Can We Build Better Men?

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Sorry about this groovy freedomists. This post isn’t about personal finance. It’s about something that’s been bothering me for a while. About a month ago I saw The Force Awakens, the latest installment of the Star Wars brand. Here’s an interview with Adam Driver, the actor who played the villain Kylo Ren.

I don’t know much about Adam Driver. From what little I’ve read, he seems like a pretty cool guy. After 9/11, for instance, he signed up for the marines. That makes him a far better man than I. But he just doesn’t strike me as villain material. He’s not scary looking. No offense, but he looks more like a hair dresser than someone who would stomp on my face or shoot me in cold blood.

It wasn’t always like this. Hollywood used to do villains right. Here’s a picture of the actor Jack Palance. He played the ruthless gun-for-hire Jack Wilson in the 1953 classic Shane.

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Look at Jack’s eyes. Those eyes don’t convey sunshine and lollipops. They convey evil. That’s why he was cast as a villain. And that’s why he won an Oscar for his role in Shane. He scared the crap out of the Motion Picture Academy.

Hollywood also used to confront evil. During the 1940s, for instance, it had no problem casting Nazis as villains. During the 1960s, it had no problem casting segregationists as villains. But what about after 9/11? Has Hollywood made a movie in which the villain is fundamental Islam? I can’t recall one. Here’s a movement led by psychotic thugs who kill, maim, rape, and terrorize in the name of Allah—who throw acid at school girls and toss gay men off of buildings, no less—and this movement isn’t worthy of Hollywood’s scorn? Pathetic.

Okay, Hollywood’s incompetent when it comes to portraying villains. It’s an irritant, but it’s not a major problem. What is a major problem is how our society portrays manhood. Take a look at the picture below. It’s a picture of a grown “man,” wearing onesie pajamas and effeminately grasping a cup of warm cocoa. This was part of President Obama’s campaign to promote the use of Obamacare. Could you imagine Truman, Nixon, or LBJ using a man in pajamas to promote any of their presidential initiatives?

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Years ago I came across a book by George Gilder called Men and Marriage. In this book, Mr. Gilder suggested that society’s biggest task was to figure out what to do with men. I agree. And up until the last generation or so, we did a pretty good job of defining what role men should play in our society. Men were supposed to be fathers, providers, and protectors.

Is this the case today? Are our boys encouraged to become fathers, providers, and protectors? Is the traditional model of manhood—as symbolized by Ward CleaverTerry Malloy, and the Marlboro Man—celebrated or mocked?

But then again, maybe I’m wrong. Maybe how we define manhood today is better than in years past. Maybe grown men should be wearing onesie pajamas. But if that’s the case, why are there far more mass shootings today than there were in my father’s generation, when gun-control laws were much less strict? Why is sexual assault such a big problem on college campuses today? Why is unwed motherhood the norm for many segments of our society? Why are there so many 30-year-old males living with mommy and daddy?

Call me a curmudgeon, but I have no faith in the elites shaping our culture. They’re doing a great job of building wimps, cads, losers, and thugs. They’re doing a lousy job of building men.

Okay, groovy freedomists, that’s all I got. My rant is over. Have a great weekend.

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19 Comments

  1. I would argue that anything that happens now has trickled down from somewhere. Of course, media and entertainment influence children and teens. Undoubtedly. But is it the elites who are shaping them? Or is it their own families? Gender roles are incredibly complex. And I think finances and/or economics are indisputably tied to them. Why do some of my students have absent father figures? Because they’re out on the street taking care of their families that way – they didn’t or couldn’t find other jobs. As for making Islamic terrorists major villain – we’ve already done such a splendid job of vilifying the entire religion in real life, what else is left?

    • Mr. Groovy

      Hey, Penny. Thank you for challenging my rant. And thank you for doing it so respectfully. I readily admit that there are holes in my reasoning. That’s what a rant is all about, right? But let me see if I can defend myself, or lest qualify some of my statements.

      I stated that our elites are doing a “great job of building wimps, cads, losers, and thugs.” That is wrong. Men ultimately own the decisions and choices they make. But I do think that elites are very influential and they’re using their influence to muddy the role of men. This is not to say, of course, that the historic role of men didn’t need to be modified. For the most part, women should be equal partners when it comes to protecting and providing for the family, the community, and the nation. (I say for the “most part” because I don’t think we want husbands and wives flipping a coin to see who’s going to confront an intruder.) But I fear rudderless men in a way I don’t fear rudderless women. Rudderless men are more apt to do such things as prey on the weak, sell illicit drugs, or bribe members of Congress. The success of our country depends on how well we convince men to use their physical prowess and aggressive impulses for honorable pursuits. And I just don’t think the elite are being very helpful in this regard. They’re sending too many mixed signals.

