What are we doing here, people?
Seriously. Put your coffee or Jameson or whatever it is “men” drink down for a second and let’s have an honest talk. Why do we pour so much time into our looks? Why do I drag out my laptop every week/month/quarter to write a post for all my dozens of readers? Why do we attach so much worry while attaching our mewelry? Why are all such huge assholes over what is ostensibly garments meant to keep us from freezing to death and keeping our genitals from flopping around?
What are we doing here, talking about clothes?
Unless, of course, we aren’t talking about clothes at all. Unless all of this showboating, snobbery, and infectious need for approval disguised as blase detachment is really a deeper drive for something else. Something grander. Something decidedly more ephemeral.
I’m talking about manhood.
We peck at each other about our sleeve length, or our choice of neckwear, or how this guy or that guy is on trend, or is a “try hard.” We try our darnedest to define terms like “swagger” and “sprezzatura.” We seek to emulate the cool of our heroes – the form of Newman, the bravado of McQueen, the class of Peck.
But you see, we have all this talk about menswear, and yet — I don’t really see any men. I’ve been to plenty of fashion parties and I wouldn’t call any of these alcohol-guzzling, Instagram-addicted, street swagger-fronting lads to be men. Dudes? Yes. Stylish? Sure. Men I’d want my son to grow up to be? Hell, no.
It’s no secret that no one has a clue how to be a man anymore. We’re really at a loss, aren’t we? Time was we could be men by making money, or by providing for a family. But the economy and derivatives markets has made that idea laughable. How can you be a man when a 22-year-old at a bank can make five times your annual income in signing bonuses alone? And let’s face it: women don’t need us around the house like they used to (like they ever did, anyways).
Time was, a man could be a man by being a swashbuckling adventurer, out to conquer wide oceans and tall mountains. Those mountains and oceans are still there, but now they’ve been neatly packaged with a massage, glass of small batch whiskey, and stay at a comfortable but authentic inn not far from base camp. The base properties of manhood have been eroded, but the symbols of manhood still exist, albiet neutered. Even war, that age-old crucible of manliness, that was our unending partner on those early savannahs and in those nascent city-states, is no longer as it was. War was a deeply manly activity — violent, homoerotic, social, cathartic. In a world where war, too, can be prepackaged and rationed and alienating, where does our inner savage turn?
So in an attempt to claw back some of our old masculine pride, we’ve turned to old rituals. Fishing. Clothing. Sharpening things. Shooting things. Vast web enterprises teach us ways of living that have been lost only moments ago. Even those who did grow up on these past times, be they blue-blooded seafarers or curiously hip backwoods hipsters, fetishize these skills, commodify them, brand them. We no longer go fishing. We go on tasteful expeditions with carefully curated, artisanal equipment, a discriminating experience with equally discriminating companions. All the while incessantly capturing, editing, and broadcasting our lives for maximum social media buzz. It’s not the doing that does it. It’s the letting everyone know you’re doing that does it.
But adherence to the old makes us a cargo cult. We think that by putting on the trappings of civility, gifts will fall out of the sky and we can scramble down from our thatch hut control towers in our double monk straps and everything will be fine again. But in reality, things are still the same, and we’re still the same boys. Or rather, perhaps, things will never be the same again.
The scariest thing, however, is not really our faux machismo. It’s not the endless spinning cycle of commerce, or the abject gentrification of our past or the cultures of others. It’s that, without these empty pursuits, we have nothing. Our culture IS vanity, it IS commodity. Without our flimsy values on the value of objects, we have not values.
But realizing this is incredibly freeing. Imagine, forging a new way out. It’s a scary prospect: creating something out of nothing. Creating a new manhood, or at least trying to best approximate it. This blog is not the bed for that. This post is not the seed for that. Rather, I leave you with a question and a proposition. If the clothes, or the contents of his closet, garage, tumbler, or tumblr, don’t make the man, what does? Let’s find out.