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James Lileks on Ed Harris and Masculinity
Lileks.com (The Bleat) ^ | Jan 23, 2003 | James Lileks

Posted on 01/23/2003 10:52:23 AM PST by Snuffington

I've had problems with my Molehill Transmogrifier all night; it only seems capable of turning them into buttes, not towering ranges of indignation . . . Let me give it the old Fonzie slap -

Ah. There. Perfect. The dials go all the way up to “Mountain” again. Let’s begin:


Let’s say I’m the casting director for a movie, and they ask for a quintessential middle-aged, past-his-prime yet seasoned and strong Rugged American Guy. He should look like a fellow who knows his way around a shooting iron, but he doesn’t take them out every night and talk to them. They're tools; they have their own severe beauty, but you'd best not get carried away with how big you think they make you feel. He’s comfortable driving a pickup - not one of those fancy models with the oversized cab and a clean bin liner, but a classic late 60s model that looked just like the one his daddy bought the year he died. (The man loved that truck, took it to the doctor’s twice a week, and damn near demanded they use it as his hearse.) He’s the sort of man who used to drink, and frankly we didn’t mind him so much when he did - his tales got taller, his grin came quicker, and damned if he didn’t shoot pool a little better between Shiners number 4 and 5. Worse thing that would happen after one two many, well, he’d put all his dimes in the jukebox and play Patsy Cline tunes. One day he just stopped, and he never said why, and no one asked.

There are millions of guys like him, but he seems unique - maybe it’s the hint of rue in his weathered face, the slight hitch in his gait that suggests a greater pain he’ll never mention, or just the way he inhabits a certain style of American masculinity instead of wearing it like a rodeo clown outfit.

I’d punch the phone and shout: get me Ed Harris!

Ed. Ed, Ed, Ed. Speaking at the NARAL rally earlier this week, Ed Harris said:

"Being a man, I have got to say that we got this guy in the White House who thinks he is a man, who projects himself as a man because he has a certain masculinity. He's a good old boy, he used to drink, and he knows how to shoot a gun and how to drive a pickup truck. That is not the definition of a man, God dammit!" Harris said to wild applause.

I’m not here to debate abortion, or smite the fellow for speaking out - if he wants to be an advocate for his causes, fine. I’m not tired of actors speaking out; I will never tire of actors speaking out, because it provides the same amusement of watching dogs walk on their hind legs. The sight itself is hilarious, and it always ends with the performer falling over.

Harris’ words are half right. That’s not the only definition of being a man. There are several. I won’t go so far as to say that all men define masculinity in their own way, because frankly some guys just turn themselves into girlypuffs - they abhor any sort of aggression, they whine instead of assert, they yearn to nurture, and they are so exquisitely attuned to sexual correctness that whenever it seems as if they might have to open the door for a woman, they kneel down and pretend their shoes are untied. There's a difference between "men" and "masculinity" and while you might find distasteful the characteristics that define the latter, you have to admit they exist. Testosterone is a boon and a burden. I've no respect for men who think it's a curse, and spend their lives begging for absolution.

That said, I’m the wrong person to defend the archetype Harris is slamming. I’m not a gun guy, for example. (Although gun people don’t make me nervous at all. On the contrary.) I am not a guy who doesn’t drink. In fact I’m drinking right now, and enjoying every sweet, cold, golden drop. I am surely not a good old boy. Watching me interact with authentic good old boys is as painful as watching Al Gore dance to Fleetwood Mac, and because I inevitably use a word like “interact,” I get my ass kicked. Fisk-like, I know that I earned it. A man does not use the word “interact” within a hundred miles of the Alamo unless you are describing the automated kiosks at the Visitor’s Center. I like pickups, though. If it turns out that heaven consists entirely of sitting in the back of a pickup at a Comet drive-in at sunset, watching the stars assemble as the prairie slides into shadows, listening to the buzz of the fluorescent lights and the trickle of tinny old Hank songs from someone else’s AM radio, I wouldn’t be disappointed at all. It’s not necessarily my heaven, but it’s nothing close to hell.

