Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Matt Talbot on the Myth of American Manhood


I found this post from Matt Talbot's The Hopeful Populist randomly in my Google blog feeds (keyword: manhood), and then a reader of The Masculine Heart (Thanks Frank!) sent me the link to it at another site (Vox Nova - Catholic Perspectives on Culture, Society, and Politics).

I would not have guessed the author were Catholic when I first read it and liked it (without reading anything else on his blog), but I think that knowing he is Catholic deepens my admiration for his position.

The traditional monotheistic religions tend to promote and reward the type of masculinity Talbot is talking about (and ostracize those who dissent) - so for him to say No More is a powerfully progressive action.

The whole post is good, but this is from the end of American Manhood, by Matt Talbot:
John Wayne. John Wayne. John Fucking Wayne.

But the thing is, John Wayne himself couldn't live up to his own image - he smoked 4 packs of cigarettes a day, and pounded down enough scotch to put a bison into a coma. He couldn't do it either. John Wayne himself couldn't be John Wayne.

Well, I'm done with that. No more.

That mythic American manhood doesn't really exist. It never did.

My God, but I'm tired of chasing ghosts.
A lot of us feel the same way - and although I am a few years younger than he is, we were raised with the same mythos and ethos - be tough, be brave, don't show feelings, don't back down, and never ever let them see your weaknesses.

I am around a half-century old, and as such, was probably in the last cadre of Americans saddled with the notions of American manhood that would have been recognizable to DH Lawrence:

The essential American soul is hard, isolate, stoic and a killer. It has never yet melted.
I have come to realize that the notions I was raised on and which I absorbed from a million TV westerns and adventure shows was a fraud, and a terribly destructive one.
I grew up watching Bonanza, The Virginian, and John Wayne / Clint Eastwood westerns - I know the same "notions" he was raised with and I know the same sense of betrayal when I realized those myths are exactly that - myths. And while those stories were important in the transition from "the colonies" to the United States of America, as a way to give voice and vision to that period of our identity, they ceased to be useful following WWI, the end of the world's innocence.

As a nation, we became torn between looking forward and looking backward - and it's very revealing that when you look at the early television shows and films that proposed to look forward (Star Trek and Star Wars the obvious examples), they were simply traditional westerns disguised as futuristic progress. We dressed the old myths in new clothes and called them the future.

The reality is that Captain Kirk was John Wayne in a jumpsuit.

I'm grateful to see men like Talbot see though the lies we have been fed - it is up to us, the 40-50 year olds, to make the new myths, to offer the new ways of being masculine without being violent or isolated, without being wimps or cowards. There is more than one masculinity - because there is more than one man.

As the Buddha taught, the Middle Way is the best way.

1 comment:

Matt Talbot said...

Thanks for the link, WH.