12 June 2009

Will the Real Men Please Stand Up?

Posted by Jody under: Uncategorized .

Rumor has it that Real Men are back. Since September 11, such dissonant authors as the New York Times’ Maureen Dowd and the Wall Street Journal’s Peggy Noonan have been scribing odes to the brave men, working class’ heavy-lifting heroes, and scolding America for not recognizing them as “The Real Men” all along. Glossies rave over “fireman chic.” Velvet ropes rot while fashion’s finest pretend to shoot pool and wait for “The Real Men” to show up. Concurrently, the entertainment industry steps up to promote our sentiments. My question is, how long’s this gonna last?

Of course firemen, policemen, and rescue workers are Real Men. They’re the same Real Men early feminists pummeled with hardback copies of The Feminine Mystique. How sad, how ridiculous, that it took a hideous act of terror to hijack America’s attention from Survivor spats and trampy VH-1 fashion awards. But what exactly are Media championing here? The values of our heroes? Or their newfound status in desperate times? There’s something a little, well, grotesque, about fawning over firefighters as if they were celebrities.

Celebrities are fantasies. We feast on them, conjuring rumors for the purpose of entertainment and to temporarily distract us from ourselves. We alternately worship, judge, and denigrate them. Then we get bored. This fickle behavior is predictable and probably healthy in some childish way as long as we’re talking about the usual fare: actors, rock stars, athletes, pin-ups, ect. But firemen? Policemen? If we’ve learned anything from this tragedy, it’s to give our rescue workers the respect they deserve.

As for what constitutes a Real Man, Media, in its usual fashion, take the all or nothing stance. Life-saver: real man. Regular guy: forget about it. There are lots of Real Men nominees out there. Not that they interested me. You see, before September 11, my tastes in men were erratic as any fad. Attention deficit and manic with rush lust, I chased the most peculiar guys I could find.

There was the bongo player my brother swore was a girl. Adverse to hygiene, he wore moldy, moth-eaten retro in earth colors. We choked on Merits and trespassed through cemeteries; he’d insist on the moral superiority of plants while I tittered, praying he wasn’t serious. Next came the poet who really liked black: kohl-rimmed eyes and bruise-black lips, long black nails and blistering boots—military because Docs were for fakes (the irony didn’t bother me much). The others blend together: the rumpled academic who mocked my values, snubbed my friends and read Shaw in the bathroom; the actor who couldn’t spend a night alone, who slugged my pillows and whined, “DUDE, you just don’t GET me;” the guitarist phobic of reservations, especially of the restaurant, hotel, or recording studio variety.

Obviously I wasn’t in it for security.

I didn’t want a boyfriend. I wanted a diversion, a personal celebrity of sorts. Someone so weird, so wild, so unpredictable that I could ignore my own anxieties and dwell in his alien world. Real Men, well, they were scary. Too real. A Man carries your couch up a five-story walk-up and leaves flowers on your doorstep. He tolerates your friends and isn’t threatened by your father, brother, or even your therapist. He accepts when you’re right but annihilates you when you’re wrong and rubs your feet anyway, planter’s wart and all. He kisses your nose and whispers that he’s a better person when you’re around. So what’s wrong with that?

What’s wrong is twofold: 1) you must earn this status, and 2) return the favor. In short, you must nurture and compromise and act like a woman. I was never much interested in acting like a women. So, like many a spoiled American, I dated and dumped, waited and hoped, certain that the guy with the correct flip to his hair, whose sarcasm successfully combined humor and self-deprecation, was right around the corner. The problem: If he was, I didn’t recognize him.

Then the corner collapsed. And the whole world grew up. We were at war, and my priorities shamed me. My distractions, with their bleach-tipped hair and uncouth comments, who hid behind dog-eared copies of Kerouac and Bukowski, suddenly looked ridiculous. Like children, skinny and self-absorbed as I was. My men weren’t radical non-conformists. They were calculated deviants, reactionaries too lazy to express anything but image. Which is a nice way of saying scared to death.

So good for me. Good for everyone for whom an over-plucked eyebrow no longer entails an extra Xanax. But as evidenced by the entertainment industry—news included—we still don’t get it. From the prevalence of NYPD paraphernalia to Bono’s mid-concert pause to sob on the shoulders of embarrassed firemen to the seductive smiles launched at every uniform on the sidewalk, America is sensationalizing our heroes. And it’s disgusting. Firefighters are not movie stars, nor are they fashion accessories. Fame and fads come and go—think heroin chic, skinny neckties, Leonard Di Caprio—for they are vulnerable to the whims of the economy, politics, and attention spans. Do our nation’s heroes belong on such wobbly pedestals? These men, their jobs and their principles, are safety imperatives. Because terrorists, unlike trends, are a fact. Bomb threats and increased security are facts. Brave men sprinting up burning stairs to rescue the doomed are not a fad, but a fact.

Lucky for us.

There has been a return of the Real Man since September 11, but not the way the magazines express it. The hijackings have forced us all to examine and clarify our priorities. We’ll always have fashion statements and counterstatements to disguise ourselves, but now most of us want what’s beneath. We want the real thing. I’ve given up on guys who vanish during daylight hours, who call not because they love me, but to keep me around. Just in case. These are not men.

A Real Man is honest: He notices the tree limbs trembling as bombers tear across the sky and admits he is afraid. But fear impels a Real Man, prompts him to defy his demons until he’s free. With you he’ll recognize the hazards but take the risk because he knows you’re worth it. And he is too. You’ll see. If you’re bold enough to look.

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