Andrew Sharp looks to the NFL and realizes that men aren’t in a crisis. They just need to ignore the stupidity.
This piece is part of a special series on the End of Gender. This series includes bloggers from Role/Reboot, Good Men Project, The Huffington Post, Salon, HyperVocal, Ms. Magazine, YourTango, Psycholog
Andrew Sharp writes Monday-Friday for SBNation.com. He lives and works in Washington D.C. and one day dreams of owning the Wizards, just so he can personally fire Andray Blatche.
A few weeks ago I was watching Inside the NFL, and as they recapped the Jets and Cowboys game, producers zeroed in on a battle between Darrelle Revis and Dez Bryant. Revis had been mic’d up by an NFL Films crew, so we were able to hear him say, “Whatever” when the coaches asked him to switch onto Dez, and then we could hear their pads crunch as they battled all over the field for the better part of the ensuing three quarters.
Watching them go back-and-forth was fascinating all by itself—probably the two best athletes on the field, going to war with each other on on every play. Then, toward the end of the Showtime clip, Dez pulls Revis aside and says, “I respect you, dog.”
Then Revis: “I respect you too, boy.” And as Dez is walking away, Revis grabs him, “Hey, that’s real talk. We gon’ duck it out like some bulls now.”
And then Dez pulls Revis closer and slaps his helmet. “That’s how you do it!”
It was maybe a 30 second segment within the Cowboys-Jets recap and I have no idea what “duck it out like some bulls” means, but it’s moments like those where manhood in sports feels real.
Yes, we’re talking about “manhood” here—as vague a concept as “duck it out like some bulls”—and since The Good Men Project put together a series on “The End Of Men” in sports, we’re talking about manhood as it relates to the NFL. But before we get to the football… Some background.
This all comes in response to the continued fascination with Hannah Rosin’s 2010 Atlantic piece, “The End of Men”. A few weeks ago, Slate held a debate surrounding the article and its implications. Namely, that “a modern, post-industrial economy that seems better suited to women than men has led many experts to wonder if men are being permanently left behind.”
As Rosin’s article examines the economic implications of a rising class of women, it also probes at crisis of identity for the modern American man. Not only does her view of 21st Century economy favor women, but men seem too befuddled to do anything about it, and it all takes on a pretty dramatic tone. Like any good trend piece, there are plenty of “Think of the children!” moments.
…allowing generations of boys to grow up feeling rootless and obsolete is not a recipe for a peaceful future. Men have few natural support groups and little access to social welfare; the men’s-rights groups that do exist in the U.S. are taking on an angry, antiwoman edge. Marriages fall apart or never happen at all, and children are raised with no fathers.
Now, it seems like whenever somebody talks about manhood and masculinity, the first instinct (and the easiest argument) is to say that masculinity’s all an illusion. “It’s a social construct instilled from an early age,” the skeptics say. “And then over time, our society’s gender stereotypes become a self-fulfilling prophecy.”
It’s easy to prove, because any human’s experience reveals that gender roles are not nearly as compartmentalized as it once looked on I Love Lucy. The lesson’s intuitive. That’s why Hannah Rosin, in the article that spawned this project, can talk about the imminent irrelevance of the American male in the economy, trot out a hard-boiled cowboy from the 1970s, show how he’s evolved, and expect us to take her anecdotal argument as fact.
Here, the 1970s Cowboy personifies How It Was:
In the late 1970s, Ericsson leased the method to clinics around the U.S., calling it the first scientifically proven method for choosing the sex of a child. Instead of a lab coat, he wore cowboy boots and a cowboy hat, and doled out his version of cowboy poetry. (Peoplemagazine once suggested a TV miniseries based on his life called Cowboy in the Lab.) The right prescription for life, he would say, was “breakfast at five-thirty, on the saddle by six, no room for Mr. Limp Wrist.”
And then, 7,000 words later, the gender epiphany that we’ve all been waiting for:
Recently Ericsson joked with the old boys at his elementary-school reunion that he was going to have a sex-change operation. “Women live longer than men. They do better in this economy. More of ’em graduate from college. They go into space and do everything men do, and sometimes they do it a whole lot better. I mean, hell, get out of the way—these females are going to leave us males in the dust.”
BOOM. Ol’ Cowboy Hat wants a sex change. Q.E.D., y’all.
But this is where we offer two separate responses. First of all, the idea that one gender is better equipped to thrive in any economy is as backwards and ridiculous in 2011 as it was in 1951. Just because we flipped genders doesn’t make it a more legitimate stereotype.
Second, just because we once underestimated women doesn’t mean that we gave men more credit than they ever deserved. It’s one-sided, exaggerated trend pieces like this one that ultimately leave men feeling attacked enough to identify with a Dodge Charger ad where Dexter tells America to make MAN’S LAST STAND, a commercial Rosin mentions at the end of her piece. Yeah, part of her job as a journalist is to generate conversation, but stuff like this just makes people want to shout.
Take one of her pop culture examples:
The 1999 movie Office Space was maybe the first to capture how alien and dispiriting the office park can be for men. Disgusted by their jobs and their boss, Peter and his two friends embezzle money and start sleeping through their alarm clocks. At the movie’s end, a male co-worker burns down the office park, and Peter abandons desk work for a job in construction.
