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January 29, 2008


Michael Blowhard writes:

Dear Blowhards --


American popular culture sometimes seems to allow American men no dignity at all.

In reality, of course, many American men contribute to families, social groups, organizations, and businesses in helpful and substantial ways. But guyz in pop-cult often seem to come in only two varieties: the apologetic, overweight doofuses; and the cartoons of videogame aggressiveness. Flabby 'n' bedheaded or lean 'n' cut, they're all fools. Meanwhile, popular-culture females are pulled-together dynamos -- exuberant to a fault, perhaps, but definitely in charge.

When did this development happen and why? Is this simply what follows when you deconstruct traditional masculinity? And will American men ever tuck in their shirttails again?



UPDATE: Thanks to Cheryl Miller, who points out this Matt Feeny article for Slate about fatguys-married-to-hotties sitcoms.

posted by Michael at January 29, 2008


American men are barely affected, if at all, by these kinds of media portrayals. The ad, for example, is for Lifetime, which is a network for women, unwatched by men and irrelevant to our lives. Furthermore, these ads and media portrayals are concocted for the reason that all ads are: to sell something. And how to sell something? Tell your target what she wants to hear. So these ads portray men as passive, inept, pudgy, useless schlubs, because that’s what the women who watch Lifetime want to see men as being.

Because, of course, men aren’t like that outside the telly. We run the world, the same way we always have, dominating the heights of politics, business, science & technology, and arts and the creative world. Agnostic has pointed out that men even dominate the world of fashion! Look anywhere in our society for high levels of attainment, and there you will find men, often only men, usually mostly men. Look at the highest honours we bestow, and there are men receiving them. Overwhelmingly men.

Men (at least white men) are smarter (a bit, on average) than most (white) women (and there are lots more really, really smart guys than really, really smart women), more ambitious, driven, creative, energetic, status-hungry, egotistical, monomaniacal, and especially (and this is what grates with feminists) just plain better, more capable at almost all the important things that need to be done in life to make it civilized (one obvious exception, of course).

Women hunger for negative portrayals of men because every day, in the world of work especially, they see men running things, accomplishing things, and outperforming them again and again. They know that in a meritocratic world, women would barely be present in any position of importance. And the ad-mongers know this, and pander to this resentment and envy. So these ads aren’t going to go away anytime soon. Because men, with our superior array of skills, talents and propensities (for success in accomplishment in the modern world, that is) will continue to RUN EVERYTHING IMPORTANT (other than the single enormous exception, of course).

This is as it always was, and barring some kind of massive pharmaceutical/genetic manipulation of our central nervous systems, always will be.

So relax about the ads. They don’t matter, and never will.

Posted by: PatrickH on January 29, 2008 1:06 PM

We've had this fight before, Michael. But, I can see that you haven't had enough. Me neither.

You are all over the solutions in this website. You just need somebody to put it all together.

Walk away from the awful women. Shun them. Women who will honor and encourage your masculinity exist. You won't be popular in hip communities like NYC and San Fran if you walk away from the awful women and take up with decent, worthwhile women. You might just have to leave white, liberal women behind... after a while, you won't give a damn about them anyway.

Listen to the blues, and forget the stupid debate about whether it's black or white. It's hetero and it's macho, and that's what really counts. And, it tells the truth about what goes on between men and women. The old way is hard, but you get paid back with a real hard good life.

Do things the way your father and grandfather and great-grandfather did... just because that was the way they did it. Don't get caught up in the game of trying to invent an intellectual rationalization for living according to custom and tradition.

Chuck the gay worship. Gays should be tolerated, not venerated. Reserve the most important honors of society for men who play the traditional roles of husband and father.

When the awful women, the sissies and the gay worshippers start whining and spitting and cussing, tell them to go to hell. If they want a fight, give them a fight on the same terms they employ. Bankrupt them. Embarass them. Use the legal system and the diversity crapola against them. Exercise your self-interest just as ruthlessly as the designated victims.

Be a man. Don't apologize for being a man. Pay the price. That's about it.

Posted by: Shouting Thomas on January 29, 2008 1:22 PM

Harrumph, PatrickH. My understanding was that the average intelligence of men and women is the same; that it's at the higher levels that you start to find great disparity. This I have always accepted, albeit reluctantly.