      Finally, I respectfully disagree with you about Islam. And to show why, I want you to consider the Jim Crow south. The vast majority of white southerners back then never participated in a lynching. And there were, of course, many white southerners who were truly horrified by the South’s treatment of black people. But there were also white southerners who terrorized blacks. And the vast majority of white southerners thought there was nothing wrong with making blacks second-class citizens. I look at the Jim Crow south and can’t help but think there was something seriously wrong with the white culture that made Jim Crow possible and fought to sustain it. Does that make me a Dixiephobe? Now shift to Islam. Yes, there are many thoroughly decent Muslims. And most Muslims have never committed a terrorist act. But there are also a lot of Muslims who think their religion requires them to terrorize non-Muslims. And a vast majority of Muslims think there is nothing wrong with Muhammad Crow (i.e., treating women, gays, and infidels like crap). So when I look at Islam, and I consider how most of its adherents behave, I can’t help but think it has some serious flaws. In fact, calling Islam the religion of peace strikes me as absurd as calling the Jim Crow south the region of brotherly love.

  2. Methinks it is more likely that our perception of what constitutes ‘manhood’ has changed as much as anything. I have to believe that previous generations created just as many – if not more – thugs, racists, wimps, cads, and losers. But then again, I could be wrong … which would be only the second or third time this year.

    • Mr. Groovy

      Hey, James. A great point about perceptions. Are men really worse today? In one respect, as you point out, fewer men think it is morally okay to use our government as a means to subjugate others. No one is advocating laws that blacks have to sit in the back of the bus, women can’t run in marathons, or bars can’t serve alcohol to gay people. (It’s hard to fathom that there were such laws in this country just a couple of generations ago.) So men are definitely doing better on the civil rights front. But when it comes to fatherhood and crime and basic decency, I have my doubts. I sincerely hope that I’m wrong this time and you don’t have to add one more tally to your annual error count (which is very impressive, by the way). As always my friend, thanks for stopping by and sharing your wisdom. Cheers.

  3. Like Penny said, we vilify Islam everywhere in real life and in popular media. Just like it was the Russians during the Cold War, it’s now always the Arab or Arab looking person who’s cast as the probable villain first in popular media and it’s often played out to the “logical” terrorist-cell end. It’s fairly predictable.

    Redefining masculinity as something better than it’s been is certainly a work in progress but I can’t get behind the assumption that it’s solely the elites shaping today’s idea of manhood. As Penny notes, it’s an incredibly complex issue and no single group controls how it changes.

    The era of traditional manhood meaning “protector, providers, fathers” is also an idealized version of manhood from a different time. Arguably it was meant to be accompanied by valor, grace, and sense of duty but we fail to see the whole picture of that earlier reality if we focus solely on the image of what represented masculinity back then. There were good aspects but there were also negative ones. My friends and family of that era remember the full picture and it wasn’t all healthy. For some, the role of protector and provider was a perfect fit. For others, it led to terrible abuses. And the same goes for how manhood is evolving today.

    Maybe men don’t want to be represented by someone wearing pajamas. That’s fair. But I would hope they equally don’t want to be represented by the hugely entitled men who grow up believing they ought to be handed a woman on a silver platter and damn the world if they don’t get it. The prevalence of sexual assault has a lot to do with men thinking they deserve to take what they want, and society rewards them for it by worrying about the rapists’ future and excoriating the victim. Football players who rape and tape and publicize their outrageous acts are pitied for losing their scholarships, while the girls they hurt and humiliated are attacked again and again by the media and by their communities. No wonder most women wouldn’t want to report it. And no wonder women wouldn’t have reported it back in earlier decades.

    That kid who stabbed a girl to death for declining his invitation to the prom, or those school shooters who opened fire on schools because they believed women owed them something, they’re just as much a product of how masculinity has been passed down from earlier generations as my friends who are highly successful professionally, respect the people in their lives, and are protectors and providers in a healthy manner. This goes as much for my software engineer friend as my Marine friends as my air traffic control friends.

    The quality of a man can’t be so narrow as to be represented by a snapshot of characters. A good man has far too much depth to be that two dimensional. I’d like to have faith that good men themselves will identify the best of them and bring that to the table as the foundation of a better sort of men.

    • Mr. Groovy

      Hey, Revanche. Awesome comment. I really don’t I have a come back to most of what you say. Which is good. When I’m wrong, when there’s an error in my reasoning, I want to know about it. I’m definitely out of the loop when it comes to our media. It’s good to know that at least some portion of our media are confronting Islamofascism. I have a question for you, though. Do you use the word “vilify” to imply that we and our media are picking on Muslims? Most of the Muslim world practices Muhammad Crow. Women, gays, and infidels are treated like crap. And since, to my knowledge, no Muslim country practices separation of mosque and state, it’s hard for me to hold Islam blameless.