Hell is an awards banquet. Your suit is too tight and the room is too hot and the speeches too long and the chicken too tough and everyone’s applauding stuff you find banal and self-serving.

But back to Ed. If he’d said that this archetype isn’t the sort of man NARAL needs, fine. If he’d said that this sort of man who’d say Hell No, Durleene, I ain’t drivin’ you to no scrapey-shop, fine. But he said that this isn’t what it means to be a man.

Sorry. Not every man knows his way around a shooting piece, but firearms are a manly art. Not every man has a tan on his left arm because it’s been hanging out the window of the pickup all summer, but hurtling a pickup down the long black line is a manly pleasure, by God. Drinking doesn’t make a man a man; not drinking doesn’t make a man a man. But a man who says “I am a drinker, but I’m not going to drink. Today.” - he’s exercising his will over his baser self, and that sort of discipline is surely a manly skill.

If we can work backwards, then, the only legitimate definition of masculinity would be a slump-shouldered Volvo-driving beaujolais-imbiber dropping off his wife at the Million Mom March and his daughter at Planned Parenthood, God dammit!

Which is ridiculous. In a way, Harris points out the fib you often find on his side of the aisle. The Diversity Lie. I’d construe diversity to mean all points, all views, all shades, all ages, but of course it doesn’t; it’s a construct as limited as the one it’s supposed to oppose. Instead of insisting that masculinity isn’t just pickup trucks and guns, they tell you it’s anything but. This plays well at awards banquets, but it makes people here in the vast middle swath roll their eyes. In essence, they’re saying that the ultimate definition of unfettered masculinity, the one that arises when you let the testosterone flow as it pleases, is the most inaccurate definition.

It’s hilarious that I’m defending this, since I’m the cooking / cleaning / toddler-nurturing nebbish made possible by a grant from the Information Age. My daughter will never see me march off to work to slay dragons; that’s Mommy’s job. She sees me at the kitchen table every morning scowling at my computer. I taught her how to use the Internet the other day, how to move the mouse and click on the blue words to make the screen change, and now she thinks that’s all I do: click on links. She said as much on the phone to Mommy this morning. Mommy asked what Daddy was doing. “Daddy’s clicking,” she said. Sums it up. So it’s quite possible that I’m defending the old ‘Murcan archetype because I so clearly fail to inhabit its big boots, and I hope its mystique and power rubs off on me. Ever see “High Plains Drifter”? It had this midget who followed Clint Eastwood around and fed off the emanations of the Stranger’s odd power. Why, Clint even gave him a badge.

Maybe that’s my problem, but I doubt it. (Of course, I would.) Or maybe, having inherited a world built by the old archetypical men - a world that allowed me freedom and luxury like they never had - I don’t feel comfortable spitting on the Spartans.

My wife was watching American Idol tonight. I don’t watch it. Oh, I stand there by the sofa, observing it, and I leave during the commercial breaks and return when the show resumes, but I don’t sit down and watch it. They had the usual parade of wannabees, skanks, drag queens, diva and divos, most of whom warbled in that ghastly modern fashion: zero to sixty in the first two bars. It never occurs to these people that they could vault to the top of the line by underselling a song with some Crosby-style crooning, or nail a tune with some old-style Hollywood cheer. As I may have mentioned, I watched “Singin’ in the Rain” the other night. (I do not like musicals in general, but I love “Singin’ in the Rain” for a hundred reasons.) Gene Kelly wasn't a great singer, but he sells “Lullaby of Broadway” like a starving coal-vendor in Newcastle. You’re going to buy this song, you are. And you do. Clear, cheerful, unwavering tone; no quavering drama, no histrionics, no scrunch-faced pain. He just sings and grins and that’s more than enough.

There was one singer who impressed me - a little too much emoting, but he was pretty good. Big guy, too. Six feet and change, buzz cut, straight shoulders. He qualified for the next round. They ran his name and story at the bottom of the screen, and we learned that this guy is a Marine. They showed him bursting out of the audition hall, and shouting HOOYAH!

Then he called his sister.

