ColdFusion Muse

True Fatherhood Vs. "Man-law"

Mark Kruger June 18, 2006 8:19 PM Humor and Life Comments (12)

Perhaps you've seen the latest commercial from Miller lite. A group of men sit in a glass enclosed room, each of them celebrities with a reputation for iconic masculinity. They sit around a table discussing the things that bother men. They try to come to some resolution and at the end they issue a "man law". Burt Reynolds plays the avuncular de facto leader of the group, but it also includes a pro-wrestler who is apparently transactionally obligated to tear off his shirt at a spot in the script that makes the least sense. I guess "Triple H" stands for 3 doses of "huh?" The spots also feature Jerome "The Bus" Bettis, 2 comedians known to be edgy (what - no Nathan Lane?), a rodeo cowboy, and an ancient, grizzled librarian recording things in a large leather bound book.

One of the men is unlikely to be recognized by most viewers, but you will notice that he is missing an arm. His name is Aaron Ralston. He's the rock climber who's arm was pinned under a boulder. To survive Mr. Ralston Cut off his own arm with a pocket knife in order to escape. If you define "manliness" as the ability to endure your own screams of abject horror then Ralston get's my vote... but I digress. You see, something is bothering me about this campaign. Something bothers me about the way our perceptions of masculinity are being assaulted by crass, buffoonish archetypes' of aggressive, mindless, scared-of-my-own-feelings men.

If you are a man, ask yourself this question. Are men really only about the 3 B's? Beer, Breasts and Brawn? Incidentally, too much beer over a life time will steal your brawn, but eventually give you breasts - so I guess it's an even trade. Anyway, in one of the recent spots the men are gabbing... kvetching...uh... the men are up in each other's face about what to do if a guy sticks his stinky finger in your beer. The solution? A "You poke it you own it" man law. Obviously this is a thinly veiled attempt to be funny using sexual innuendo. Real men, especially ones with daughters and wives that they love and appreciate, should be outraged that this still passes as funny.

All in Good Fun?

Now I know it is meant to be satirical. Like the "Red Green Show", "Blue Collar TV", and NASCAAR, attacking how silly and stupid men are is in vogue. I suppose it's payback for years of Miss America Pageants, sexy music videos and the entire "E!" cable network. In the current climate poking fun at anything "manly" is safe to the point of being passé. Still, at what point does absurdity morph into the new conventional wisdom. These ads are not particularly insidious, but they do illustrate a viewpoint. Most people find a nugget of truth buried in the subtext. That's why they think it's funny to begin with. If you don't believe me, try watching "Larry the Cable Guy" do his stand-up routine on Comedy Central. After every funny line they show crowd shots. Take a close look and you will see husbands and wives and girlfriends and boyfriends nudging each other throughout the show. Larry's act is all about satirizing manhood. It's funny because it is selling on some level.

Cultural icons and media inform our viewpoint of what it means to "be a man". Obviously it does not literally mean having an outrageously oversized body like triple H - which apparently gives you license to be piteously dull about everything else. But maybe it's supposed to mean physical aggression or toughness. It probably does not mean, like most of Burt Reynolds on screen portrayals, substituting a wise cracking superficial view of life and relationships for depth of character. But it may mean putting personality above substance and pleasure above hard work and diligence. It probably does not mean the ability to endure the self-amputation of a limb. But it may mean the willingness to take personal risks without collaboration. Yes, I do believe that culture has an impact on our viewpoint, and as such, on our collective behavior.

Would You Bring Triple H Home to Mamma?

As a parent, I do not want a young man who buys into this view to date my daughter. As a father trying to raise 2 sons I know that I do not want them to subscribe to this view. The prevailing view of manliness masks a great lie - that contentment is possible outside of love and relationship. Fame, money, talent, physical ability, and even accomplishment, do not create adequate conditions for contentment and happiness. Men are admired who are talented or strong or witty or wealthy, but the cost of being king of the hill is often that you have to keep everyone else off. Instead it is through giving and not receiving that true contentment is found.

I'm not saying that I have all the answers. I'm not saying that I know all the things that a man aught to be, and I'm struggling to teach my kids a balanced view. I'm just saying that if the world was full of the emotionally stunted specimens in the "man-law" commercials it would be a sorry place indeed. I want my boys to have the confidence to connect to others and to know themselves. I want them to grow into the kind of men with the courage to love and forgive... men of faith who connect with others and know how to give of themselves and show empathy.

On this father's day, as I contemplate fatherhood, I hope I'm sending that message to my kids.

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  • Alan's Gravatar
    Posted By
    Alan | 6/19/06 7:04 AM
    Well said.
  • Damien McKenna's Gravatar
    Posted By
    Damien McKenna | 6/19/06 8:46 AM
    A very insightful and honest post, Ray. I must say that I personally tired of my inlaws' constant crooning at the Blue Comedy group, it can be a little funny on occasion but eight years (when I first heard of the ilk) of the same jokes is a bit much. Personally it was a bit much 7 1/2 years ago.