…But that movie was about how “alien and dispiriting the office park can be” for everyone. She never mentions Jennifer Aniston, though, and how she quits her job in the end. It wasn’t a commentary on men in the 21st century workforce; it was a loose adaptation of a short story from 1853.
Other movies Rosin mentions, like Knocked Up, feature stars like Seth Rogen. “This often-unemployed, romantically challenged loser can show up as a perpetual adolescent,” she says.
And again, that movie’s not about what she thinks it’s about. Over the course of two hours in Knocked Up, Seth Rogen learns that sometimes you have to sacrifice, where you suck it up and work in the office park like everyone else. In other words, he learns that there’s more to being a man than porn and smoking weed and fart jokes. And Knocked Up ends with Seth Rogen getting his own apartment and working a regular old programming job, just like the one in Office Space.
So what is Rosin’s point, exactly? That men aren’t happy in office jobs? Or that they eventually are? Just because guys are more reluctant to grow up doesn’t mean they’re less equipped to thrive.
We mention these examples because Hannah Rosin twists themes to meet her own rhetorical gains. And in a weird way, it’s a perfect example of what it’s like watching the NFL these days.
In both cases, we get this caricature of men as overgrown babies, more determined to have a good time than get anything done in life. It’s sorta unavoidable if you’re a football fan–you watch a league where everyone from announcers to marketers talk like the audience is full of intellectual and emotional cripples. The same way Rosin exaggerates the image of an elightened cowboy to serve her argument, the NFL takes that cowboy and goes the other direction.
Football becomes a haven for the good ole days, when men were MEN, liberated from the tyranny of responsibilities or enlightenment, free to drink as much as they want, stare at big tits, and enjoy big hits. The NFL would never say this explicitly, but if you didn’t have the actual games to break up the action, watching a full Sunday of NFL ads would make the point pretty clear.
These days, watching an NFL game feels like Maxim as much as it does Sports Illustrated, and as the ratings soar higher each week, the “crisis” that inspired this series begins to come into focus.
It’s not that gender stereotypes have always been false, but as gender equality becomes a reality, the supposed threat against men’s way of life has led advertisers to exploit the insecurity. All to sell beer, cars, football jerseys, and maybe Viagra. Masculinity’s not dying, but it’s becoming distorted.
This can be depressing, but only if you adopt the same melodramatic approach that Hannah Rosin did. Yes, it’s annoying that you can’t watch an NFL football game without feeling waterboarded by a bunch of fucktarded advertising, but it’s not new. Remember when Dave Chappelle made fun of beer commercials? That was seven years ago; the same joke’s been funny for twenty years. Roughly 90 percent of my guy friends watch pro football, and 100 percent think those Miller Lite commercials are idiotic. Same with my co-workers. And my family. And most any boss I’d want to work for, in any industry that’s actually growing.
(For the record: The Miller Lite ads get a lot of credit for being stupid, but really, the Coors Light “Bar Exam” ads are the dumbest thing on television. What’s cooler: Studying for the test that could land you a six figure salary, or lying to your girlfriend to hang out with some douchebag bartender?)
If there’s a crisis in this country, it has nothing to do with masculinity, and everything to do with a minority of Americans who make the rest of us look stupid. Pro football panders to that minority more than ever in 2011, amplifying their influence, making the NFL a perfect, billion-dollar microcosm of the problem.
And here’s, roughly, why that sucks: Because boobs are awesome.
So are big hits.
So is tailgating.
So is pro football, in general.
There’s no need to batten the hatches and sound the alarm about the collapse of manhood, but when TV turns our insterests into cartoons and expect us to paw at the screen like little kids, it makes manhood slightly harder to enjoy. It’s really, really hard to screw up boobs, unless you ask us to identify with a bunch of mouthbreathing douchebags staring at them. Masculinity’s not an illusion, but when it’s distorted like that, it feels like one.
Likewise, when the NFL juxtaposes its macho culture by selling itself as the manliest man’s game in the history of men, all the rhetoric undermines the subtle moments in the game where football really is the coolest sport on earth. Where manhood’s real, and actually pretty badass. Where it becomes a chess match between brilliant men who’ve given their lives to the game, with the best athletes on earth, all battling like hell. Where opponents leave the field with either mutual respect or visceral loathing, either of which bonds them for life.
What makes pro football such a perfect case study for Rosin’s claims is that practically everything that surrounds the game proves her point. That’s why her claims seem convincing. She points to the Super Bowl ads, and everyone remembers how dumb the Super Bowls ads were.
Maybe she’s right, right?
But then, what wins on the field—hard work, sacrifice, mental and physical toughness, and mutual respect between guys like Dez Bryant and Darrelle Revis, two guys at the top of their game, battling like hell—tells the other side of the story. The NFL’s marketing may be part of the problem, but football itself still encompasses plenty of virtues that’ll never die.
So for men and football fans alike: There’s no crisis in all this, just a challenge. Part of feigning sanity requires that you strike a balance between enjoying things you love, and ignoring stupidity on the periphery. Maybe the stupidity’s gotten louder in 2011, or maybe we’re just paying closer attention, but there’s no indication that stupidity’s new in American life.
If some condescending souls like Hannah Rosin think all men care about are boobs and trucks and fantasy football, that’s cool. Look at the field, though, and then look around you. There are still plenty of guys duckin it out like some bulls to prove them wrong.