Comments on a cultural reality between past and future.

This blog describes Metatime in the Posthuman experience, drawn from Sir Isaac Newton's secret work on the future end of times, a tract in which he described Histories of Things to Come. His hidden papers on the occult were auctioned to two private buyers in 1936 at Sotheby's, but were not available for public research until the 1990s.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Retro-Futurism 16: The Retro Charm of the Millennial Man

"Becoming Superhuman in 2011." From: The Art of Manliness. Batman © DC Comics. Batman is one of the most enduring surviving masculine cultural icons from the 1930s, a man who has taken matters into his own hands. 

Today, the blog pays tribute to a growing movement among men who are looking to the past to find themselves, their role models, their direction, but recasting it in a Millennial style.  One of the most useful, funny and poignant blogs in that regard is The Art of Manliness, which states as its goal "reviving the lost art of manliness"; it's something I know a few Millennial women would appreciate (Hat tip: Kate Sherrod).

There's been a lot of commentary about feminism using reverse-sexism to weaken Millennial males.  One sign of the aftermath is advertising campaigns that always make men look like bumbling idiots, perpetual teenagers or comical liars. Fight Club, a critical novel (1996) and film (1999) that struck a chord with Generation Jones and Gen X men, probably expressed the backlash best: "We're a generation of men raised by women. I'm wondering if another woman is really the answer we need."  A simmering misogyny, weirdly combined with apathy, arose from the mid-1990s to mid-2000s, perhaps most evident in the appearance of players who joined movements like the Pickup Artists (profiled in 2005 by Neil Strauss) and their Seduction Communities; this is a group that promises the self-appointed alpha male a chance to find his true mate, a real alpha female.  There was also a backlash against the feminist-approved male, the Millennial Metrosexual.  This argument has been strangely subjected to the seeming rigours of scientific authority, whether through studies that say the sexes are alike - or through the 2005 firing of Harvard's president, Larry Summers, for suggesting that men are better at high-level scientific research than women.

Slowly, the masculine rights movement has moved away from anti-feminism and misogyny and concentrated on self-improvement.  Meanwhile, third-wave feminism has stepped back from full-blown man-hating, and focussed on practical issues.  This debate famously caused a rift between Boomer feminist Alice Walker and her Gen X third-wave feminist daughter, Rebecca Walker (who is also the goddaughter of Gloria Steinem).  In 2008, Rebecca Walker wrote some pretty jaw-dropping stuff about her mother's negative responses to her decisions to have a baby and not reject men as fellow contributors to society (here, here and here).  When you see what Rebecca Walker has gone through (see: "The day feminist icon Alice Walker resigned as my mother"), you get a glimpse of how Boomers have sometimes confused their generational narcissisms with their ideologies, idealism and goals.  Rebecca Walker seeks to discuss the place of emancipated women in a Millennial society that does not blankly accept that gender wars must be the norm.  As a result, she has to fend off Boomer feminist attacks without pulling punches. When you see stories like this, you realize that the first and second waves of feminism had important, needed struggles - as well as terrible blind spots that ravaged not just Generation X men, but also their female contemporaries.

This malaise is not just about ideology, politics, feminism, and generation and gender wars.  Fight Club also talked about the impact of tech on the workforce, our daily lives, our slipping grip on the self and the erosion of time: "You wake up at Seatac, SFO, LAX. You wake up at O'Hare, Dallas-Fort Worth, BWI. Pacific, mountain, central. Lose an hour, gain an hour. This is your life, and it's ending one minute at a time. You wake up at Air Harbor International. If you wake up at a different time, in a different place, could you wake up as a different person?"

The Art of Manliness comments on the modern male malaise, and pegs it on a combination of modern life conditions:
What’s Plaguing Modern Men?
There has been a copious amounts of hand wringing lately about the state of modern men, about the fact that men appear to be falling behind in life and seem unmotivated and listless.

Why all this concern? The statistics are familiar to anyone who has read this genre of articles:
  • Women are more likely than men to graduate from high school.
  • Only 44% of undergraduates at community and four year colleges are men.
  • Female college students have higher grade point averages than men and are more likely to graduate within four years.
  • According to the US Census, “Among young adults 25 to 29, 35 percent of women and 27 percent of men possessed a bachelor’s degree or more in 2009. This gap has grown considerably in the last decade: it was only 3 percentage points in 1999 (30 percent for women, 27 percent for men).”
  • Women are 60% more likely than men to earn a bachelor’s degree by the time they are 23.
  • According to the US Census, for the first time in history, more women than men are earning advanced degrees. “In the 25-29 age group, 9 percent of women and 6 percent of men held either a master’s, professional (such as law or medical) or doctoral degree.” Nearly six out of ten adults holding advanced degrees between the ages of 25 and 29 are women.
  • Men lost 3/4 of the 8 million jobs that disappeared during the recession.
  • For the first time in history, there are now more women in the workforce than men.
  • 1/3 of men ages 22-34 still live at home with their parents. An increase of 100% in the last 20 years. According to the census, among young adults ages 18-24, 56 percent of men and 48 percent of women still live at home with their parents.
Plenty of theories have been offered as to what is behind these statistics. Some say the economy is to blame, as traditionally male industries have been moved off shore or gone extinct. Another reason given is that corporate culture and bureaucracy have sucked the soul out of men and taken away their manly autonomy. Others say it’s our consumer culture and the rise of particularly time-sucking hobbies like video games. And some say the root of the problem is feminism, the changing dynamic of male/female relationships, and the “cheapness of sex.”

But I would argue that there isn’t just one thing that you can point at and decisively say, “That one. That one was the man killer.” Instead, the source of the modern male’s lack of motivation is a conglomeration of all these factors. In short, the “problem” is modern life in general.

To me the modern world is the best possible world to live in, without a doubt. The advancements we’ve made in technology and culture have made life safer, freer, and longer than ever before.
At the same time, no matter how unmitigated a good is, there are always unintended consequences that we have to grapple with. And the unintended consequence of modern life is that men feel lost and adrift.
In a way, the Tech Revolution was the cold bath we needed; it reinforced the fact that we're all in this together.  One post comments that the reason men feel aimless is because we are all moving through a period when we have lost old values and new ones have not yet replaced them.  This is a state of anomie, or normlessness, caused by radical changes in society and technology:
Anomie, which literally means “without law” in German and French, was defined by Durkheim to be a state of “normlessness.” Durkheim posited that in times of social change and upheaval, clear societal standards and expectations for individuals vanish. Without “clear rules, norms, or standards of value” people feel anxious, rootless, confused, and even suicidal. Life in an age of anomie can often feel empty and meaningless. 
Thus, The Art of Manliness steps back from the gender wars and makes a retro move that focusses on reexamining and revamping old standards which used to constitute what it took to be a man.  These values are not (or are no longer), as feminists would contend, about forcing women to submit or obliterating the feminine contribution to society.  Rather, they concentrate on the male condition, a suprisingly nebulous concept that nonetheless indicates that men have to drag themselves out of their existential funk by finding a balance between the past, present and future:
The solution means moving beyond the all-or-nothing proposition we sometimes feel we are stuck with. Men feel like they cannot fully embrace the old ways nor move into the new ways, and so they decide to do nothing at all. But it doesn’t have to be an all or nothing proposition. You don’t have to become a sensitive ponytail guy OR a Neanderthal.
Here are some of many retro-futuristic articles, which recall manuals, books and culture from the 19th and 20th centuries, but speak to current and future masculine concerns and problems:

See all my posts on Retro-Futurism.

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