Sunday, August 5, 2012

The lesson of Aurora is that 'masculinity has become so intertwined with violence that it becomes invisible'? Seriously?

The victims of the Aurora, Colorado movie theater rampage hadn't even been buried before H.L. Menken-wannabes started churning out the de rigueur pieces tying the senseless atrocity to maleness. "Masculinity," Linda Ann Scacco and Molly Turro harrumphed, "has become so intertwined with violence that it becomes invisible."  See here.

Some of these writers made important points about the dangers of ignoring men's health issues. But others were smugly intent on doing to young men the same thing they vehemently object to when a conservative pundit tries to tie a terrorist act committed by a Muslim to Muslims in general. A blogger who contributes to  the Daily Kos and Salon named Chauncey DeVega wrote: "In the aftermath of the Colorado Movie Massacre, Columbine, and many other incidents, we need to ask, 'what the hell is wrong with young white men?'" Take DeVega's quote and change the crimes to terrorist acts committed by Muslims and substitute "Muslims" for "young white men," then ask yourself if Daily Kos or Salon runs that piece.

Young males -- white and black and everything else -- are the favorite piñatas of many enlightened pundits. How many more books, newspaper and magazine features pieces will assault us with the epiphany that we now live in a woman's world, that men are "the second sex," and that underachieving, rudderless young men, who are being swept aside as women find them increasingly unnecessary, need to find their way to a "new" kind of manhood in the coming matriarchy where they will be the first generation of men to not enjoy the undeserved entitlements of male privilege?  An endless cavalcade of Chicken Little pieces tout and ultimately celebrate the purported oncoming death of traditional masculinity. To read their pieces, you'd have to assume that when young men aren't inflicting senseless violence on innocent people, they are living in their mothers' basements and spending their days masturbating to nasty Internet porn and playing misogynistic video games. Foolish boys in men's bodies, worthless because they are not sufficiently responsible to support a family.

The problem with these hand-wringing screeds, of course, is that they reduce young men to caricature. Without any pretense of balance or nuance, they focus on outlier attributes and pass them off as "cultural norms" that define masculinity, and it's all a steaming pile of bullshit.

All due apologies to you, Ms. Scacco and Ms. Turro, but when I think of young men, I don't think of the James Holmeses of the world, although too many of them exist. I think of guys like Alexander Teves, 24; U.S. Navy Petty Officer 3rd Class John Larimer, 26; Matthew McQuinn, 27; Air Force Staff Sergeant Jesse Childress; and Jon Blunk, 26.  They were almost half of the fatalities of the Aurora shooting rampage, and each one of them gave their lives so that someone else could live. The tales of their heroism are heart wrenching. "He was my angel that night," said one of the young women who is alive because her boyfriend is not, "but he was my angel every day I knew him." See here and here.

I've seen a bunch of articles touting the heroics of the young men in that Colorado theater, but I haven't seen one -- not one -- that tied their actions to their "maleness" or said anything close to "masculinity has become so intertwined with heroism that it becomes invisible."

We don't know the names of the SWAT team that responded to the shooting, but would it surprise anyone if its members were all male?

The fact is, for every James Holmes, there are countless -- countless -- young men ready and waiting to do selfless things, kind things, noble things, and sometimes incredibly heroic things.  The good things are "cultural norms" that define masculinity, too, and they far outweigh the bad things, but I fear that to even make that point will strike some people as wrong-headed or sexist, even though it is neither.

Do not misunderstand or misconstrue -- this isn't to suggest in any way that men are in any sense "better" than women, or that young men don't suffer from significant social pathologies that need to be addressed a lot more seriously. But if all we hear about are the social pathologies, that's dishonest in the extreme, and I am a little bit tired of it.

The heroics go way beyond Aurora. Remember Jasper Schuringa, 32? He leapt over rows of other passengers on Flight 253 to nab the infamous underwear bomber. The first newspaper reports were quick to label the terrorist a "man" but noted that a "passenger" jumped over four rows to subdue him. Remember Todd Beamer? Todd was an account manager and a Sunday school teacher whose battle cry of "let's roll" on Flight 93 signaled the start of the War on Terror on that terrible September 11th.  The plane landed in a sickening explosion in a field in the state where I live instead of inside the Capitol building or the White House where it was headed. Todd was also 32, and he did not live to see his daughter born four months later. Lots of others helped Todd, mostly young men. Do you know the name Jason Dunham? Jason was a corporal in the Marine Corps who, in 2004, threw himself on a live grenade in Iraq to save the men in his patrol. Jason was also 32 when he died. But don't even get me started about the Marine Corps or the other service branches. You talk about heroics? We could literally be here for the rest of our lives recounting the stories, but you get the point. 

Heroes aren't just the guys you read about in the newspaper.  They're all around us and we don't even know their names. They are at my local convenience store at six o'clock every morning getting coffee and other stuff not especially healthy for them as they head off to earn a living doing some physically demanding job we all need done but that a lot of us don't want to do. Be honest, when your car breaks down on the Pennsylvania Turnpike on a freezing December night and a young guy appears to fix it or to tow it so some other young guy can fix it, are you thinking, "What a rudderless young man!"? 

And there are other kinds of heroes, too. The clever, ambitious young people taking a chance on a new idea or a fledgling business venture even though there is precisely zero guarantee it will work -- the dreamers, the big thinkers, the risk takers who usually fail, but once in a while they hit it big, and when they do they can change the world. They are usually male.

And mostly, heroes are guys who go about their heroics in ways nobody notices: dads jumping through hoop after hoop after hoop to be allowed to spend time with their kids, and the kids couldn't possibly appreciate all that's entailed; the young guy down the street fixing his mother's roof to save her money -- he didn't tell her he's afraid of heights and had never before fixed a roof (true story); the college guy on Christmas vacation who drove all night to visit a dying grandparent; the high school senior skipping time with his buddies to teach his mentally challenged sister how to ride a bike; the lifeguard who saved a kid's life but got fired because he ventured away from his designated area to do it; the students doing heavy labor in a hot third world country over summer vacation; teenage boys pretending to be a lot braver than they could possibly be to comfort and protect their younger siblings from an abusive parent.

Rudderless young men? Their masculinity is intertwined with violence?  Really?

Yes, yes, too many young men are rudderless, and too many young men are violent. But that's only a small part of a much bigger story -- so small, in fact, that it's both dishonest and flat-out wrong to tell only that part of it.

Overall?  The boys are alright, Ms. Scacco and Ms. Turro. Pretty damn good in fact.  Pretty damn good.