No doubt you are about to blow me away with statistics. Go ahead. I still won't believe it. The average male I meet has many excellent qualities, for many of which he does not receive sufficient credit, but he is NOT smarter than the average female.

Posted by: alias clio on January 29, 2008 1:23 PM

There's a great essay by Matt Feeney in Slate ( about this phenomenon (fat sitcom husbands and their gorgeous, pulled-together wives):

It's tempting to register a feminist complaint about the message these shows convey—that they perpetuate the view that women shouldn't expect autonomy or fulfillment in romance and marriage. They do, after all, play to a certain male fantasy: living the gluttonous, irresponsible, self-absorbed life of an infant and basking in the unconditional love of a good-looking woman.

But it's not just men watching these shows, and, as Alessandra Stanley suggested in a review of the country western sitcom Rodney, it's not just a male id they express. As the bitter, recent book The Bitch in the House and the extreme popularity of the delightful, tendentious Desperate Housewives seem to indicate, the war of the sexes has shifted from the workplace back to the household and the bedroom. In portraying husbands as lousy parents, marginal breadwinners, and repellant sexual partners, the fat-husband sitcoms convey a persecution fantasy that rises from the same swamp of resentments as these books do: "Yes, I'm supercompetent and I even look great, despite all the crap I have to deal with, and, yes, that's my husband over there, the fat, useless one scratching his nuts."

Posted by: Cheryl on January 29, 2008 2:06 PM

Also, PatrickH, women now outnumber men in college (, and are beginning to outnumber them in grad school and professional schools.
They're doing better in school than men, and are even taking more science and math. According to Rauch, one-third of 12-year-old girls today can expect to "marry down," i.e. a man w/o a college degree. So I don't think the Lifetime ads are some manifestation of female rage at being ineffectual losers.

Posted by: Cheryl on January 29, 2008 2:28 PM

I think a major reason that white men are disrespected in ads is that it is not PC to disrespect anyone else.

You can't (in most cases) have drama or humor without putting down someone ... someone has to be at fault. So it's white men.

But you're right ... the disrespect has become pandemic and leads to true disrespect and loss of self-respect. We need to insist that no-one be disrespected. We can't just be above it all any more. Complain to the advertisers and the broadcasters and any PC folk you run across who give white men a hard time.

Posted by: Robert Hume on January 29, 2008 2:31 PM

These men-as-doofi portrayals disgust me too. Still, it shouldn't be forgotten that they are deliberate exaggerations, and that men continue to run the show, so to speak. And I'll bet that it's mostly male writers and other creative people who are behind these portrayals.

Posted by: Peter on January 29, 2008 2:32 PM

Clio -
Men and women have the same mean IQ's, but men have a (slightly) greater standard deviation. As a result there will be a (slight) surplus of males among the very intelligent and the very stupid.

Posted by: Peter on January 29, 2008 2:43 PM

clio: you're right that the disparity between men and women is greatest in the relative proportion of the bright and dull, with men occupying more slots out at the far ends of the distribution. The difference between male and female IQs at the median is small in any case, and its effect is simply to exaggerate the high-end disparity. That any difference at the median even exists is controversial, and the great Arthur Jensen says there is none.

Cheryl: it is true that women are now dominating universities in terms of numbers. But their dominance is heavily weighted by the numbers in the humanities and social sciences. The prestige of a humanities or social sciences degree has plummetted in recent decades, as has the prestige (and rarity) of any university undergraduate degree. Men still dominate the sciences and technology degrees...and it is these degrees that continue to command respect, at least to a higher degree than their artsy cousins. There is no clamour for set-aside programs or outreach to men in order to get them to take humanities or social science degrees...we men can smell status hierarchy dominance and submission like, well, like dogs. And we're staying away from those faculties in droves. They're "higher" education on the path to nowhere.

But you do hear about how important it is to get women into science and even approvingly said women "are taking more science and math." It's a matter of concern to feminists to get women into areas dominated by men...and a matter of supreme indifference to men to get into areas dominated by women. The superior performance of women in certain academic fields is much less relevant when those fields are becoming more and more of a ghetto every day.

Rauch's essay is interesting, but he fails to take this brute (brutal) fact into consideration.

