Friday, October 23, 2020

A primitive understanding of manhood

Some men like Trump because they think he’s “manly.” (Click for NYT story about why many Latino men are drawn to Trump’s machismo.) What grotesque understanding of manliness are such men evaluating him with? Can’t they see that Trump — who whines about “unfair” questions, who walks out of a tough interview, who constantly displays toddler-like petulance, who exhibits no impulse control, and who weakly hints at his impending defeat — fails to meet any traditional criterion of admirable masculinity?

One thought that keeps coming to my mind is: Haven’t these admirers ever played sports?

I played hockey and football from my early youth up until college. They were tough, violent sports that presented all sorts of intra- and interpersonal challenges. No matter the challenge, we were taught by our coaches to never whine, to never brag, to take personal responsibility for your mistakes, to support your teammates, to be gracious in victory or defeat, and to play to the last whistle even when the game was lost. We were by no means a brotherhood of principled Spartan soldiers; a lot of my teammates fell short of living up to these virtues, but no one disputed the worthiness of these virtues, and our coaches, to their credit, tirelessly reinforced them from year to year.

All of the above are not necessarily “manly” values because women embrace them just as well. But if we as a society are going to have vaguely tailored values for boys and men (and I don’t see why we shouldn’t), let’s get them right. No vision of ideal manliness should involve the ignoring of rules, the unscrupulous taking of what you want, and the putting on of a “strongman” front. Rather, it would be better to cultivate and practice:

stoic self-control (which doesn’t preclude emotional availability)
protection of those in need
physical courage
moral fortitude
awareness of and determination to manage one’s flaws
and the responsibility to serve our families, communities, and beyond

We should look up to, celebrate, and vote for people who possess these values because these are not only pro-social, but because they take work and discipline to attain. Humiliating your wife via an affair or walking out on an interview are easy because you’re acting on destructive impulse alone. It takes a cultivated and disciplined adult to weather a tough interview or manage unruly instincts.

I wish to put it more coarsely: If you like that whiny man-baby because you think he’s a strong man, you have a primitive understanding of what strength is and what an adult ought to be.

Thursday, October 8, 2020

"The Good Lord Bird" TV Review

I give the first episode of Showtime's The Good Lord Bird a C+.

I've been patiently waiting for fifteen years for a John Brown show/movie, and finally Showtime is featuring the adaptation of a James McBride book.
You can tell Ethan Hawke has fun with the full-throated Jeremiads (and what actor wouldn't?), but they're used too often when they could have been used to greater effect if used sparingly (think Samuel L. Jackson in Pulp Fiction). Hawke is one of my favorite actors, but he's too young to play Brown. Physical comedy is not Hawke's strong suit, and everything about the depiction feels excessive. I would have preferred a younger Robert Duvall.
I can handle a little teasing of John Brown, but he's almost completely depicted as incompetent, foolish, zealous, or insane. For his first depiction on the screen, I would have liked to see a bit of nuanced reverence. The book Cloudsplitter (which I highly recommend) did better to capture Brown's moral ferocity and amusing radicality. Same with Tony Horwitz's Midnight Rising (also excellent).
Overall, the acting is largely poor; the action is choppy, unrealistic, and forgettable; and the script feels oddly rushed, even though they had plenty of space to tell the story. I don't have much hope for the rest of the series. What a waste.