Monday, April 28, 2008

Where have all the "real men" gone?  

The other day I was sent an infuriating article that examines the "sorry state" of masculinity in today's movies. The author, Christopher Goodwin, compares movie stars from old movies, such as Sylvester Stalone, to today's movie heroes, such as "Knocked Up"'s Seth Rogen.

Films such as Forgetting Sarah Marshall, Knocked Up and Superbad - all from the production stable of Judd Apatow - show that the young male box-office stars of today’s romantic comedies are goofy schlubs and nerds. As unlikely as it seems, actors such as Segel (Sarah Marshall), Seth Rogen (Knocked Up) and Michael Cera and Jonah Hill(Superbad) now define the paradigm of a Hollywood romantic lead. Cary Grant they are not. They’re not even Hugh Grant. They may know the appeal of sex, but they have no sex appeal. Yet this is Hollywood, and these pathetic, if well-meaning, losers inevitably end up with the hottest chicks.

Goodwin complains that there are no modern equivalents to actors like John Wayne and Clint Eastwood. I can't speak for everyone, but personally, I find the adorable and endearing Michael Cera to be much more swoon-worthy than Sylvester Stalone and his bulging biceps. What Goodwin fails to realize is that our conceptions on masculinity are changing, and that's a positive thing. Just like women face pressure to act "feminine," men face the same kind of pressure to behave "manly" and "macho." And what does this pressure lead to? Boys picking fights with each other to prove who has more testosterone, school shootings committed by males who are outcasts and thus turn to guns to reaffirm their masculinity, men raping women to exert dominance and control, high rates of binge drinking and reckless driving among males, etc etc etc. I watched a documentary in my Sociology of Gender class, entitled "Tough Guise," and it examined these exact issues. Males are experiencing pressure from every which way - pressure to be a "real man," and these pressures cause some of them to crack. Over the years, male role models have become progressively more "macho," from professional wrestlers: G.I. Joes:

So I would say that the good-hearted Evan in "Superbad" or the surprisingly sweet Ben in "Knocked Up" are positive role models for men today. These new kinds of heroes teach men that you don't have to sport enormous muscles or carry guns to achieve happiness and get the girl. In his article, Goodwin even has the nerve to mention that feminism might be a cause of this "decline of masculinity," which actually makes very little sense because it is more likely that men will have the desire to act more "macho" in response to feminism in an attempt to gain back some of the power that women are trying to obtain by becoming liberated.

Bottom line: this article is highly misguided. Instead of deeming today's heroes as stuck in a "sorry state of masculinity," we should see these new stars as an indication that harmful stereotypes are finally being broken down. It's a positive thing.

(Thanks to Jennifer for sending me this story).

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7 comments: to “ Where have all the "real men" gone?

  • April 29, 2008 at 2:35 AM  

    Hey, just wanted to say that I read through your blog tonight, and I really like it! As one college student blogger to another, keep up the great work!

    - Jamelle

  • April 29, 2008 at 6:33 PM  

    I think it's great that there are examples out there of not so macho men for young men to look up to. And I'd totally go straight for Michael Cera.

    But I still can't help but be bothered by this new trend of nerdy, "ugly" guys...who still end up with the smoking hot girl.

    Basically, we need a female equalivilent (wow, I can't spell that word for my life). It bothers me that audiences will so readily accept a less than stellar looking male lead, but there's barely any female leads out there for an "ugly" girl.

    If we can expand the spectrum of beauty for men, why not women as well?

  • April 29, 2008 at 8:40 PM  

    Well I guess the female 'equivalent' could be Ugly Betty. However, I've never really watched the show so I couldn't tell you if she gets to date any hot guys, though I think it would be safe to assume that she doesn't. But it does bother me that anytime anyone in the media even refers to America Ferraro they always make it a point to remind us that it's okay that she plays an ugly girl on TV, because "in real life she's pretty Betty! :)"
    So yeah, although I also prefer this 'new' masculinity to the likes of Rambo and 'roid-raging pro-wrestlers, it would be nice if these goofy guys were as good looking as the girls they ended up with, or if they were happy ending up with women who were just as conventionally unattractive as they were.

  • April 29, 2008 at 9:04 PM  

    Katie, you definitely make a good point. I totally agree with you. I've always noticed that it is far more acceptable to have "unattractive" male movie stars than female movie stars. Personally, I don't really see a problem with conventionally unattractive men getting smoking hot girls because I think it is possible for someone to fall in love with someone else's personality rather than looks, but I don't think it should be the case all the time.

    Andrea... yeah, you're right about "Ugly Betty." If the show really weren't about her looks, the title wouldn't have the word "ugly" in it and the entire show wouldn't revolve around her looks. I think we'll be making major steps when we can have an "unattractive" hero or heroine without TALKING about their looks the entire time.

    As for the "happy ending" with the conventionally unattractive lovers, I guess the only movie that really comes to mind is "Shrek," lol. I think "Shrek" sends some really great messages. Other movies, however...

  • May 2, 2008 at 12:26 AM  

    i agree with pretty much everything you said... except i do have some qualms with how judd apatow portrays men/women in his movies. i agree that the men in his movies are at least more appealing than you know, like, stallone ... but apatow's movies portrays these nerdy dudes who are like, 32 and still act like they're 12, and its all (for lack of a better word) glamorized. Im specifically referring to knocked up in this case... where it was all sweet and adorable for him to act like a 12 year old but katherine heigl's character had to be a mature adult and was made to look shrewish for it (like her sister). Yes, towards the end of the movie he grew up a little, but still... i think overall apatow's movies still portray some gender roles... even if they're not what they used to be.

  • October 12, 2008 at 3:56 PM  

    @Andrea- I haven't watched in awhile, but Betty's had 3 love interests so far, plus a random date with her orthodontist. Her first boyfriend was positively awful in every way. I thought the other 3 were pretty cute, although 2 of them are nerd-cute and only one is "Hollywood hot". Still, she gets a lot of action for an "ugly" girl on TV.

  • March 30, 2011 at 12:32 PM  

    Masculinity is just a stereotype, if you're happy with yourself nothing else matters we don't need more 80's muscle crap.