      You make an excellent point about “hugely entitled men.” And it actually bolsters my argument that men need to embrace the role of protector. In other words, men shouldn’t just be protecting their loved ones, they should be protecting everyone. Treating women like pieces of meat is a total abdication of that role. A male who strikes, abuses, and humiliates a female (or another male, for that matter), is not a man.

      I really appreciate you taking the time to share your thoughts. They really made me examine my own. Thank you.

  4. Jaime

    It’s not the elites that are the problem. I hate how people use them as a scapegoat. If advertising companies and casting agencies are using a certain archetype it is because this is driven by the market itself which are the people.

    At the end of the day these are businesses and they want to make a profit so they can pay their staff, pay their expenses, suppliers and vendors, etc. They don’t have time to shape anyone. They have to make campaigns that work and are profitable.

    In the end companies contribute to the American economy by providing jobs to Americans and contributing to the GDP. I do not blame the elites. If there is any blaming to go around, blame the parents.

    They’re the ones that aren’t teaching their kids to not take student loans in high school, they don’t teach them how to save, spend, invest, they don’t teach them to avoid debt…

    They don’t sit down with their little chickadee to show them how to avoid coming back home after college by telling them what steps to take. They’re the ones too busy working to have time with their kids.

    For the most part what I’ve seen when parents spend time with their little ones the children come out better.

    I think what is driving a lot of babying by boomer parents is boomer parents have struggled a lot and they want to avoid their babes from having to struggle.

    However I don’t think struggle is all bad. Struggle makes people stronger. I get that parents want to help but over-helping is telling children they are too weak to do things on their own.

    In a way over-helping is telling children they can’t handle life on their own and that you as a parent have no confidence in their abilities.

  5. Miss Jaime

    It’s not the elites that are the problem. I hate how people use them as a scapegoat. If advertising companies and casting agencies are using a certain archetype it is because this is driven by the market itself which are the people.

    At the end of the day these are businesses and they want to make a profit so they can pay their staff, pay their expenses, suppliers and vendors, etc. They don’t have time to shape anyone. They have to make campaigns that work and are profitable.

    In the end companies contribute to the American economy by providing jobs to Americans and contributing to the GDP. I do not blame the elites. If there is any blaming to go around, blame the parents.

    They’re the ones that aren’t teaching their kids to not take student loans in high school, they don’t teach them how to save, spend, invest, they don’t teach them to avoid debt…

    They don’t sit down with their little chickadee to show them how to avoid coming back home after college by telling them what steps to take. They’re the ones too busy working to have time with their kids.

    For the most part what I’ve seen when parents spend time with their little ones the children come out better.

    I think what is driving a lot of babying by boomer parents is boomer parents have struggled a lot and they want to avoid their babes from having to struggle.

    However I don’t think struggle is all bad. Struggle makes people stronger. I get that parents want to help but over-helping is telling children they are too weak to do things on their own.

    In a way over-helping is telling children they can’t handle life on their own and that you as a parent have no confidence in their abilities!

    • Mr. Groovy

      Jaime! Thanks for the smack down. You are right. Our elites aren’t forcing men to behave badly. So let me walk back that portion of my rant. But where do men get the idea that it’s okay to father children irresponsibly, to respond to an injustice by committing crimes against innocents, or to sit in mom’s basement and smoke pot and play video games? Surely that message is being transmitted by family and peers. But why are family and peers holding such beliefs? And this is where our elites come in. Our elites are definitely not shy about expressing their views of what’s right and wrong. And many people take their cues on how to act from the elite. Case in point. Our fashion industry conveys its idea of how women should look. Is this idea accurate or helpful? I don’t think so. But many people do. And that’s why so many women in this country have body-image issues. Is this the fault of the fashion elites? No. But they’re not helping. And this same reasoning applies to our socialization of men. Are our elites forcing men to behave like jerks? Absolutely not. But they’re not helping.

      • Miss Jaime

        In a way I agree with you. If you look at Hollywood, sometimes the trashiest movies get green-lit by Hollywood executives. The movies are so bad that they cater to the lowest common denominator.

        They just care about selling movie tickets and using the public as a means to an end. Nothing wrong with making money but the trashiest things get promoted at times.

        However behind closed doors it’s a different story for Hollywood executives, I’m talking about primarily executives and not actors and actresses.

        A lot of them tend to be traditional by being married long-term with several children, they put their kids in private schools, and send them to the best universities.

        I’ve Googled them, and I also read Vogue, Vanity Fair, and other entertainment rags where they are sometimes interviewed.

