(Cos)Play the Man
I had a conversation recently with Rob, a friend, colleague, and man who’s been with me on the IAM journey since the very beginning.
We were sharing what we’d seen and experienced doing this and other men’s work over our many years. Because our work always happens in the broader context of what’s going on in the world, we had plenty of room to bring current events into the conversation.
We touched on our shared disappointment with the US Supreme Court, now stuffed to the gills with justices with heavily conservative, dogmatic constitutional originalist leanings. Our individual misery found some very good company…
After hanging with recent decisions from the Court for a few dour minutes, we pivoted toward what we’re seeing in the general state of the Western (particularly American) Man-o-sphere right now.
And it ain’t exactly pretty.
Without the weapons, paramilitary outfits, and body armor, what’s left?
Remove access to media echo-chambers, microphones, cameras, and easy, instant distribution via technology, what remains?
I have a hard time seeing much beyond scared little boys and hurt, angry adolescents, terrified that the world they believe they are entitled to is being taken away.
While right-wing white nationalist groups might be extreme examples, there sure seem to be a lot of them coming out of the woodwork.
Meanwhile – and probably not that much of a sidebar – there is the ongoing weirdness of Fox’s Tucker Carlson earnestly decrying the “end” of American manhood. At least his version of American manhood, which seems loosely modeled on a cross between John Wayne and, well, another John Wayne.
Tucker recently recommended that those of us who have them be “open-minded” and (seriously) consider exposing our balls to red light therapies to boost testosterone levels.
For one thing, there’s the small detail of a big lack of science behind this brand of nut-roasting, to say nothing of the fact that – if male fertility is of any concern – heat adversely impacts sperm production.
It’s worth noting that the drop in testosterone levels is, in fact, a real thing. It’s also important to know that the actual causes of that steady drop, seen over decades, are many, complex, and not entirely clear. Researchers suggest a combination of factors, including an aging population, environmental chemicals, increases in obesity, a drop in fitness levels, etc.
That it exists was enough to allow Carlson the opportunity to cosplay a deeply concerned savior of manhood, well-tanned package and all…
But let’s get back to the broader topic of cosplay and men who, methinks, should know better.
For the uninitiated, here’s a definition of cosplay, according to the Oxford Dictionary folks:
The practice of dressing up as a character from a movie, book, or video game.
Engage in cosplay.
When I look at the most persistent images of what a “real man” is, he’s typically decked out in a suit and tie, or dressed in military garb, firearm in hand or slung across his back.
Occasionally he also shows up as a rugged cowboy or muscular mountain-man type.
Looking through the lens of Jungian masculine archetypes, those traditional images lean more toward the King and Warrior than the Magician and Lover.
Jung, of course, argued that a whole man possesses all four. Consciously.
It’s easy to see old distortions of masculinity on parade when right-wing gatherings happen and when conservative pundits bemoan the loss of traditional masculinity.
January 6, 2021, offered plenty of images of twisted masculine cosplay in action – weapons, uniforms and all. There was even a vivid example of the shadow magician, portrayed by the horn-hatted, face-painted, self-proclaimed “Q-Anon Shaman.” (Currently serving a 41-month sentence for his role in walking his cosplaying self into the Capitol.)
As mentioned earlier, I still have a hard time seeing these mobs as anything other than spoiled, entitled man-children playing dress-up and going on angry, destructive, acting-out benders. While the violence and damage to property and democracy was (and continues to be) all too real, I don’t see a true, conscious adult anywhere in the crowd.
Am I being judgmental?
Probably, though I’d like to think I’m making honest, discerning observations, naming what I’m seeing.
Why does this even matter?
Because as grown-up human beings caught in endless feedback loops of adolescent identities and behaviors whilst clinging to impossible, limiting, restrictive models of manhood, men are hurting.
In no way does that excuse bad behavior – and “hurt people… hurt people.” They injure societies, communities, and yes, democratic institutions and entire nations, to say nothing of even larger ecosystems.
And while there’s absolutely nothing wrong with cosplay at comic book and sci-fi conventions, parties, and even political events, it’s important to be conscious of the implications of the costume one wears, and the message it broadcasts. And, of course, to be mindful of how one behaves while in costume.
Cosplaying the man does not make the adolescent and/or childish motivations disappear.
On the other hand, laying down the outfit and armament and examining those motivations might just move someone a step closer to conscious adulthood, individual, and collective responsibility. It might be helpful in learning to handle the inevitabilities of loss and disappointment…
And those are just a couple of things adult men understand and get to face, undefended and without the illusion that fleeting control is worthy of violence of any kind.
Life is far too short to squander precious moments imagining that playing dress-up makes it real.