Wednesday, July 2, 2008

The Man Crush Gone Wrong

Nothing wrong with a little bromance. Sexual attraction is a spectrum, not an either/or scenario. Nothing wrong that is, unless -- as in a truly romantic crush -- we become blind to the flaws of the object of our affection.

A recent Vanity Fair article -- Mad About the Guy -- by James Wolcott, looks at the issue of the man crush in politics. Seems too many in the media are feeling a bromance for John McCain -- to the point where few are questioning anything about him or his agenda.

What's up with that? James Wolcott investigates.
Mad About the Guy

Lots of men go gaga over other guys. George Clooney goofs about his attraction to Brad Pitt. Nicholson Baker pines for his literary idol, John Updike. Giants fans nurse a thing for Patriots quarterback Tom Brady. It’s really kind of sweet. But in the realm of politics—where Tony Blair and Karl Rove were enslaved by George Bush’s ersatz cowboy cool, Bush fell for Vladimir Putin’s soulful eyes, and half the media is in love with John McCain—such passion is perilous. The author examines the Man Crush, and why it can end in tears.

by James Wolcott July 2008

Senator John McCain surrounded by journalists Richard Cohen, David Broder, and David Brooks

Senator John McCain surrounded by journalists (clockwise from top left) Richard Cohen, David Broder, and David Brooks. Illustration by Edward Sorel.

‘I love the guy,” professed New York Times columnist David Brooks one Sunday on The Chris Matthews Show, that church service of chipmunk chatter. The lucky guy on the receiving end of Brooks’s blown kiss was John McCain, the rare politician with the magical property to make otherwise finicky journalists go misty and let drop the chastity belt of objectivity. As MSNBC’s Joe Scarborough wisecracked about the reporters on the campaign beat this season, “I think every last one of them would move to Massachusetts and marry John McCain if they could.” A silver fox with an even more silvery, foxier wife, McCain is the Sinatra of the congressional hallways and campaign highways, the Chairman of the Bored whose Rat Pack is the traveling press corps, which laughs and groans at his old gags like a collective Ed McMahon (“McCain has been doing a version of the Straight Talk show for so long that the veterans know all the lines”—Ryan Lizza, “On the Bus,” The New Yorker, February 25, 2008). Now that McCain is no longer an insurgent but the presumptive Republican nominee, his words aren’t as unguarded as they used to be, but his loyal claque don’t hold it against him, making allowances for gaffes, goofs, and flip-flops that they wouldn’t tolerate in a Democrat, especially those that they damn as stuck-up, salad-eating, and aloof—Al Gore, John Kerry, Barack Obama. Washington Post reporter Dana Milbank wryly noted the clashing contrast in hospitality accorded to McCain and Obama when they spoke before the nation’s newspaper editors in April: “The putative Republican presidential nominee was given a box of doughnuts and a standing ovation. The likely Democratic nominee was likened to a terrorist.”

The press and McCain share a bond, a fraternal order forged during the endless bull sessions on the “Straight Talk Express” bus in 2000, when the candidate and those covering him became buddy-roo, fellow vaudevillians. Columnist Richard Cohen of The Washington Post experienced Peter Pan delight at being part of this rolling jam session of free association. “Reporters sit with him in the back of his campaign bus and ask him anything they want. We talked about the Vietnam War and Kosovo, Chechnya and gun control, abortion, homosexuality, campaign finance, Marlon Brando movies, great books, flying off a carrier, reciting movie plots to his fellow POWs, going over the wall at the Naval Academy lo those many years ago, and that dish from Rio, the fashion model he had such a crush on.” That dish from Rio is only a diversion. The true crush is the raging Man Crush that Cohen tenderly nursed for McCain, its embers of passion still aglow despite the passing of the seasons that have turned his beard snowy white. Cohen still can’t quit McCain, any more than David Brooks can, or Don Imus, or The Washington Post’s resident Polonius, David Broder. Even when McCain is pandering, Cohen wrote in a column, it’s hard to hold it against him, because his innate honesty creaks through. “McCain’s true virtue is that he is a lousy politician. He is not a convincing liar, and when he adopts positions that are not his own, they infect him, sapping him of what might be called integrity energy.” John McCain isn’t the only one losing vital sap.

jerry: You know, I think George has a nonsexual crush on him.
elaine: I think he does too.
jerry: I mean, every time I see him, it’s Tony this, Tony that. George is like a schoolgirl around him.…

kramer: You know, I think you’re in love with him.
george: What? … That’s ridiculous!
kramer: No no no, I don’t think so. You love him. —Seinfeld, Season Five, “The Stall.”

