Saturday, June 25, 2011

Master of the Manly Arts

[Cross posted at Cranial Gunk.]

Sometimes when I hear talk of “manliness,”  Damon Wayans appears in my head wearing a ridiculously tiny bowler with David Alan Grier alongside him sporting the shiniest lip gloss. They’re the hosts of Men On Film, a “show that looks at movies from a male point of view.”

According to Wikipedia the Men On Film sketches on In Living Color split the gay community.  Some found them funny,  others believe they reinforced the “notion that black gay men are sissies, ineffectual, ineffective, womanish in a way that signifies inferiority."

Sometimes the mention of “manliness”brings forth visions of Tom Jones

He is credited with inspiring the trend at some live shows where women toss their underwear at the lead singer. Is there a greater demonstration of manliness than having women throw their panties at you?

I mean aside from being Bruce

His Way of the Dragon fight with Chuck Norris (another model of manliness) demonstrates the “art of manliness” on so many levels. I heard Chuck Norris in a Bruce Lee documentary praising Bruce’s set up of the fight scene. It’s set in the ruins of a Roman coliseum with him and Bruce as gladiators, fighting to the death.

The fact that it is an Asian man engaged in a gladiatorial battle with a hairy-chested Caucasian man among the ruins of a Roman coliseum (the seat of Western manliness) makes it an excellent PSA for the cause of Asian manliness in the Western world.

On a side note: It’s not winning the fight that makes him manly. It is the respect he shows his opponent. He gets ready to leave but turns back and gets emotional over his fellow warrior – Now, that’s manly! Not like the kill’em by the faceless numbers violence that dominates movies today.

I must admit I cringed when I first saw the title of Big WOWO’s Rice Daddy post on masculinity and manliness. There are two pervasive reasons I hesitate to join organizations and groups that identify themselves as Asian American: (1) I don’t want to sit around drinking beer with a bunch of Asian men whining about how American media has emasculated them and (2) I don’t want to site around drinking beer with a bunch of Asian guys whining about how Asian women won’t date them.

I don’t begrudge them their feelings. When I was young and single, I’d also been told by Asian women more often than not: “Sorry, I don’t date Chinese guys.” The rejection stung but I can’t say that it phased me. Maybe I was just too ignorant to understand that I should have been insulted by it. Or maybe it was because I grew up in culturally diverse New York City. For every Asian woman who didn’t “do Chinese” there was one who would. Better yet, the Chinese girl who didn’t date Chinese had a Puerto Rican friend and an African American friend and an Italian friend and so on who would. I love (and I learned to love in) New York.

I’m glad I didn’t let the title deter me. I went back as the opening lines of his post suggested and read his previous posts on masculinity and manliness and the some of comments readers left on each. On masculinity, I agree that emasculation is more often than not self inflicted. And on manliness, I agree it is a cultural construct. And I would add that neither definitions are fixed. 

For example, earrings in the 80s. Someone somewhere made up a rule that if the male of the species wore earrings, he was a sissy. And the rule caught on, until someone else somewhere else made up a rule that if the male of the species wore a single earring in his right ear, he could avoid being identified as a sissy, but if he wore it in his left…

Then still someone else in yet still another place decided that sissyness was avoided as long as the male of the species wore one earring (regardless of the side it was on) but if he had two earrings…

Do you see what I mean?

The Wall Street Journal  recently published an article about the popularity of the “wussified” man on network TV. The article was linked from an Ed Week blog called Why Boys Fail (which I thought was interesting).

When I think of the sissified man or the wussified man, I think of lessons to be learnt from The Magnificent Seven. In particular, the scene after the first fight between the Seven and the bandits. Charles Bronson’s character, Bernardo, is talking casually with a group of the village boys. A few begin chiming up about how they want to be brave gunfighters like Bernardo and not weak like their fathers who are just farmers. Bernardo throws the leader of the boys over his knee and spanks him. He scolds the boys saying he wished he had their fathers’ courage to work the land and take on the responsibility of providing for a family --

Don't you ever say that again about your fathers, because they are not cowards. You think I am brave because I carry a gun; well, your fathers are much braver because they carry responsibility, for you, your brothers, your sisters, and your mothers. And this responsibility is like a big rock that weighs a ton. It bends and it twists them until finally it buries them under the ground. And there's nobody says they have to do this. They do it because they love you, and because they want to. I have never had this kind of courage. Running a farm, working like a mule every day with no guarantee anything will ever come of it. This is bravery. That's why I never even started anything like that... that's why I never will.

So when I think of manliness, I turn off my cell phone and take a sick day to watch my kids in a school play. Or I stay in with them to watch cartoons on Netflix instead of going for drinks with friends. I think of all the things my dad was too busy or too tired to do with me and I ‘m grateful he forged the opportunities that give me time he didn’t have with me.


sohnsaengnim said...

Great response to the other posts about manliness. I love that movie, and the original "Seven Samurai." There's something about responsibility that people lose in context to being manly.

Laura said...

Very interesting(!) take on "manlinees." I guess anything could be self-defined.

ambex said...

All i want is Bruce lee. Im crazy on his movies.

arginine said...

He is number one to me, next is chuck!

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