men simply do not want to put themselves in positions they find humiliating. A high school student doesn’t want to persist in a school where he feels looked down on. A guy in his 50s doesn’t want to find work in a place where he’ll be told what to do by savvy young things.
You're right David! Men are the only people who don't want to be humiliated. A gender-specific problem, that is.
Having never seen The Searchers during forced but enjoyed watchings of classic movies as a child, I can't personally vouch for whether or not Brooks's characterization of the movies as "a story about men who are caught on the wrong side of a historical transition" is wholly inaccurate. But after reading a bevy of reviews from respected reviewers, it appears that there is very little that is applicable about The Searchers that can be used to discuss modern masculinity. Most reviews, like Roger Ebert's, describe it as a film "made in the dying days of the classic Western, which faltered when Indians ceased to be typecast as savages." Ebert went on to write that the director, John Ford, made it to try to "imperfectly, even nervously, to depict racism that justified genocide."
So today, David Brooks took a film tenuously about the American male ("Classics can be interpreted in different ways") that is more to a point about the deep roots of racism in this country and decided to use it as some sort of larger example of how men are failing to get jobs, how their masculinity is failing them, and how this is sorta kinda because family structures have changed. He offered no solution to the problem, incompletely cited a recent report on the gender gap in unemployment and used a conservative think tank to back his claims.
It was a normal Tuesday.
Image by Jim Cooke, photos via Getty and Shutterstock.