As a strictly hormonal attachment, the Man Crush can be an innocent infatuation, a species of hero worship indulged in by armchair athletes whose glistening pinups of Michael Jordan, David Beckham, Alex Rodriguez, Tiger Woods, and other gods of round-ball games become a way of perpetuating boyhood deep into doughy maturity. It’s toying with homoeroticism while maintaining an ironic distance from that darling little inn just off the interstate. “It’s not that the two of you want to move to Cape Cod and open a small glass-blowing studio,” insisted editor Mike Philbrick a mite defensively in a New York Daily News article about the Man Crush cult of the cleft-chinned New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, whose off-field exploits—fathering a child with actress-model Bridget Moynahan, dating Brazilian supermodel Gisele B√ľndchen—have made him the envy of rubberneckers, for whom his jockstrap overfloweth. When the Giants played the Patriots in this year’s Super Bowl, ambivalence plagued Giants fans bitten by the Brady bug. “When Brady’s on the field, we just hope that the defense pounds him into the ground,” Manhattan-based architect Michael Chiat told the Daily News. “But then he gets to the sideline, takes his helmet off, and it’s like wow—he’s got a good head of hair.”

“This trend is not limited to athletes,” Josh Kilmer-Purcell wrote in Out magazine. “George Clooney jokes about his attraction to Brad Pitt.” Movies have hoisted too many Man Crushes to count, from the looks Stephen Boyd shot Charlton Heston’s way in Ben-Hur to the career of Will Ferrell, whose comedy protagonists luxuriate in a furry Man Crush of self-love that they insist on sharing—in their underwear—with the world. Anchormen such as NBC’s Brian Williams and the late Peter Jennings, with their well-groomed suavity and droll self-deprecation, inspire(d) Man Crushes in many a budding broadcaster. The preposterously handsome John F. Kennedy Jr. and his rich hunk of hair made him a Man Crush icon from the moment the future publisher of George took the stage at the 1988 Democratic convention to introduce Senator Ted Kennedy and a close-up of his head mesmerized the screens. In his collection Politics: Observations and Arguments, 1966–2004, Hendrik Hertzberg recalls the mass hush of mind-blown amazement: “Introducing his uncle from the podium, John F. Kennedy, Jr., was poised, calm, and so handsome that Walter Isaacson of Time, who was standing next to me, remarked that the roof almost buckled from the sudden drop in air pressure caused by the simultaneous sharp intake of so many thousands of breaths.” Adonis-hood isn’t an ironclad prerequisite for Man Crush status. Money, storied achievement, and executive aura can make certain middle-aged hearts pitter-patter to a Dixieland rhythm.
Read the rest of this article.

Here is one key passage -- and this is more politics than anything, but it reveals more than a little about our culture's obsession with "cowboy" masculinity, which is hardly mature and often destructive.
The political-ideological-religioso Man Crush, however, is heavily land-mined with peril for all concerned. This Man Crush can pathologize into a personality cult, subordinating reason and will to a redeemer or warrior figure—a charisma load wielding or seeking to wield a big stick capable of sending men and women into battle, launching missiles into distant sands, denying rights to interrogees, and subsuming every prerogative under the iron umbrella of the unitary executive, all for the greater goal of leaving a permanent boot print in history. It was the rough-diamond glory beheld by Karl Rove in his first glimpse of George Bush that would be later tricked out in cowboy-flyboy getup to bedazzle the entire world in Bush’s flight-deck victory stroll after the invasion of Iraq—the “Mission Accomplished” rooster strut. “He looks great in a military uniform. He looks great in that cowboy costume he wears when he goes West,” Chris Matthews proclaimed on May 1, 2003, intoxicated by the deus ex machina cool of the First Dude. A week later, the afterglow of Bush’s photo op still steaming the goggles, Matthews hosted one of the most breathless testosterone effusions ever heard on cable news, with guest ogler and convicted Watergate felon G. Gordon Liddy kvelling over how the president’s parachute harness had boldly outlined the picnic basket of his “manly characteristic,” letting us in on a big little secret: “You know, all those women who say size doesn’t count—they’re all liars. Check that out.” As Eric Alterman wrote in “The Many Man-Crushes of Chris Matthews” (The Nation, March 22, 2007), “Matthews’s man-crush on Bush continued longer than that of most of the mainstream media, leading him, for instance, to assert that ‘everybody sort of likes the President, except for the real whack-jobs,’ at a moment when the percentage of Americans telling New York Times/CBS pollsters that they ‘liked’ Bush had fallen to 37 percent.
If you believe Wolcott's analysis, and I think he makes some good points, McCain is the macho man-crush material in the current race, while Obama is too, well, metrosexual.

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