Andrew Cotto wonders why we are so enthralled by the “tough is good” male stereotype.
America has a macho problem. Too much of our culture is informed by the idea of manhood being defined by toughness. We love the idea of the bad ass as the good guy, doling out physical justice to those who have it coming. The archetypal American “hero” is often promoted through our narratives, particularly our film heroes. Just look at the trailer for the new Tom Cruise film, where the eponymous character of Jack Reacher, from the Lee Child novels, is brought to life. The trailer features a scene where Cruise as Trapper is in the middle of the street surrounded by a posse of apparent bad guys with bad intentions. Cool and collected, Trapper mocks and dismantles his foes with devastating force and ease. Talk about fiction. I imagine this scene is in the very beginning of the film, not part of the primary plot but merely a vehicle for characterization, though it dominates the trailer for a reason: Many men eat this shit up. Too many of them think Clint Eastwood is actually Dirty Harry (based on his attempt to bully a chair that supposedly symbolized our sitting president, Eastwood might actually think he’s Dirty Harry, too).
This conflation of tough reality versus tough fantasy is dangerous. Wayne LaPierre, Executive Vice President and CEO of the National Rifle Association, openly advocates a solution to our fire arms problem with “good guys with guns” shooting the “bad guys with guns.” Such a reductive and ignorant purview should be the domain of children in the “Bang! Bang! You’re dead” world of youthful imagination. It should not be part of the rhetoric from the nation’s most powerful lobby. LaPierre is not alone. Too many of our public figures – those who seriously influence our culture, conversations, and laws – have a relationship with violence that is rooted in reductive fantasy. They are novelists, filmmakers, game developers and musicians. They are also radio personalities, politicians, activists and lobbyists. This is one of the rare moments where the traditionally liberal world of entertainment conspires (unwittingly, I’m certain) with factions of the super conservative camps.
It’s easy to sell this macho schlock to men because most of us are susceptible when it comes to the idea of toughness. Most of us are taught from an early age that tough is good. Tough is character. Tough is necessary. Being tough makes you a man. But the truth is that most of us in America never get within an arm’s length of real tough. Most of us are just too privileged to be exposed to the conditions which require mettle to survive. Good for us. And some of us appreciate this, but for many young men indoctrinated in the gospel of tough, not being tough leaves them feeling insecure as grown men. This insecurity often manifests in big talk from men with little guts. And many of these men covet power. These are the ones who publically grandstand but privately cower. Their inner impotence turns into outward anger. So some scared men howl belligerence into microphones; and some seek office; and some create fantasy narratives that glamorize violence; and some are lobbyists for gun makers who refuse to budge from their obstinacy even when the “Bang! Bang! You’re dead” world of our children is no longer imaginary.
This macho problem is really about bullying. America is being bullied by a loud minority of cowardly men (and some women who share their faux-tough stances). Look how those who lack courage dominate (or attempt to dominate) the conversation on guns, the environment, taxes, health care, censorship, immigration, entitlements, military spending, gay rights, abortion, terrorism, and religion. Look how they poison our progress with absurd stances and a refusal to consider compromise. The rest of us need to stand up for the greater good. We all have it in us, men and women. With our voices and our votes and our power as consumers, we can steer this country towards a more perfect/less preposterous union where toughness stands down to logic.
photo: Muscle Dominator / Flickr