Thursday, August 7, 2014

Wearing Shorts All The Time

Obviously humans weren't meant to sit at desks for 8 hours a day or live in little concrete boxes. Homo sapiens are a migratory biophilic species adapted for life on the savannah in Tanzania and Kenya, dodging lions and chasing gazelles. But after hundreds of thousands of years in Africa now a majority of us live in in stressful cities next to a bunch of strangers with all their hang ups and weird smells and bad music. I think men might suffer from the stress of this urban nightmare more than women. Men don't hunt together, don't hang out together, don't bowl together, don't really do anything together anymore. (Not in big numbers anyway.) I suppose one of the methods of coping with all this is to retreat into a man shed or a fantasy world, either in films or TV or in online gaming. Geek culture is increasingly mainstream culture and it has its eloquent defenders such as Patton Oswalt, but of late I'm becoming less convinced that retreating into fantasy world is an appropriate way to live. 
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Camille Paglia isn't everyone's cup of tea (and she's dead wrong in her shrill attacks on Gloria Steinem) but I did like these paragraphs from a editorial she wrote in the NYT a few years ago:

In the discreet white-collar realm, men and women are interchangeable, doing the same, mind-based work. Physicality is suppressed; voices are lowered and gestures curtailed in sanitized office space. Men must neuter themselves, while ambitious women postpone procreation. Androgyny is bewitching in art, but in real life it can lead to stagnation and boredom, which no pill can cure. Meanwhile, family life has put middle-class men in a bind; they are simply cogs in a domestic machine commanded by women. Contemporary moms have become virtuoso super-managers of a complex operation focused on the care and transport of children. But it’s not so easy to snap over from Apollonian control to Dionysian delirium.

Nor are husbands offering much stimulation in the male display department: visually, American men remain perpetual boys, as shown by the bulky T-shirts, loose shorts and sneakers they wear from preschool through midlife. The sexes, which used to occupy intriguingly separate worlds, are suffering from over-familiarity...


In a similar vein (but from a different angle completely) I just watched a fine BBC documentary about how we were all turned into hedonistically addicted online consumers. In episode 3 of the series Jacques Peretti investigates the deliberate move by toy and game companies to target adults as if they were children and children as if they were adults. Getting adults to buy childrens toys and play video games was the smartest move they ever made. I originally had a link for ep 3 of the series on youtube here but it has already been removed by the BBC. You can watch ep 1 on vmeo, here. 

More and more Hollywood makes movies for teenage boys or teenage girls and the rest of us have to just go along with it. Do you remember in the 70's when Hollywood was making films for grown ups? Well that's more or less over now because those films just aren't profitable, or at least not as profitable as Transformers IV or the latest Marvel-DC nonsense. TV shows such as The Big Bang Theory (which I love) and Podcasts like the Nerdist.com make arrested adolescence into a virtue. And people like Patton Oswalt (who I mentioned above) tell us that reading comics and going to superhero movies in your 40's is completely fine. And of course Comicon has become a place of pilgrimage for men of a certain age and girth size. (Its also a place where the toy companies make a shit load of money getting adults to spend a fortune on pieces of moulded plastic.)
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And I am one of those men of a certain age and girth size. I played D&D as a kid (favourite module Expedition to the Barrier Peaks), I love Star Wars and Star Trek and Game of Thrones and I've watched Blade Runner maybe 20 times. But I sometimes wonder if perhaps Camille Paglia is right. Maybe all this stuff is stopping us from growing up, whatever that means...You dont have to be a conspiracy theorist or a follower of Herbert Marcuse to appreciate that one click consumerism and infantilisation are methods of social pacification. If Marcuse were alive today he might say something like "well the rich are demonstrably getting richer and the poor are getting poorer and you chubby guys in the middle don't give a shit about it because you're all waiting for the new bloody Star Wars movie to come out..." Our fathers and grandfathers could fix things and build things, but we can't, can we? If the zombie apocalypse ever did happen the most valuable guy in town wouldnt be the guy who's watched every episode of Walking Dead it would be the guy who could fix the boilers and get the lights working and thats not going to be you or me...
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The below clip would have more resonance if Brad Pitt wasn't a movie god who advertises watches & clothes, but he is and he does. Still...

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So all of this isn't really a coherent argument and I offer no solutions, its merely a lament or a cri de coeur and maybe I'm completely wrong and everything is ok. Maybe shorts and X Men movies and comic books are just fine. Maybe the culture hasnt become infantalized or dumber at all. What do you think?