REAL MEN, 2008
This is Mr. Claude Barrow,
San Francisco stock broker,
who dresses only in rugged
safari gear to affect an air
of "big game hunter"-style
masculinity, even though
the real Claude is too
frightened of wild animals
to even take his kids
to the zoo.
The challenges of looking
manly in the modern world
By CHUCK McFADDEN
I have a theory about the middle-to-upper-middle class American male: In an age of metrosexuals, general nicey-niceness and political correctness, he wants to express his inner Great White Hunter.
It is, after all, difficult for us males to demonstrate how tough, resourceful and downright dangerous we are in a world where one stares at a computer screen most of the day in an air-conditioned office a paper-clip-throw away from a 105-pound female person who is doing the same thing one is doing, only perhaps doing it better.
Ernest Hemingway would not be comfortable in such a situation. And dont even ask John Wayne.
The epitome of todays American manhood may be Brad Pitt. And what does he do? Does he shoot elephants? No. Does he wrestle tigers? No. He adopts Third-World children, making sure they have a good home.
I mean, really now.
It follows, then, that American males are, at least subliminally, desperate to restore some measure of their rugged, empire-building, wilderness-taming reputation. The reputation they used to have. Their efforts are leading to some odd results.
San Francisco used to be one of the principal male sartorial centers of the United States. It was full of lawyers who used all three of their names, wore French cuffs, drank important bourbon and ogled their young secretaries over the occasional lunch. (My wife was one of the oglees.) The closest they came to political correctness was a generous tip to the cab driver who saw them back to the office on late Friday afternoons after a three-martini lunch. The Devil take the hindmost was their motto.
No more. The other day, walking down a street in San Francisco, I noticed a young man encouragingly resplendent in a navy pinstripe. Now, you know, a navy pinstripe suit, white shirt, high-end tie and all that is meant to convey a certain impression: I am on my way to a conference with Condi about the European Unions position on sugar beets.
For sure, he looked like a State Department emissary to the Court of St. James. Except he had a backpack--a backpack!--that seemed designed to get him across the Gobi. It had loops where one could hang water bottles and frying pans; it had zippers and D-rings and mesh pouches. Instead of a diplomat, he looked like a Conestoga wagon on the Oregon Trail. The notion that one does not wear a backpack with a rather formal suit seemed totally lost on him.
Is it ignorance? Or is it a muffled cry from somewhere deep inside saying, I am really a man who likes wrestling grizzlies on my way to my ranch.?
In the days of the old west, men used to say Im going into town for supplies. Now its Im going to the store for frozen broccoli florets. Dear.
The guy up the street has a Jeep SUV. Above the big steel bumper resides a winch. It is a pristine winch. I believe the chances of it ever being used are approximately the same as Alan Keyes being elected president. But the presence of a winch in this guys life is important. It gives him the knowledge that should he ever have to haul a hippopotamus out of a Congolese watering hole, he can do it.
Others live their fantasy lives through the watches they wear. Did you see the watch ads that helped the bottom line of Americas beleaguered newspapers this past Christmas shopping season? There were ads for watches water-resistant to 900 feet; they have buttons on the side--sometimes both sides. With all those features, the watch faces wind up (sorry) being more complicated than Rudy Giulianis love life.
Joe Blow, whose greatest physical danger is an occasional paper cut, can never tell when he may need his two-pound, ruggedly masculine, sapphire crystal model that tells the time, the date, seconds down to 1/10 of a nanosecond, the phases of the moon and the weather in Addis Ababa.
The sad gray truth is hell never need it. Hell never do anything that would put him a position where hell need a watch to tell him where his longitude and latitude lie. He has a wife for that, anyway.
Such testimonials to who we think we are, really, or who wed like to be, are harmless, but expensive. Titanium watches dont come cheap. Thats why safari chic is mostly confined to males with at least some discretionary spending capacity. Those on the lower end of the economic scale are too busy humping a living to engage in any inner role-playing beyond watching NASCAR races.
But those who can afford it give witness, sometimes subtly, sometimes not, to our stunted bravado. We males cannot help but fantasize about who we really are, deep down.
I mean really deep down. Dont tell my wife.
©2008 by Charles M. McFadden. The McFadden caricature is ©2001 by Jim Hummel. The cartoon is from IMSI's Master Clips Collection, 1895 Francisco Blvd. E., San Rafael, CA, 94901-5506, USA. This column first posted Jan. 7, 2008.
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