Tuesday, June 15, 2010

'First thing we do is, let's kill all the men.' Part 1.

This may be hard to believe for some who frequent this blog, but I try my best to be fair in all that I say. And I think I do a good job. In general.

There are two notable exceptions, and I concede that the first is a really big one, since it has to do with the reason this blog even exists. A few years ago, of course, I wrote a cynical book about the self-help movement, and I remain entrenched in the dominant view expressed therein. If I'm pr
esented with a new self-help sca—oops, idea, I'm likely to be dubious. However, it's important to restate something I've said from time to time, which is that my feelings about self-help weren't (and aren't) based on some vague predisposition or simple "common sense"; rather, I'm drawing upon more than 25 years of covering the realm, dating back to long before I even realized that there was a realm and I was covering it. For the record, I wrote one of the first nationally distributed articles about Tony Robbins (OK, for the inflight magazine of a now-defunct airline, but it still counts). I did an early piece about the growing hordes of sports celebs, like Pat Riley and Tommy Lasorda, who were then migrating over to the motivational-speaking circuit. I wrote at length about the (alleged) trust- and teamwork-building wilderness programs that became de rigueur among Fortune 500 American during the mid-90s. A shocking number of years passed before I put all this together as a Movement, but once I did, the commonalities that applied throughout SHAMland stood out in stark relief from any supposed differences from one program to another.

There is one other aspect of life in which I know I'm fairly rigid, and that's in the sense of being a man. (I hope you'll pardon me the dreadful pun in the foregoing sentence.) Not just being a man, but having a man's lens on life. I'll stipulate to being a defender of the breed, at least in most settings. American society today is flat-out hostile to men—or at best, passive-aggressive. Hostility toward men (and "manness," if you will) is simply assumed in most public settings, with opposing viewpoints dismissed as Neanderthal and politically incorrect. This is pretty obvious in the sitcoms churned out year after year by Hollywood, and excruciatingly blatant in the currencies that dominate mass-market advertising. As I tweeted (in abbreviated form) the other day, here's the essential action of every TV ad involving a husband and wife:

Husband (utterly befuddled, his voice somewhere between whining and imploring): "Honey, have you seen my ass? I can't seem to find it!"

Wife (sighing): "You're sitting on it, dear."

Husband: "Oh gosh, baby, what a pathetic, mindless doofus I am! Thank you so much! What would I do without you...!"

(And wife just looks on indulgently, half-smiling while rolling her eyes and no doubt thinking, If you didn't bring home a paycheck, fella, I wouldn't even have you here. Not with all the great, incredibly lifelike vibrators they make nowadays...)
It's the same dynamic in ads that revolve around the office: the guy is the schmuck, the gal is the savior. As a comparison, can you imagine an ad campaign that habitually portrayed blacks as buffoonish incompetents who had to be rescued time and again by their white counterparts? You'd have Farrakhan organizing a zillion-man march the first time it aired; Al Sharpton would be on Larry King that very night, telling America that we've made no progress at all since the era of impromptu lynchings and Harper's Ferry. (In truth, it's a moot point because such ads have zero chance of getting on-air.)

I'll admit that I know guys who just laugh this stuff off, or even—I find this astonishing—claim not to notice. (I took a rough poll the other day on the men's baseball team I manage.) Meanwhile, I can only shake my head and wonder: How is this OK?

To be continued...

NOTE: Though I will not be addressing any individual contributions to this theme in the Comments section, I hope to cover all the bases in Part 2.


Athol Kay: Married Man Sex Life said...

Well in part it's just the classic status reversal method of generating humor. Person A is in charge of Person B or has higher social status, but really Person B is a lot smarter and savvy and actually is in charge of everything and runs everything from below. Person A generates the humor by messing up Person B's plans, but somehow everything always manages to turn out right by the closing curtain. The classic example is Jeeves and Wooster.