I hope he wins. I’d guess that he knows his way around a firearm, and has spent some time in a pickup; one might call him a good old boy. I imagine he gets some ribbing from fellow Marines. I imagine they’ll all be rooting for him to win, too - and that is a quintessentially American definition of masculinity. We’re so secure with the basic facts that we can play around with the details to our hearts’ content. He might just be the first Marine whose recording career will begin after he has secured a SCUD launching outpost, and that is simply one of the many definitions of what it means to be a man. God dammit!

If they make a movie, and Ed Harris plays his proud father . . . yeah, I’ll rent it. What can I say? I like the guy. He brought Tom Hanks home from the moon. That has to count for something.


TOPICS: Culture/Society; News/Current Events; Political Humor/Cartoons
KEYWORDS: americanidol; diversity; edharris; lileks; masculinity; naral
This is the best dissection of Ed Harris' silly comment I've read, bar none. It even comes with this little gem:

...It's not necessarily my heaven, but it's nothing close to hell.

That's a country song waiting to happen. Hop to it, Freeper bards!

1 posted on 01/23/2003 10:52:24 AM PST by Snuffington
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To: SarahW
Lileks ping!
2 posted on 01/23/2003 10:53:24 AM PST by Snuffington
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To: All
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3 posted on 01/23/2003 10:55:51 AM PST by Support Free Republic (Your support keeps Free Republic going strong!)
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To: Snuffington
Thanks, I hadn't gotten to the bleat today. BIG BLEAT BUMP!
4 posted on 01/23/2003 10:55:58 AM PST by SarahW
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To: Snuffington
"I'm not a man, but I've played men in the movies." - Ed Harris
5 posted on 01/23/2003 10:56:52 AM PST by Lexington Green
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To: Snuffington
I will never tire of actors speaking out, because it provides the same amusement of watching dogs walk on their hind legs. The sight itself is hilarious, and it always ends with the performer falling over.

Lileks is a genius.

6 posted on 01/23/2003 11:00:23 AM PST by KarlInOhio (Tagline.txt not found. Abort, Retry, Fail?)
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To: Snuffington
Good article, it scratches exactly where Harris caused an itch.
7 posted on 01/23/2003 11:03:13 AM PST by jeremiah (Sunshine scares all of them, for they all are cockaroaches)
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To: Snuffington
You're right, that's a great hook... somebody write a hooky song with it!
8 posted on 01/23/2003 11:11:49 AM PST by SarahW
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To: SarahW
We'll send it to pop idol and that marine can sing it :)
9 posted on 01/23/2003 11:12:57 AM PST by SarahW
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To: Snuffington
Will someone PLEASE tell me why Lileks is not a syndicated columnist running in major american newspapers??

He's articulate, funny, cogent, irreverant, ... I savor every word he writes. I don't get it.

10 posted on 01/23/2003 11:42:09 AM PST by MNnice
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To: Snuffington
The effete emasculated non-threatening white male has been turned into a high cultural ideal and still these lib clowns are angry at the world. I have to agree with Savage, it must be sexual repression.
11 posted on 01/23/2003 11:47:44 AM PST by junta
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To: Snuffington
bookmark bump
12 posted on 01/23/2003 12:48:39 PM PST by lepton
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To: Snuffington
That's a country song waiting to happen.

But how we gonna get Patsy Cline to sing it?

13 posted on 01/23/2003 1:51:00 PM PST by TotusTuus
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To: TotusTuus
Speaking of Patsy Cline, I think for the sake of gender equality, we need to warn the women: Patsy Cline Music Deemed 'Dangerous' to Women
14 posted on 01/23/2003 1:57:20 PM PST by TotusTuus
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To: MNnice
remind me to write to the ombudsman of my paper...
15 posted on 01/23/2003 2:02:52 PM PST by SarahW
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To: Snuffington
Fisk-like, I know that I earned it

ROTFL. Sort of a Geraldo - chair moment. Thank you for this post. Good of Mr. Lileks to put Ed's name in the title. The star shouldn't have any problem finding this. (^;

Mr. Harris must be a great actor, though. From his movie roles I would have guessed him to be a man - perhaps even an honorable man - in real life.

