This should be fun. While I like to stay up-to-date with the news happenings of the world, I haven’t posted on Facebook or created any snarky T-shirt designs or really voiced any opinion publicly about the state of our United Circus. But today I will! For those of you who are lazy or in a rush, here’s my TL;DR: Unable to come to terms with the rise of strong and career-minded women and their perceived (and actual) loss of utter global/family dominance, white men in particular have, en-masse, retreated to their safe haven narrative: that despite all the odds and soundly reasoned arguments, a single champion can, by force of will and character alone, save the day and bring salvation to everyone and their trusty friends.
This is a narrative that is incredibly prominent in film & TV. Think The Expendables and every movie starring any of those guys. Guy movies, where there’s a brief exposition, a lot of fighting, a moment of dramatic doubt (are we really the good guys?), and redemption / get-the-girl. While there are cultural differences that are contextually important, most martial arts and many Bollywood movies also rely on this narrative, seen most recently in Sultan, where the guy fights bigger and bigger and BIGGER guys until finally, he gets the girl (but not without loss, can’t forget the loss).
With the slightest bit of shame I’ll reveal that I love guy movies. LOVE ’em. While I might have a somewhat unique attachment to them as they’re representative of a shared activity with my dearly departed dad, I also plainly revel in the gore and simplicity and numbness of the genre. I’ve been guilt-watching Spartacus, Gods of the Arena, which is a new age guy show on steroids: heavily emphasized blood spatter, porn-level nudity (they never, ever skip the sex scenes) and the quintessential revenge story of Spartacus leading a slave rebellion against the Roman empire (all because the Romans killed his wife and one true love, how dare they). There are some nifty ‘progressive’ elements to the show including some strong female characters and prominent and normalized guy-on-guy action, but what it really is is the perfectly engineered opiate for the male lizard-brain and a perfect encapsulation of the male safe-haven narrative. I don’t have to think, or worry, or feel anything but trust that Mr. Muscles will whip the odds and triumph over loss, no matter how great.
Given the enormous and enduring popularity of this genre, I can safely assume that I’m not alone. In fact, I’d wager that I’m part of a beer bulging, underachieved, hopelessly optimistic minority of men that wish they were heroes and wear angry blinders to any contrary fact. Yes, fantasy portrayal is healthy and normal. Hollywood knows well that wish fulfillment is addictive. Lusting for ‘simplicity’ is initially well and good but just slightly deeper, deeply problematic as ‘simplicity’ in this narrative relies on a single male hero who don’t need nobody except for that one time he cried. Patriarchy porn is insidious and pervasive in all of these shows, and the problem is that they’re so popular.
This explains Trump. For so many beer bulging buffoons addicted to their ‘simplicity’ and irrational optimism, Trump is the perfect white-guy-hero. He’s the greatest hero, really, just terrific. He’s great with facts, he knows all the facts, he’ll make the best facts. There’s no argument here, just the best argument, there’s no point in even trying.
Watching Trump succeed is essentially watching Spartacus with just as much blood and nudity and much higher stakes. In an era where women are empowered and increasingly successful, traditional masculinity is flailing out of control, yearning for ‘simpler’ times where women knew their place and men were universally respected just for being men. Of course these are anachronistic views that should be gently led to the yard for slaughter, but that is only part of the takeaway. Men are struggling to be masculine and equal, where masculine has traditionally rejected equality. I’m not a redpiller nor a Trumpian nor a machismo sympathizer, but this struggle is an actual and dire problem for huge numbers of men. It’s my armchair speculation that this shift has a strong tie to middle-aged male suicide, which is no fault of women or feminism but a symptom of changing times and an uncomfortable redefinition of what it means to be a man in society.
So I feel pity for Trumpeters and alarm at their success. Lizarding out and blankly watching Jason Statham transport flashy Audis back and forth is fine and casually patriarchal, but incredibly problematic when huge numbers of such lizards are rallied together to storm the White House. I might strive for simplicity and continue to enjoy my guy shows, but we’ve come too far to welcome ‘simplicity’ back into our world.