Gongol.com Archives: September 2021

Brian Gongol

September 16, 2021

News Behind closed doors (but not really)

The strange things people say when they're inside "safe spaces" can reveal a lot about what's inside their heads. That applies even when that supposed "safe space" is one where performance or bravado are expected. In fact, those revelations -- even if they're merely performative -- may uncover more of the truth than if people spoke plainly. ■ It wasn't the strict truth of the "locker-room talk" aboard the "Access Hollywood" bus that got Billy Bush fired, it was that the obnoxious words at which he laughed sounded like what he wanted to hear. Bush, to his credit, now says "I'm afraid that event was important for my development as a broadcaster, as a journalist, as a man, as a person." But people are still saying really stupid things when the cameras are rolling. ■ Take, for instance, the man who says "Barack Obama destroyed rock and roll", because that genre was "about white male teenage angst" and the former President (supposedly) "said young white men aren't allowed to have angst". Surrounded by other men, chuckling, smoking cigars, and drinking brown liquor, he appears to be performing -- and it's unclear whether he's putting on a deadpan schtick or whether it's an earnest belief. (And, to be sure, the ghost of Chuck Berry would like a word.) ■ The exact words, though, aren't the point. It's the performance -- the idea that, somehow, this is how manly men do manly things, decrying the neutered state of rock and roll and the multicultural diminution of their right to be angsty, all proclaimed from comfortable leather chairs inside a dimly-lit man cave. ■ This version of "real manliness" is cartoonish at best, and utterly corrosive at worst. Real men seek to have rich inner lives, defined by a quest to do good in the world and to better themselves -- not to sit around airing contrived grievances. Benjamin Franklin put it succinctly: "Who is strong? He that can conquer his bad habits." Nobody of right mind thinks Franklin was unmanly. Nobody of right mind would think James Mattis unmanly, either, and he put it like this: "[W]e're still building a nation. It's hard work. It's noble work, but I'll say again, it's hard work. So don't ever think we're done. We are not perfect but we are certainly going to always strive to be better." ■ The thoughtful reader will note that there's nothing unwomanly, either, about conquering bad habits or striving to build a nobler, better community. These are just the good things that adults do when they are self-aware and feel compelled to reach for their potential as human beings. There is little to distinguish the sexes in these basic regards. Everyone is better off if these virtues are sought and found in women and men alike. ■ And yet, at least some performers seem to think there's reward in grievance and complaint that "they" won't let "us" have "our" angst, and thus "we" must surround ourselves with ornaments of masculinity and conspire to talk about what "they" are doing to "us". Mostly, it's just sad -- but it gives at least some people the impression that those are the ways of manly men. ■ Maimonides wrote that "The health of the soul consists in its condition and that of its parts being such that it always does good and fine things and performs noble actions." Hiding in a cave ("man-cave" or otherwise) and complaining may be a performance -- but it is hardly "performing noble actions". And the latter is what men and women alike ought to do.