        Pretty sure those trashy movies they green-lit are nowhere in their homes. And not all of them are like that, some of them like Jeffrey Katzenberg, Steven Spielberg, and Michael Eisner are known for making family movies.

        Behind closed doors the Hollywood executives are fiercely protective of their families and the paths their children will walk.

        • Mr. Groovy

          Hey, Jaime. I got a quick story for you along similar lines. A friend of my is a personal trainer in New York and he has a lot of one-percenters for clients. One of his clients was the CEO of a major tobacco company. And this CEO was having a party at his roof-top apartment in Manhattan and invited my trainer friend to attend. Well, there was no smoking allowed in the apartment. Not even on the balcony. If you wanted to smoke, you had to take a fifty-floor elevator ride to the lobby and then exit the building.

  6. Miss Jaime

    As for Hollywood and Islam: Just recently on the new resurrected X-Files season 10, they had Islamic characters as villains. Look at Season 10 episode 5 “Babylon” and look at the Homeland series on Showtime, that totally vilifies Islam.

    That being said, yes Islam needs to be reformed away from extremism to become a more empathetic and humanistic religion.

    Christianity went through its own growing pains where it was severely extreme as in making Galileo recant what he learned of the solar system, and back when they burned people that they thought were “witches” among other atrocities.

    However secular people also committed atrocities against Christianity and Christians and other groups.

    Today most Christians believe in reason and that’s because mainstream Christianity and Christians went through the enlightenment. Hey if you’re going to get political then so am I. 😛

  7. First off, I hated Cee-lo Green, I mean Kylo-Ren – Whatever his name is. He was so Angsty. Darth Vader was all confidence with one major weakness he sought to quell. Kylo was nothing but weakness. He was all over the place. It was annoying! Second, as a mom of three kids, I am constantly offended on behalf of my husband. When I left for a relative’s funeral for two days, everyone said: “Who is watching your kids?” Response: “Their father.” “I bet he’ll be so glad when you come home!” Yes, but not because he can’t successfully watch the children – HIS OWN CHILDREN. I hate this. And it’s an antiquated notion that his role is to provide and protect and mine is to nurture. That’s all well and good, but frankly, my husband is way better at nurturing sometimes. That being said, I don’t mind the jammies ad at all. We recently picked up a whole bag of holds at the library. There were about twenty money/entrepreneurial/productivity books and about twenty baking/personal care/gardening books. Yup, mine were the first ones and my husbands were the second set. His response: “Classic 2016 couple!” Today’s boys need to “man up” – but so do the girls if we mean stop being lazy and self-centered and get to work on your life! Happy Friday. 🙂

    • Mr. Groovy

      Hey, Maggie. I definitely didn’t convey my thoughts well. I really wasn’t addressing gender roles in my rant. I think men, whether they’re gay or straight, should be fathers (i.e., responsible parents), providers, and protectors. And this role isn’t mutually exclusive. I also think women, whether gay or straight, should be mothers (i.e., responsible parents), providers, and protectors. How the roles should be divvied up in marriage is something married couples have to decide for themselves. There’s nothing wrong with a woman being the primary breadwinner in a marriage. In fact, up until a couple of years ago, Mrs. Groovy made more than me. And I loved it! And there’s nothing wrong with a man being the primary caregiver and homemaker (caring for kids and managing a household is freakin’ hard work). But I do think there’s a pecking order when it comes to protecting the home front. If there is a noise downstairs in the middle of the night, Mrs. Groovy and I aren’t playing rock, scissors, and paper to see who’s going to investigate. I’m the one going to investigate, and I’m the one taking a bullet if there’s an intruder.

      • And my rant wasn’t so much on gender roles as the way we convey them. Societal-defined gender roles. We think we’re breaking those when we have some angsty teenage boy instead of Darth Vader. But really, we just created a weak character. Happy weekend (what’s left of it!) 🙂

        • Mr. Groovy

          Hey, Maggie. Good catch. I re-read your comment and you’re right. You were discussing how we convey gender roles. So why was my reply so off? Was it a simple case of my misreading your comment? Or was I projecting? Being too defensive? Clearly not my finest moment. I guess I just got too unnerved by such a wimpy villain. A pox on Kylo-Ren!

  8. Adam Driver seems like a stand up guy. But like you said, not a great vilan. My favorite villain was John Houston in Chinatown. Different jandra genra. The two newest Star Wars movies were fun though.

    • Mr. Groovy

      Agreed, Dave. Adam Driver seems like a pretty cool guy. He just didn’t scare me. I’m definitely old school. I want my villains to look menacing. And thanks for reminding me about John Houston in Chinatown. It’s been a long time since I’ve watched that gritty classic. Perhaps it’s time to get reacquainted with it again. Thanks for stopping by, my friend. I really appreciate your thoughts.

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