Posted by: PatrickH on January 29, 2008 3:06 PM

If you want to sell something to a woman just put men down. I have seen ads for things that have nothing to do with men, like tampons, where the actors in the commercial are putting men down. All of the political correctness in our society makes it impossible to complain about this without being labeled sexist or at the very least a jerk. If you are told over and over that you are wrong in the way you think, act, and on the wrong side of the political correctness debate, you start to beleive it. This is another reason why many guys go along with the current norm. Also, this may be why men are doing so bad in school and why there are less men in college these days. This all has a demoralizing effect on men and it is showing in education.

Posted by: Robert on January 29, 2008 3:18 PM

I wonder if there are many other countries where males are routinely portrayed in public as buffoons, killers, and overgrown children. Does anyone know? I look at foreign movies and mags occasionally and it's really striking by comparison to our popular culture how seldom they portray men as buffoons. Not that "the buffoon" isn't a legitimate type to take note of, of course.

Incidentally (and fwiw, of course) I don't consider this a problem, exactly. I suppose a small part of me worries about whether it's a good or a bad thing. I think Robert is on to something when he says it can be demoralizing.

But the worrier is a teeny-tiny part of me. Mostly I just marvel at it as a phenomenon. It's weird, no? Where does it come from? Why do we tolerate malehood being routinely disrespected in this way?

To be a little more blunt: Women in other societies often aren't condescending towards malehood. They often seem to -- gasp -- respect and desire it. (And guys in other cultures can afford to see themselves and portray themselves and what they stand for with a little dignity and class.) So: What's with American women? Who, by the way, and if I remember my 19th century fiction well, have loooonnnnnnnng been seen by people from other cultures as bossy and naive ....

So, do we have here the latest manifestation of American bluestocking cluelessness about life?

But of course many of these commercials and sitcoms and such are created by men ... So: Does it have to do with the particular kind of man who goes into media fields? If so, what's with them?

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on January 29, 2008 3:24 PM

PatrickH, I don't mean to suggest that men are no longer going to be successful, or that they won't continue to hold the majority of science and tech degrees. But women are making inroads: they're a majority in law schools ( and are edging out men in business and medical schools--hardly fluffy, artsy professions. (Also, what's wrong with fluffy, artsy degrees? English majors, art history majors, philosophy majors find jobs in journalism, publishing, PR, etc.--hardly paths to nowhere. And if the humanities are so boring and irrelevant, why are you reading an arts blog?)

This isn't meant as some rah-rah girl power thing. I wasn't "approving" when I said women are taking more math and science; they simply are and that will probably lead to more women in those fields. All I mean to suggest is that the ads and shows Michael points to are not the result of some feminist conspiracy to make men feel bad/women feel better about themselves. (And what about Knocked Up or Superbad? Those movies weren't targeting women, and yet both featured a slacker/striver romance with dorky, fat guys landing the cool girls.) Maybe, like in Matt's essay, they're merely a reflection of the times, as men and women alike try to navigate the new sexual landscape? There's a lot of frustration and confusion out there about the new gender roles (exhibit A), and the media is simply reflecting that.

Posted by: Cheryl on January 29, 2008 3:53 PM

A propos of not much ... A great line from the "Inside the Actors Studio" interview with Tom Hanks. Lipton asks why Hanks went into acting. Hanks: "Well, because that's where the prettiest and easiest girls were."

Posted by: Michael Blowhard on January 29, 2008 4:00 PM

There's another, more subtle aspect to these Doofus-Dad shows, one that could be interpreted as mildly demeaning to the women. The smart, beautiful, ambitious wife stays with her fat, lazy, cojones-scratching, cheese-cutting husband, when at a moment's notice she could drop him like a hot potato and run off with an uber-Alpha hedge fund manager. What does her failure to do so say about her?

Posted by: Peter on January 29, 2008 4:16 PM

"Well, because that's where the prettiest and easiest girls were."

that's why i take photography and painting classes, and why i make an effort to familiarize myself with the indie music scene.

btw, aren't most of the med school female grads going into the softer, easier, disciplines like pediatrics? surgery is still dominated by men. you'll probably find the same patterns in other fields of study -- more women entering, but fewer pursuing the really tough tracks.