So some of this is generated by the role reversal of the historically "in charge" male being coupled with a smarter female. Plus for the most part men are just funnier than women, so having the husband as the fulcrum on which the laugh track turns makes good... or at least easy writing sense.

However... every freaking sit-com show is written just the same way and we're just drenched in it all. After a while it wears you down with the imagery.

Anonymous said...

Does the truth hurt, Steve? ;-)

jamesfell said...

You ask the question: "How is this OK?"

Answer: It isn't.

It annoys me too. The thing that bothers me the most is the violence towards men on TV. I have witnessed many times where the husband does something stupid, and his wife slaps him in the back of the head or punches him in the shoulder. Imagine the outcry if the genders were reversed.

Granted, men still do hold most of the power in western society, so perhaps this is some type of revenge tactic: make us look like idiots and push us around on TV to bring us down a notch.

Still, as a guy who has a wife with a black belt in karate the idea that it's socially acceptable for a woman to hit a man bothers me.

Good thing my wife loves me.

James Fell

Yekaterina said...

I guess it's the white mans turn to be portrayed in a light that actually has little to do with most men. At least it isn't coupled with lower pay for the same work or sitting on the back of the bus. When/if it reaches that point I'll march right along with you Steve.

a female with her eyes open said...

You act like women have the upper hand in society. Who are you kidding?? We still make 70cents on the dollar for every dollar a man makes in salary, and there aren't nearly as many women as there should be running major companies. When you see all the fuss over a woman like Carly Fiorino or even Oprah it's because it's that unusual to see a woman in the ultimate position of power in corporate America, which remains a huge men's club. Or take a look at the Senate for that matter. What are there 16 women out of 100? We still have to scratch and claw to be admitted on an equal footing in many areas that were traditional male enclaves. And we still don't get the respect we duly deserve in many of the fields where we've made inroads, like police work or the military. I'm sorry your feelings are hurt by sitcoms, but at least sitcoms are just television. Women get screwed every day in real life, no pun intended.

Seraphim said...

From Marty Nemko:

6. Women earn less for the same work than men.

False: For the same work, women earn, on average, the same. According to the book, Why Men Earn More, based on a decade of analysis of government and other statistics, reasons for the "women earn 80 cents on the dollar" figure include that men more often choose careers that are more dangerous (e.g., police and firefighter), uncomfortable (from sewer repairer to crop duster), isolating and difficult (e.g., engineer and programmer) and work longer hours. The average man who says he works full-time works more than six hours a week longer than the average woman who says she works full-time. In addition, men are more likely to work evenings and weekends. For a promotion, more men are willing to move to places that fewer people desire. An offshore oil rig in Montgomery, Alabama, anyone?

Even comparing salaries in the same career tends to be biased against men. For example the Bureau of Labor Statistics lumps together all medical doctors but men are more likely to pursue higher-stress specializations with unpredictable hours such as surgeon whereas women are more likely to be a lower-stress pediatrician, and thus women physician salaries are lower.

Despite all this, today, unmarried women who have never had a child earn 113% of what men earn. That suggests that for the same nature, quantity, and quality of work, women likely earn more than men, and only when a woman makes the choice to have children and thus, on average, is less focused on her work life, does that woman's overpayment dissipate.

Here is further evidence that when women do earn less, it's not because bosses undervalue them: Working women who have no boss (they own their own business), earn only 49% of what the average male business owner earns. Why? A Rochester Institute of Technology study found that money was the primary motivator for only 29 percent of women versus 76 percent of men. Women put a premium on shorter work weeks, proximity to home, fulfillment, autonomy, and safety.

Too, women are more likely to prioritize work-life balance and to work fewer hours. Many such women claim that's necessary because their husbands are unwilling to do 50 percent of the childcare and housework. But even Arlie Hochschild, the feminist researcher who has studied "the second shift" for decades, found that in families in which the woman earns more than the man, men do more than 50% of the housework.

