Tuesday, 23 September 2008

A very modern despair?

I'm off on holiday for a couple of days to relax and to celebrate the wife's birthday.  Before going, however, I wanted to draw attention to an odd article in yesterday's Independent, exerpted below. The writer, on Michael Bywater, expresses and attitude which, via its disjunctions, comes as close to despair as I have ever read in anyone.

His theme is the desparate nature of modern masculinity, and I wonder if it is widespread. The comments suggest there may be (though they also reinforce the point that if you give an infinite number of monkeys an infinite number of typewriters, you'll get the internet).

I wonder if, as a Christian, I (along with others in the same boat) am leading a very sheltered life, where the old patterns of male and female relationships still hold true and where, therefore, my masculinity doesn't feel terribly threatened, and where many women feel entirely comfortable. Certainly I've looked at the TV adverts and noted grimly the predominance of the 'buffoon male', but in the churches men are not buffoons (though many of them need to get off their spiritual backsides and take some responsibility). Is there, however, something else going on 'out there'? I leave others to comment.

Here's a taster of Bywater's article:
Young men now seem to have reached a sort of affable affectionate ease with women that escaped earlier generations. They share beds happily and chastely. They are best friends. They talk about their feelings. But lust and libido and passion seem strangely absent. They're dreadfully held-in-check, and prey to the body dysmorphias that for so long in the Age of the Image have victimised women. They go to the gym endlessly; they buy magazines devoted to the abdominal muscles; they gel and tan and sack-back-and-crack, vogue and pose, fret and pump iron, eat cabbage leaves and nibble on dry biscuits... but unlike women, who hope that this horror will end with them being desired, the young men just hope, I suspect, to be forgiven. If they can make themselves nice enough, in a parody of manual-labour masculinity plus beauty-salon pubescence (body hair a no-no), it might not be so terrible that, at the end of it all, they are still men.

But how do you get to be a man now? Not by submitting to the embraces of an old dude round the back of the Temple of Hephaistos, for sure, nor by going off and tupping the nubile ancilla. You get to be a man (if you get to be one at all) by acquiring the "virtues" of fidelity, emotional articulacy, sexual discrimination and social co-operating. In other words, you get to be a man by imitating a woman, except with a six-pack. But no body hair.

You do this because, first, the social roles for the "manly" man have faded with our manufacturing economy. It doesn't require courage or physical strength to poke at a computer screen, which is what most work (and much flirtation) now consists of. Aggression and decisiveness count for nothing in a call centre (or at least, not decisiveness).

And you do this, secondly, because masculinity is evil and the phallus – once a symbol of fertility, fun and good fortune – has become a lethal, corrupt and infecting agent of violence. The phallus ravages children. The phallus injects HIV. The phallus, if uncalled for, destroys lives, and never mind how. It injects children who must be borne and nurtured by lone, unsupported women. And – Sophocles's vicious tyrant – it drags its possessors (or its slaves) about the place, heartlessly. Gray Joliffe's Wicked Willy cartoons about sum it up; except, unlike Joliffe's affable, happy little chap, the real thing is vicious and unheeding. A madman.

Any man, then, is a sort of zombie with a loaded revolver. Lock up your wives, your daughters, your sons. Lock up the dog. There may be a man about.

Read the rest of the article here.

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  1. Funny how I saw your post at almost exactly the same time someone emailed me a Youtube video of Harry Enfield. It's one with him playing his 'Loadamoney' character. How convenient (and congruent)? An onstage caricature of British laddishness is worth a million digital photos - taken perhaps by Street Pastors?

    By the way we're almost neighbours, and certainly kindred spirits in some ways, Father.

    I'm an American training curate who's come over to England to escape the evil empress of ECUSA, who is even now doing what has until now proven impossible: deposing bishops.

    After all, it failed to work in ages past against heretical bishops, e.g., James Pike and Walter Righter. The justification was that there was no violation of core doctrine. The Trinity and Family are not core Anglican doctrines, apparently.

    But now it's full steam ahead against Bishops who are defending the Depositum Fidei in toto.

    Though I respect REFORM as a faithful witness to the venerable Anglican Reformed tradition, I consider myself - a refugee from American Free Church Calvinism - a 'conservative Catholic' (an anachronism for Anglicanism, if ever there were one, I'll freely admit...)

    Blessing to you as I remain in faithful online company,

    A Faithful Reader.

  2. hmm, Bywater ought to try spending Friday or Saturday night in central Braintree or Colchester, or spend a day in any army barracks or on board any ship of her Majesty's navy, latr alone a Saturday afternoon in any of our nations football stadiums.
    There he will see today's masculinity in action, and some of it won't be too pretty.

    The challenge we face as Christians is to meet this wave of testosterone with the masculinity of Christ, not the gentle Jesus meek and mild.

  3. Tim,

    Ironically I think you are proving his point.

    Wider society, including men generally view male traits as all bad and feminine traits as mostly good. Testoserone is not bad. Aggression is not essentially bad either.

    I live by a football ground, we're virtually trouble free, there again 1/3 - 1/2 of the crowd are women and there is a good number of kids too. I've met some of the players, nice guys off the field - agressive on, with a purpose. That's OK I think.

    Of course punch ups are wrong, but don't acually show masculinity, just sin. Just as much as gossip does.

    Would you want soldiers with low testosterone counts?

    Darren Moore

  4. Have to agree with darren here. But also feel that the underlying concern in Bywayters article is the despair in finding a "role" to play in life.Seems these days if we are not defined by what we do or how we feel then we are nothing, not worthy of classing ourselves as society members. So we have to be male, female, transgender, a mother, a husband a whatever. Concentrating on just being a person to the best of our ability and belief of what that entails, might somehow rid us (whatever gender we are) of the angst that todays "man" contends with.