Art and media have a deeply reflective attribute. They are able to mirror the attitudes and mindsets of a particular time, while simultaneously moving society towards certain ideas, solidifying stereotypes in our minds and changing the way we view the people around us. The sitcoms, TV ads and dramas of our day have shown the growing confusion surrounding the American man and where he finds himself. And we think of men differently as a result.
Dads in comedic family sitcoms are shown as hapless, incapable, and outright stupid, fouling up their wife’s plans and embarrassing their moody teenagers to no end. Shows like Breaking Bad and Madmen display the grasping to find a role to fill, an identity to live out with meaning as society has transformed into what it is today. Some blame feminism, as if the only way to ensure men have a proper and meaningful role in society is to keep women in a traditional role. This view pits men and women against each other, creating a belief that only one can succeed and flourish in our society. Others have stood cheering women on, raising daughters to be successful and capable in a dangerous world, while the firm ground that men once stood on to find their role in life seemingly slips away.
Enter the modern day man. Beer commercials, comedies, and popular TV series all display a perpetual adolescence, a refusal to grow up. News articles and everyday life reveals a lost generation of men. When you look at the masculine icons of the past, the archetypes and role models that generations before us had to look up to, it’s not difficult to see how the problem is growing. What pop culture shows us and what men desire and look for in reality are often two very different things, and carry with them much more emotional significance than many men would like to admit.
In the past figures like the homesteader, the soldier, the entrepreneur who rose out of poverty and created success, and the cowboy have all been incredible masculine idols little boys could look up to. To this day many men still grow up with the idea of forging their own way, creating their own enterprise, and facing risk and danger that has to be conquered, solved or outsmarted. These desires upheld through centuries of storybook heroes and perpetrated throughout history are losing their place and their meaning in society. In many ways, these dreams can no longer be a reality. Society doesn’t work the same way, and as young boys grow up, they find that it isn’t always rewarded or valued. Without it, men are left grasping for what it truly means to be a man, for a place to belong.
Can we send our boys into school, telling them to fit in, follow all the rules, refrain from ingenuity and do well on standardized testing, and expect them not to be disappointed in their place in the world? They then go to college, are told to succeed so that they can do what they love. Graduation, however brings an unavoidable harsh reality. Now you get to sit at a desk working for a faceless dictator who could replace you with someone else or a robot in the near future. But you get health benefits and a somewhat sizable sense of security. Is this the only place we have for men today? Do we need more men filing listlessly into corporate roles in cubicles?
In rebellion to this option it seems many men are waiting to grow up. And waiting some more. This reality is displayed in funny shows and through shallow caricatures in movies. We all may laugh for now. But when will there be a movement to carve out a future for the boys we are raising today? Boys who will not believe the story that pop culture tells them about who they are. Boys who will be deeply passionate, driven, protective and honorable. Boys who will turn into men who embody the deepest and highest values that masculinity represents in the human race. Just as feminism sought to elevate women in society so that we could grow, we now see a desperate need to address the growing numbers of lost men in the modern world.
Masculinity can not be defined in a thirty-minute sitcom. The boys being raised today have an irreplaceable part to play in the world to come. Everything we hold dear could be put to the test by the time our children become adults, and their children after them. We will need men to be powerful, to be intelligent, to be competitive, to solve problems, to be peacemakers, to defend the defenseless, to cradle babies and play with children, to forge a way for their families, to give us hope for the future. To raise these types of men, we have to see the masculine movement move men forward the way the feminist movement enriched the lives of women. We owe it to a lost generation to find our way.
What would a masculine movement look like today? Where are the role models of masculinity and what is it that men can aspire to in the modern age? Will we not be confined to pop-culture any longer? What are your thoughts?