Charting the Decline of Manly Men on (and off) Screen
Once upon a time we had strong male role models in popular culture.
In the '30s, we had Errol Flynn. He was the swashbuckler, the heartthrob, the suave rake who swept women off their feet. One look from his eyes could captivate everyone from a romantic interest to the people packed into movie houses nationwide. The confidence was legendary, and the charisma was undeniable. Pure box office.
Years later John Wayne commandeered the big screen. No nonsense, tough, courageous, confident and a leader of men. Little boys came home from a matinee and put on the spurs, a six shooter, and played Cowboys and Indians for hours (back in the days when an NFL Play 60 initiative would’ve been laughed out of every ad agency in America, and rightly so).
Unlike Flynn, who looked like he took hours combing every individual hair on his head and making sure there wasn’t a wrinkle on his clothes, Wayne was boots, spurs, gunbelt, shirts, pants and hat (hopefully not in that order, or it’d be awkward), and they were dirty by the end of the day. No matter because he was box office also (Collectively, he’s the biggest box office attraction that ever lived, according to Variety).
Different time, different place.
From the '70s and '80s, there was Kojak, Dirty Harry, Shaft, Rockford, Baretta, McCloud, Magnum, Mike Hammer, Jake Styles, Rambo and the list goes on. They had it all. Kojak was always seen with two things, a sharp suit and a sharper woman. Dirty Harry was tough and unstoppable. Rockford was quite possibly the greatest seducer of the '70s. Magnum had the looks, intelligence and the car. Mike Hammer, with the film noir atmosphere, copied every old school detective novel to the best that a studio’s budget would allow them (still, the women were ridiculously beautiful, proving you don’t have to be just an Alabama quarterback to have one … thank you Brent Musberger).
That all changed in 1996 with one annoying, shrill sound. "DEBRAAAAAAAAAAAA!"
That would be Ray Romano’s wimpy, whiny and whipped Ray Barone from Everybody Loves Raymond. For 10 years, there would be a new way to demonstrate just how wimpy Ray could be, whether he was being browbeat by his wife, run over by his kids or letting his Mom basically run his life.
Now mind you, I know I steered clear off the cliff with the action movie to sitcom change, but there is a reason. Even in sitcoms, where the Dads are not tough, rugged, or heroic, there was no doubt they were the men, and you didn’t cross them.
There is no question that a counter to my argument will be Hawkeye Pierce or Jim Rockford. Hawkeye was a milquetoast liberal who hated violence. He was an alcoholic, neurotic and a loud and proud coward. Rockford was the first detective to try running from confrontation. He hated swinging fists and lost lots of fights, he hated using his gun, and he even hated asking for his $200 a day plus expenses when it came time to pay up.
The answer to that counter is simple. There were wimpy men in every single area, like the two mentioned. But the main difference was that when the chips were down, when they had absolutely no choice but to be heroes, when they needed to save the day … they flat out did.
This was not Ray Barone. There was no heroism in this man, and there was no fight in him, either. I still, to this day, wonder what Debra’s character saw in him that said “you know what, I want to spend the rest of my life with him.”
I have to think that Patricia Heaton, the strong conservative that she is, would run far far away from a man like that.
With the popularity of Everybody Loves Raymond came shows like King of Queens, Yes Dear and others, all with the same premise of mopey dopey every guy who marries really good looking woman, then they have no idea how they got that woman, so they permanently stash their testosterone to save her the effort.
Oh yeah, and you can’t forget the kids’ efforts to embarrass Dad and get away with it (with the exception of King of Queens, of course). You know liberals, by this time, were celebrating at their winter solstice parties every single year (because Christmas is offensive, don’t you know).
In a liberal constitution, I believe there are two things that they are supposed to despise … strong male figures and country bumpkins (the latter is obvious because CBS had two different eras where their country redneck shows were insanely popular, and they shut them down despite the money rolling in … Beverly Hillbillies-era in the '60s, and Dukes of Hazzard-era in the '80s).
Both of those go completely against the liberal narrative. Strong male characters are confident, charismatic and courageous, and country shows represent the most important thing, and something that burns a liberal’s retinas completely out of their heads … the family element.
That said though, there’s only one to blame here, and it isn’t the Hollywood establishment that so loves this. It’s the men themselves. With some exceptions, men have completely lost their way in this society. The average video gamer is 30 years old, and the most frequent game purchaser is 35.
Six percent of men wear ties now because of excuses like “they get in the way,” and “I hate dressing up,” but they LOVE wearing their sports jerseys and living vicariously through millionaires while simultaneously thinking they know a damned thing about the sport they are watching.
I’ll admit it, I’m very old school when it comes to men, but very new school when it comes to women. I love it that women have gotten stronger and more confident over the years, and that their place in Hollywood has gotten past the same old tired damsel in distress.
What I do like seeing is the ever rare strong male and strong female characters working together (think Michael Westen and Fiona Glenanne in Burn Notice), but the male has devolved at the same rapid rate that the woman has evolved.
More women work … 86 percent work and only 14 percent are stay at home Moms, more women are the primary breadwinners AND running the households, and more women choose to marry later … in fact, women that chose to marry in their 30s and 40s has doubled. Women are stronger and more confident now than ever.
But men are not catching up, and they brought all this on themselves. When they watch any of the aforementioned shows, they relate to them. They relate to the wife constantly henpecking them, they relate to the constant whining, they relate to the kids that refuse to listen and they relate to their buddies that go through the same exact problems. That makes a show very popular, and it means KA-CHING for studios.
It’s not something that will change anytime soon either, not until those statistics start changing. And where does it change? It changes with children. It changes when a boy is truly raised to be a man. So what is a #1 girl’s book? How about Hunger Games?
And #1 boys book? Diary of a Wimpy Kid.
Yeah, I think it’s going to be a while before that trend changes.