16 posted on 01/23/2003 2:05:56 PM PST by Ragtime Cowgirl (289 Million Americans Avoid Peace Rallies. Press cover-up bigger than Watergate!)
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To: TotusTuus
But how we gonna get Patsy Cline to sing it?

If Fred Astaire can sell vaccuum cleaners and John Wayne can sell Coors, Patsy Cline can sing this song. :-)

17 posted on 01/23/2003 2:09:20 PM PST by Snuffington
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To: Ragtime Cowgirl
Good of Mr. Lileks to put Ed's name in the title.

I'm afraid the title was mine. Lileks doesn't give titles to his "Daily Bleat" pieces.

18 posted on 01/23/2003 2:10:58 PM PST by Snuffington
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To: MNnice
"Will someone PLEASE tell me why Lileks is not a syndicated columnist running in major american newspapers?? "

Beats me. Lileks is a genius - probably the funniest guy alive right now. I think I'd volunteer to do his yard work if he lived nearby.

19 posted on 01/23/2003 2:12:24 PM PST by Mr. Bungle ("No Bleat for Oil!")
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To: MNnice
It's funny you haven't already read him in a Minnesota rag. Actually I first read his column in the Press and then he was picked up by the Trib. Are you really from Gopherland? (ha, ha)
20 posted on 01/23/2003 5:08:57 PM PST by driftless ( For life-long happiness, learn how to play the accordion.)
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To: jeremiah
I liked this quote among so many others from Lilek's article...Not every man has a tan on his left arm because it’s been hanging out the window of the pickup all summer, but hurtling a pickup down the long black line is a manly pleasure, by God.

It reminds me of our next door neighbor when I was growing up, Mr. Porta. He always hung his arm outside of his window, so much so that he rubbed the paint off. He was a man too when I think of it. A good influence on my brothers and he had a great Italian restaurant. He would bring leftovers from his restaurant home and feed all the stray cats in the neighborhood, including our cats. He had a pet chicken too. When his son who had been running around with some bad types broke into our house while we were out of town and stole my Dad's coin collection Mr. Porta marched his son, Butch over to our house to admit it to my Dad and return it. He kept a close watch over his kids and they all turned out alright, especially Butch who went on to Vietnam and then to college and a good career. Mr. Porta was a man. I grew up around some fine examples of masculinity. My Dad, my brothers, my neighbor, Mr. Porta and others. Ed Harris has no clue about true masculinity. It is much more than being a truckdriving, hard-drinking man and has nothing to do with being afraid to tell liberal women you don't agree with them.

21 posted on 01/23/2003 5:28:35 PM PST by Lauratealeaf (Ed Harris is a whimp)
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To: Snuffington
A real pleasure to read.
22 posted on 01/23/2003 5:44:47 PM PST by The Grim Freeper
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To: Snuffington
It must be tough for Ed Harris. Pretending to be a real man for his whole career only to discover you can't find it in a tanning booth or a hair salon.

And then to have it displayed so casually by a guy who doesn't even look to be trying.

It must be tough to be Ed Harris.
23 posted on 01/24/2003 6:43:01 PM PST by Joe_October (Freep on Brother)
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To: Snuffington
I'm sure Harris believes he knows what a Man is...After all, he's played one in the movies a time or two, hasn't he?
24 posted on 01/24/2003 9:22:52 PM PST by Wondervixen (Ask for her by name--Accept no substitutes!)
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To: Snuffington
If Fred Astaire can sell vaccuum cleaners and John Wayne can sell Coors, Patsy Cline can sing this song. :-)

This is just so .... Crazy?

25 posted on 02/04/2003 11:37:19 AM PST by TotusTuus (Can we make it a duet with Gentleman Jim Reeves?)
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To: Snuffington
How could Ed Harris star in Apollo 13 and learn absolutely nothing about the kind of men the cast portrayed???
26 posted on 02/04/2003 11:57:39 AM PST by colorado tanker
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