Friday, August 27, 2010

So, You Think You're a "Man?"

A couple of fine folks I follow on Twitter posted this:

RZCrow Maybe it's just my immediate bubble but it seems like there's been a lot of men proclaiming and protecting their man rights lately.

To which was responded:

halcyontony @RZCrow the plight of the pseudo-emasculated man is a powerful trope for many. (Mamet, Laute, Rapp have made careers on it.)

Now, many of you know me as a rabid David Mamet fan. It's true, even if the tide of "hipster theatre" has turned against me, I love Mamet. Sure, his new plays aren't the level of brilliant of his earlier work, but who can maintain that level forever? No one, that's who. American Buffalo will always be my favorite, but Glengarry Glen Ross is a dream directing project for me.

So, yeah, I like "masculine" theatre. I like stories about men. I'm not going to apologize for that, nor should I have to. There's an audience for that type of work, just as there is for almost any type of work. I have, on occasion, detected a sense that works of a masculine spin are looked down upon by many in our community.

I blame the writers. I love Mamet, but I also blame him for it. He wrote such compelling and interesting works, many, many people who should not be tackling this subject matter tried to. They tried to, and failed miserably. I do not like stories where men get so wrapped up in the nature of manhood that it becomes silly. Too many playwrights, and we're talking male playwrights here, have decided to use their scripts to perfom half-assed psychotherapy on themselves.

40 year old men shouldn't be caught up in "I feel inferior to that guy because he has muscles" or a gun, or a better job, or whatever. If your characters are 17, I'll buy it, but grown men have moved on from that. Sure, you can make it work, but you have to acknowledge that your characters are emotionally stunted to an insane degree.

Now, before you go saying, "but Mark, you're six-foot-three and 200+ pounds, and work out, and generally look like an Alpha-Male," let me explain something...

I was a fat kid. Really fat. I was picked on, terrorized, and generally tormented for years and years during my childhood and adolescence. I know EXACTLY what it feels like to be an Omega-Male, or whatever we want to call it. The bottom of the barrel, weak, helpless.

It sucks.

I changed myself. I made myself better, and it changed the way I looked at myself and the world. I have too many things on my plate now, too many obligations, commitments, too many responsibilities, to worry if that guy can do more push-ups than me. I don't know anyone in my age bracket who has time to think of that crap anymore.

So, when I read a play where the whole point is a grown, adult male struggling with his masculinity, I just think "bullshit." Life doesn't afford you the time to worry about such things, you're too busy dealing with the crap being thrown your way.

Which is why I love Mamet.

Look at Glengarry Glen Ross. I'd tell you right here and now, I honestly think it's all about "what it means to be a man." Mamet, however, understands that asking that question immediately undercuts it. Shelly, Roma, Moss and the others have no time to think about how their situation powerfully dramatizes the end of the patriarchy in America. They're just trying to do their job, which has been the meter of their self-worth for decades, in the face of a company that no longer cares, and is concerned with only making as many much money as possible.

The crap they're dealing with is what's stripping away their manhood, and that's why we care.

The imperative isn't "I feel emasculated," it's "I need to keep my job," "I need to pay for my daughter's operation," "I need to get the upper hand on the others." It's through those problems, which a grown man would deal with and struggle with, that we see how their situation has left them a shell of what a man is supposed to be. These are men who defined themselves by their jobs, by providing for their family, and we see, powerfully, in the story of Shelly Levine, how that is all stripped away from them.

This is a real thing, it's something that's happening, so I take some task with Tony's "pseudo-emasculated" description. There's a cultural sense that the problems of a white male in America are not worthy of being discussed. No one wants to look at how the traditional roles we're told we should fulfill are really no longer there for us to fulfill. There are no middle-class sole breadwinners anymore, and I have friends who are still convinced that they're supposed to be.

There are many, many stories that can be told about this, but, in the great tradition of political theatre, it's so much easier to just preach about it, right? Why actually try to sweat out a story that makes your points, when you can let a character whine a wheedle about being too skinny, or not being able to fire a gun, or whatever...

So, we're back to my mantra...Tell a freakin' STORY, don't exorcise your demons via your word processor.

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