    As a foreigner to this culture I've personally grown tired of the constant portrayal that men are supposed to be football/nascar watching, beer guzzling perverts while women are supposed to be supermodel-figured sluts who are happy to let their "boys" waste every single weekend watching stupid crap on TV. Neither one of these is a) healthy on either individual long-term, and b) it has a destructive result in society where all too late people discover that yes, they're 60 years old, wallowing alone in misery at a run-down retirement home and their life was worthless.

    I grew up knowing lots of "hard min" as they were called locally, ignorant ##icks the lot of them. Some of them grew out of it but many stayed right where they were and have since turned into fairly successful alcoholics.

    So on behalf of the other happily married men of the world, I salute you.
  • Damien McKenna's Gravatar
    Posted By
    Damien McKenna | 6/19/06 9:25 AM
    Doh. Sorry Mark, thought I was on Ray Camden's site X-)

    I should also mention that while many of the "hard min" are now ~30, single and still getting drunk every weekend with other "hard min" trying to bring meaning to their lives and superficially laughing off the fact they don't have any (meaning), I'm happy married and have a child, so who's better off? Answers on a postcard.
  • Mike Rankin's Gravatar
    Posted By
    Mike Rankin | 6/19/06 9:30 AM
    Half of you will get divorced.
  • Mkruger's Gravatar
    Posted By
    Mkruger | 6/19/06 9:34 AM
    Mike, yes... the half that still buys into the stereotype :) ... I'm kidding. Marraige and family are hard work and to be successful 2 people must be committed. But the rewards are well worth the effort.
  • Roger Benningfield's Gravatar
    Posted By
    Roger Benningfield | 6/21/06 1:48 AM
    I've gotta tell ya, I really disagree with you on this one.

    (a) The Man-Law bits are quite funny, and I can't imagine why you think any wife or daughter would be offended. My wife likes the ads more than I do, actually. Part of that is the fact that the mockery is affectionate, a nod toward the reality that American men can be noble and incredibly thick at the same time. More importantly, it's the fact that men can take the joke in the first place.

    And of course, on another level, the spots are just *true*. Not the particular matters discussed, but the tone and approach. Most guys have *had* those kinds of goofy, self-important debates over nonsensical trivia. It's fun when you're doing it, and it's fun to watch it satirized.

    (b) re: dating your daughter... buckle up, 'cause That Guy is exactly what she's gonna want. Those Guys don't materialize out of thin air. Their focus, confidence, and determination may not make them wonderful conversationalists or nurturing souls, but it *does* make them enormously attractive.

    Personally, I hated Those Guys for a long time. Their binary thinking, lack of self-awareness, you name it... drove me up a wall. Still does, if I'm being wholly honest. But I've also come to appreciate them for who and what they are. The world needs them... perhaps not as a majority, but they have a unique value. Figuring that out was simply a part of the ongoing "just because I don't like something doesn't make it bad" growth process.

    (c) "The prevailing view of manliness masks a great lie - that contentment is possible outside of love and relationship."

    That's not a lie. It is a profound truth, IMO. An inability to achieve contentment outside of love and a relationship is a neurosis, not a goal... the kinda thing that plumps up the coffers of therapists and churches and divorce lawyers around the country. Contentment (as with most things) is found within one's gut, not in the company one keeps, the things one owns, or one's job description.

    More to the point, though... I find it curious that you perceive that to be the underlying theme of conventional manhood. In my experience, it's quite the opposite.

    For example, both my wife and I are painfully familiar with the question, "When will you have kids?" We'll never have kids. Don't want 'em. Childless by choice, thanks very much. From our perspective, the prevailing view of man- and woman-hood is one of requisite mating and procreating, that contentment cannot be achieved without a broad, a brood, and a BMW.

    (d) Our putting all of the above another way... it takes all kinds.
  • Roger Benningfield's Gravatar
    Posted By
    Roger Benningfield | 6/21/06 1:51 AM
    Er, "our" == "or" in that last sentence.
  • Lee's Gravatar
    Posted By
    Lee | 7/2/06 5:31 PM
    Could "man-law" be a tongue-in-cheek take on "NAMBLA"?
  • Lee's Gravatar
    Posted By
    Lee | 7/2/06 5:34 PM
    Could "man-law" be a tongue-in-cheek take on "NAMBLA"?
  • mkruger's Gravatar
    Posted By
    mkruger | 7/2/06 5:34 PM

    I'm not familiar with NAMBLA - do tell!
  • Lee's Gravatar
    Posted By
    Lee | 7/2/06 5:52 PM
    North American Man/Boy Love Association is a group that thinks it has certain rights of an obnoxious and illegal nature. I just read on Wikipedia that the group is not as "out there" as they were in the early '80s. But I remember seeing parodies on their conference meetings espousing their rights. When I heard the Miller beer ad and the mumbling of man-law it sounded similar to NAMBLA. That is what made me think it was a spoof on NAMBLA.
  • KG's Gravatar
    Posted By
    KG | 12/9/07 1:14 PM
    OK guys....get a grip. From a woman -41 years old - happily married - and a founder of the local "Fatherhood Coalition" - I must say that the majority of you need to grow a sense of humor. I love those commercials and don't think they degrade men or fatherhood at all. It simply pokes fun at the differences between men and women - and YES there are differences (thank God).