Explore different ways of being a man by relating to classic icons, no two of them alike.
The question at the heart of the Good Men Project has always been “What does it mean to be a good man in the 21st century?” The problem with that is that we tend to get mired in what “being a man” even means.
When someone says “Be a man”, it implies a certain singular instruction that’s being given; some single concept of manhood that we’re all supposed to aspire to. But even a moment’s thought breaks that down. History and fiction abound with different kinds of men, many of them so archetypal as to be instantly recognizable, but that doesn’t make them alike. Let’s look at a few, and think about what we can learn from them.
For me, the concept of archetypal manhood begins with Superman. The strongest, the bravest, the guy who always does what’s right. He embodies our hope, the idea we tell ourselves that if we could do anything, if our limitations were removed, we would do good. We would be good. If that’s what you strive for, if you’re constantly asking yourself whether this is the right thing to do, if you run toward trouble instead of away from it because you might be able to help, you’re leaning toward this archetype.
Now, just to switch gears entirely, let’s look at Groucho Marx. Fast-talking, sardonic, rude, willing to do anything at all for a laugh… still every inch a man, but with no resemblance to Superman. A descendant of the badkhn of Eastern European Jewish tradition, Groucho and all those like him are the clowns that keep us all sane. Dignity, decorum, and the stiff pretensions of the world aren’t concerns for the world’s Grouchos; they’re more like targets. Whether you aspire to be Richard Pryor, Bill Hicks, or even just Conan O’Brien, if you’ll do anything for a laugh, this may be you.
Sherlock Holmes began as a pulp-fiction one-off by a Scottish doctor who dabbled in fiction, and today three competing film and TV versions of him continue to draw huge audiences, and one poll suggests that more than half the people in Britain think he was a real person. That is some serious archetypal appeal, and it draws on the fact that Holmes is the ideal for men who try to live by their minds. Holmes is the perfect creature of logic, the role model for the man who wants to solve every problem by outsmarting it. He is coolly dispassionate and precise in his thinking, and he is never wrong. That’s still something a lot of men strive toward; you may be one of them.
For another contrast, let’s look at another immortal character of fiction: Romeo Montague. Smart is not so much his thing. Indeed, if we’re going to be frank, he’s kind of an idiot. But for a few perfect days, he loved with a depth and a passion that most of us can only dream of. His love was written with a power and poetry that has made him, to this day, the benchmark for what a man in love can be. The world is full of men looking for their Juliets, though one must hope they all come to happier endings than their archetype.
A completely different, but no less powerful, romantic archetype can be found in the fairly narrow range of characters Cary Grant played. Whether he was in love with Katharine Hepburn or Audrey Hepburn, he maintained his self-control until he absolutely couldn’t any more. There was something in the way he knotted his tie that made women want to loosen it and unlock the befuddled lover underneath. That combination, of control and vulnerability, of poise and fallibility, has proven a powerful archetype in all the decades since; without Cary Grant, there’s no Hugh Grant and no Jon Hamm. If that’s the guy you want to be, you have ample role models to follow.
Finally, sometimes there’s a man—I won’t say a hero, ’cause what’s a hero—but sometimes there’s a man. I’m talking about the Dude here. The genius of Sam Elliot’s gravel-voiced introduction to The Big Lebowski is that he’s introducing a man who needs no introduction. Everyone knows the Dude, in one or another of his incarnations. He’s easygoing, freewheeling, laid-back to the point of being spectacularly lazy, meaning no harm to anyone, seeking nothing beyond not having his buzz harshed. The world is full of Dudes, and spins a little easier for it. There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be harmless and happy.
The point of examining and thinking about these archetypes is to let yourself relax and stop trying to be a man as though there’s only one kind of man in the world. Let yourself explore. Check out a site like ArchetypeMe.com, with a custom quiz that will help you find what kind of archetype fits you, and provide custom content to help you explore that role. Archetypes aren’t the only way of thinking about manhood or identity, but they’re a powerful one, and any tool that helps people find an identity they’re comfortable with is a good tool.
This post was created in partnership with ArchetypeMe. Who are you? What type of man are you? Find out by taking the quiz at ArchetypeMe.com and collect awesome tailored content based on your strongest traits.