The Caricature-ization of Function
Note: I use some PG-13 rated language and imagery in this blog as a tool to convey my message. My apologies in advance to anyone it offends, as that’s not the intention. No apologies to those who are generally offended by the message. That IS intended. :) Pick-up trucks and mud tires. It’s a phenomenon not uncommon in the South, but a bit more foreign mobbing through the streets of Los Angeles. I joined this game at an entry level a month ago when I found a deal ($2500!) for a Dodge Ram. About the same year and number of miles but BIGGER than the Dakota I owned at the time. To be fair to myself the top two reasons I had been looking for a bigger truck were functional. I wanted a full size truck bed so I could fit my 6’ frame in it when Cecily and I sleep in the bed (the 5 ½ bed in the old Dakota was frustrating to say the least in this regard) but also because I have a long torso and had gotten tired of slouching in the Dakota to see under the sun visor. But overall, the truck is bigger…and if there’s anything I’ve learned from every action movie I’ve ever seen it’s that bigger is always better.
The first time I saw a Rambo movie I was in awe. Not of Stallone’s acting skills of course, but of the muscles. Somehow, he was even bigger in Rambo two, three, four…etc. Bigger is better.
Or watching Arnold Schwarzenegger’s character, Dutch, slap hands in a faux arm wrestling battle with Dillion (played by Carl Weathers) in the 80s movie Predator. The camera zooms in on their bulging biceps, glistening muscles, and forearms that have veins on top of veins. As they hold their arm lock, the picture is clear: bigger is better.
Remember that moment when Harrison Ford’s character in the movie “Air Force One” pulls the ripcord on the terrorist’s parachute and states the phrase “Get off my plane!”? Just a normal, everyday president who has the courage to be a bad ass when terrorists take over his plane. Even with a character attribute like courage, bigger is better.
Walk through the checkout aisle of any convenience store and the term “bigger is better” takes on a more adult but important-to-this-conversation meaning. Tips and tricks for increasing penis girth, length, and anything else to make you more of a man in the bedroom exist in spades. Remember, bigger is better.
But back to my new pickup truck.
As I’m rolling through the canyon yesterday to install a 2-inch lift kit so my oversized mud tires will fit (bigger is better, remember?) I began to wonder why we do it. Why did I spend $100 extra per tire to get a bigger tire? Why do 77% of NCAA athletes feel pressured to take steroids? Why did I buy my nephew a knife as long as his femur for Christmas? Is there no end to the need for bigger?
Then it hit me: many of the attributes connected to toxic masculinity are rooted in function. Throughout history being strong has been important to accomplish one’s work or conquer an enemy in battle. Courage is an integral element to survival, as since the beginning of recorded history we read about the unexpected challenges humans have needed to brave in order to carry on existing. Long before youth ministers in lululemon drove pick-up trucks, Henry Ford had a vision for a work truck that would enable a blue collar employee to accomplish more tasks in a day. The Model T Runabout, as it was called, hit the production line in 1925.
“Bigger is better” is rooted in the fact that at some point, “average” carried value. Having some level of strength combats a myriad of health issues, especially as we age. Pick-up trucks are incredibly useful for work related tasks. Harvard Business Review tells us acts of everyday courage are important to business success. Putting an edge on a piece of metal has changed the course of history. Genital anatomy may in fact have meaning in the primate world.
But somewhere along the line, the caricature-ization of these things began to outweigh their functional purpose. Value judgements began to be passed on men based on things that no longer actually determine value. A man’s worth began to be determined by his ability to out-earn, out-lift, and out-macho his friend or enemy during a time when none of this really matters anymore. A man’s ability to find a spouse has been limited to a measurement of inches rather than depth of compassion and willingness to create an “us.” We live in the best time in world history yet are still behaving like territorial primates.
Where do we go from here?
If you want my opinion (and to some extent, you do, or you would have stopped reading this long ago): remove the caricature and return to functionalism. Own a big truck? Use it to help people move. Courage for dayzz? Be courageous enough to go to marriage counseling. Love lifting things with your bicep? Lift a spoon to the mouth of an elderly person at a nursing home. If you do it enough, you can even call it cardio! Make tons of money at your high powered job? Give lots of it away.
But I get it. Lots of those things are now ingrained in us. Several years ago when Cecily and I were paying off our debt, I sold my lifted Jeep Wrangler and bought a used, white, old four door Saturn. I literally almost died driving that vehicle. Ok, maybe it was more figurative, but if you’ve ever felt the freedom of your beard blowing in the wind while driving north on Highway 1 as the sun is setting over the Pacific ocean, you’ll know just how close to death I was in that Saturn. We’re all a work in progress. So don’t give up the things you like, but use them to do something really manly: care for those around you. And remember, bigger is better in this regard too.