Posted by: roissy on January 29, 2008 5:10 PM

The fat-slob-as-hero, esp. one who attracts beautiful girls, is a phenomenon created by John Belushi, whom few women ever liked as an actor but who was enormously appealing to men of a certain generation. It was men who made John Belushi a role model, one who suggested that you could be gross, childish, and helpless, but still have every kind of success.

How many men born between 1960 and 1975 have dressed up as the Blues Brothers and gone to parties announcing that they were on a mission from God?

The other fat-slob heroes appear to follow in his footsteps, having somewhat domesticated the original model. I can't remember a single example before Belushi. Jackie Gleason played a loveable but obnoxious working-class guy; he wasn't supposed to be a hero, much less a babe magnet. But Belushi's John Blutarsky in Animal House is.

Posted by: alias clio on January 29, 2008 5:15 PM

If I were a black male actor, trying to make a living doing TV commercials, I think I might resent the fact the I'd be barred from ever getting to play the idiot, the incompetent screw-up, the dupe. Roles which would offer me a lot more room to display my acting talent. No, those roles are reserved for white male actors. I'd only be allowed to play the role of the wise, patient overseer.

Posted by: Bill on January 29, 2008 5:24 PM

Funny you should mention Hanks, Michael, since BIG was an early template for the child-men we're seeing now, right down to the uptight, pulled-together corporate woman he pops open, played by Elizabeth Perkins (who gives the better performance, IMHO).

Posted by: Steve on January 29, 2008 9:06 PM

Clio -
As you note, John Belushi was more popular among men than among women. Yet the Belushi-like doofus dad characters are most common on sitcoms, which tend to have predominately female audiences.

Bill -
Black male actors also aren't able to play criminals on police shows, as the criminals on those shows are almost exclusively white.

Posted by: Peter on January 29, 2008 10:34 PM

Well, Peter, here's a theory: the Belushi model of manhood triumphed. Men my age and younger embraced it - not all of them, all the time - and not completely, but a version of it. It was a species of defiance. "You feminists want us to be sweet sensitive guys? Ha. We'll show you!" They grew up, sort of, enough to get married and have children, and to earn a living. But they defied the increasingly strong-minded and stubborn women in their midst by maintaining the boorish behaviour of young adolescent males even after they married.

And so some women watch these sitcoms because they recognise their husbands or boyfriends in them, and laugh, a little ruefully, about them. I don't watch them myself because I hate sitcoms, but I've seen enough of them to recognise the phenomenon.

It's only a theory, and I'm not saying I necessarily accept it, though I'm sure everyone here will jump on me for it.

Posted by: alias clio on January 30, 2008 12:18 AM

A grown man can fight the bitches but what about a little boy in our destroy masculinity schools? That's where the mind rape of the next generation of men goes on on a daily basis. All sane parents can do is shun the public realm. Homeschool. It's like the early Christians, all over again.

Posted by: ricpic on January 30, 2008 6:14 AM

Why is the archetype under discussion an America-only phenomenon?

Can you see the male being degraded like this in Muslim culture? Asian? Hispanic? African?

I didn't think so.

It's the very cultural freedoms we hold dear that allows our culture to poke fun at the perceived "power" group.

It's the sickness of the same that DOESN'T allow the same treatment of women, minorities, etc. The only groups that are fair game are men and fat people, the 2 groups under discussion here.

Part of this can be explained by the fact that women are more in control of the household purse strings (ads) and watch more non-sports television. But let's face it, it's sitcoms & Hollywood movies we're discussing, arguably the lowest forms we have in American culture. The "creative" community in mainstream entertainment has as a major component men who aren't really men in the traditional sense (gays) represented way beyond their percentage in the general population, and they are quite happy to bash breeder males.

I don't watch any network television, so I really can't speak to the issue other than to say that Courtney Thorne-Smith and Jamie Gertz only got as far as they did because of how they look, and Mark Addy is a far more accomplished actor than anyone under discussion here.

Empirical data for the male/female college tech discussion-there are somewhat more women wandering around the MIT campus now than when I was a student (25 years ago). But they all seem to be Asian (good women, right ST?).

Posted by: Brutus on January 30, 2008 9:48 AM

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