Skip to comments.James Lileks on Ed Harris and Masculinity
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. Lets begin:
Lets say Im 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 doesnt 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. Hes 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 doctors twice a week, and damn near demanded they use it as his hearse.) Hes the sort of man who used to drink, and frankly we didnt mind him so much when he did - his tales got taller, his grin came quicker, and damned if he didnt shoot pool a little better between Shiners number 4 and 5. Worse thing that would happen after one two many, well, hed 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 its the hint of rue in his weathered face, the slight hitch in his gait that suggests a greater pain hell never mention, or just the way he inhabits a certain style of American masculinity instead of wearing it like a rodeo clown outfit.
Id 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.
Im not here to debate abortion, or smite the fellow for speaking out - if he wants to be an advocate for his causes, fine. Im 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. Thats not the only definition of being a man. There are several. I wont 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, Im the wrong person to defend the archetype Harris is slamming. Im not a gun guy, for example. (Although gun people dont make me nervous at all. On the contrary.) I am not a guy who doesnt drink. In fact Im 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 Visitors 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 elses AM radio, I wouldnt be disappointed at all. Its not necessarily my heaven, but its 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 everyones applauding stuff you find banal and self-serving.
But back to Ed. If hed said that this archetype isnt the sort of man NARAL needs, fine. If hed said that this sort of man whod say Hell No, Durleene, I aint drivin you to no scrapey-shop, fine. But he said that this isnt 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 its 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 doesnt make a man a man; not drinking doesnt make a man a man. But a man who says I am a drinker, but Im not going to drink. Today. - hes 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. Id construe diversity to mean all points, all views, all shades, all ages, but of course it doesnt; its a construct as limited as the one its supposed to oppose. Instead of insisting that masculinity isnt just pickup trucks and guns, they tell you its anything but. This plays well at awards banquets, but it makes people here in the vast middle swath roll their eyes. In essence, theyre 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.
Its hilarious that Im defending this, since Im 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; thats Mommys 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 thats all I do: click on links. She said as much on the phone to Mommy this morning. Mommy asked what Daddy was doing. Daddys clicking, she said. Sums it up. So its quite possible that Im 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 Strangers odd power. Why, Clint even gave him a badge.
Maybe thats 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 dont feel comfortable spitting on the Spartans.
My wife was watching American Idol tonight. I dont 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 dont 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. Youre 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 thats 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. Id 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 theyll all be rooting for him to win, too - and that is a quintessentially American definition of masculinity. Were 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, Ill rent it. What can I say? I like the guy. He brought Tom Hanks home from the moon. That has to count for something.
...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!
God Bless This Man!
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Lileks is a genius.
But how we gonna get Patsy Cline to sing 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.
If Fred Astaire can sell vaccuum cleaners and John Wayne can sell Coors, Patsy Cline can sing this song. :-)
I'm afraid the title was mine. Lileks doesn't give titles to his "Daily Bleat" pieces.
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.