The good news for women is that when they make the same career choices as men, they can earn at least as much.

Marty Nemko has dozens of articles on similar topics at www.martynemko.com

Anonymous said...

Nothing personal but....

If you were truly interested in what it means to be a man in these confused times you would not be using sit-coms and pop culture marketing scams as the basis of your research. I venture that you would not be seeking answers on a blog.
What it means to be a man or woman is a social construct until you ask the question
"what does it mean to me to be a man/woman"
--then it becomes a deeply personal and emotional rather than intellectual issue.
The only satisfying answers that you will get will be emotionally based, not further intellectual constructs.
If you want a genuinely satisfying result, one that resolves the question permanently the question shouls be
" what does it mean to me to be a person"
answer that one and the 'man' part resolves itself.

I expect you to reject my suggestion out of hand as it does not say what you want to hear. However, the question obviously has significance for you as it is a long-running underlying theme of all your blog posts. The fact that it keeps resurfacing as an issue indicates a deep uncertainty about what it means to you to be a man but intellectual arguments will not help in this.
Ideally you need to rehearse your arguments face to face with another person, one who is secure in their understanding of themselves as a person and who is skilled at recognising and reading the emotional responses of others. The direct tension generated in such a confrontation might produce some progress for you eventually but it is a hard and emotionally painful road that few have the courage to take.
Your wife, who knows you best, would probably be the person to ask initially--but I get the impression that had you been able to open the discussion with her you would not be seeking answers here. This is not a failing on your wife's part as the question is yours alone to resolve.

Steve Salerno said...

I have not addressed any comments specifically to this point--as noted in the post, I am saving those reactions and observations for Part 2, as I expect these contributor comments to serve as a springboard for further inquiry--but I feel that I must say something here because Anon 3:00 has addressed me personally, and I try not to waste readers' time on a lot of personal issues in the posts themselves. Believe it or not, this blog (generally) has very little to do with me personally, and therefore one can infer almost nothing about my personal inclinations from the positions I (appear to) take herein. Especially big-picture, why anyone on earth would assume that this blog represents "Steve Salerno's personal search for identity" is a source of some consternation (but, ultimately, amusement) for me. I can only conclude that such assumptions are an outgrowth of the narcissistic/solipsistic conditioning with which so many people were raised over the past generation or two, such that anything that a person puts down in black and white is taken to be a chapter from that person's roman a clef.

Steve Salerno knows who he is, good and bad. Which is to say, I have a pretty good idea what other people think is good or bad in me. For myself, I don't really care a whole lot what other people think of me, because the question is out of my hands; even who and what I am is out of my hands. (Such attitudes explain why I am such a bad fit with "pragmatic life," you might say.) Moreover, Anon, if you had any idea at all of the dynamic in my house, between my wife and myself, you would realize how absurd it is for you to posit these sorts of insights about me (and even anchor your comment in them, no less!).

If issues keep "resurfacing" on SHAMblog, it's often because I perceive them as major areas of social conflict and inquiry. Ever think of that?

Anonymous said...

Here's a recent 'Atlantic' article titled "The End of Men" which covers some of your same ground but bases its findings on actual research done in real situations.

It goes some way to explaining why marketers (and sit-com writers)are targeting their customers in the way that you find so offensive.

Such marketers and writers are both concerned with resultant sales rather than shaping society to conform to their own personal ideal.


Seraphim said...

Here's a link to Marty Nemko's extensive response to the recent Atlantic cover story, "The End of Men".

ebohlman said...

IMHO, part of the reason that men often get a bad rap in pop media is that it's very rare to see a group of men respond enthusiastically to one of them saying "let's go shopping." We're perceived as a narrow marketing demographic.

The situation is worse for teenage males, or even 20-year-old males, because if you get enough of them in your audience, you can't sell any beer spots. Thus producers really don't want them to be interested in any show that isn't specifically aimed at teenagers.