The image of men in our culture

On the Technology page of the left-liberal New York Times, this captionless photo:


The man—immature, puppy-like, disheveled—looks up to the woman for approval. The woman—cool, sublimely together, overfull of self-esteem—looks down at the man with tolerant affection and more than a touch of disdain. She’s the one in charge, he’s the number two.

Meanwhile, at the “conservative” Weekly Standard, long-time regular contributor Matt Labash writes:

As a child-rearer, I’ve always prided myself on my carefree attitude and libertine ways. No “helicopter parenting” for this guy, no childproofing my children’s childhoods. If the kids set themselves on fire with their Zippos, not a problem—they can just douse the flames with their beers. Likewise, I fancy myself the family’s Director of Funtivities, as my nephews who are forced to call me “Funcle Matt” will attest.

Labash’s ostensible purpose is to protest the hyper-protective ways of today’s parents, which is understandable. But he goes way beyond that, turning himself into an irresponsible child whom no child could respect.

Labash is part of a magazine that wants the U.S. to impose its ways on the world. But can a nation of Matt Labashes lead—or even deserve the respect of—other nations?

- end of initial entry -

James P. writes:

Labash suffers from the common delusion that parents should be “friends” with their children. A child needs his father to be a parent, not a friend. The child has plenty of friends, but only one father! Labash also seems to think that exerting proper parental authority means that the father can never have “fun” with the children. Naturally, I disagree. Since having children, I have noticed all too many parents who shrink from exerting authority over their children. They seem to think doing so is somehow abusive. In my view, failing to exert proper authority, and failing to provide proper guidance, is abusive. Children want and need guidance — why be afraid to give it to them?

LA replies:

James P.’s last point is a specific application of a profound point made ago in James Kalb’s 2000 essay “The Tyranny of Liberalism” which I’ve often referred to. Liberals oppose the idea of moral truth, because they see it as suppressing human desire. But what if what people most desire is—moral truth? It turns out that liberalism does not fulfil our (true) desires, but suppresses and bans them.

Dimitri K. writes:

Regarding that picture on technology page of NY Times. Probably you are right in a sense that they may have wanted to create the impression of an educated woman. But they failed to do that. What I see at the picture, is a girl in sunglasses (possibly at the beach), reading a book, and a guy who is sort of asking her for something. Most probably, for sex. And she looks as if she likes his request, she is smiling approvingly. That’s what I see here. Maybe, those glasses and the book were supposed to create an image of a professional woman, who knows. But I think, the real message here is that sex is more important than technology.

LA replies:

LOL. Well, that’s the problem with using photos to make a point about the culture. People read photos very differently.

However, now that I’ve read your e-mail, I do see how the photo could be seen that way.

LA writes:

A reader says that I have misread Matt Labash’s piece by focusing only on the first paragraph. He says that Labash is making precisely the opposite point from what I accuse him of—that the organized roughhousing which is seen as a corrective to hyper-protective parenting can be as absurd as what it seeks to remedy.

However, I have read the whole article, and it makes Labash look even sillier and more childish than the lead paragraph does.

Because of the final scene, where Labash’s sons start to resist his organized rough-housing, the reader seems to imagine that the impact of the article is to criticize the “extreme roughhousing” protest against overprotective parenting.

But that’s not what stands out in the article. What stands out, in every pop-culture-filled sentence, is Labash’s representation of himself as an immature child, his rejection of seriousness and adulthood. This is the image of manhood that he and his magazine are presenting as normal.

Also, in my blog entry, I gave Labash credit for protesting the overprotecting parenting syndrome, but said that much more was going on in the piece than that:

Labash’s ostensible purpose is to protest the hyper-protective ways of today’s parents, which is understandable. But he goes way beyond that, turning himself into an irresponsible child whom no child could respect.

So, whether on a reading of Labash’s lead paragraph by itself, or the whole article, my point stands.

Daniel S. writes:

Both of the stories demonstrate the rebellion against traditional authority and social hierarchy, something which both our pagan and Christian fore bearers recognized and adhered to. The left is quite blatant about its eternal rebellion against any transcendent divine, moral order. The assistance that the so-called conservatives give to this rebellion is something not quite as apparent, though the support being given to homosexual “marriage” by many movement conservatives is making their role in the societal revolution more obvious. Fyodor Dostoevsky, the great Russian Christian novelist, was all to aware of the role that the “conservative” elements of society played in enabling the cultural and social revolution being driven by the nihilistic left. As Dostoevsky revealed through his writings, the conservatives do not so much intend to halt the revolutionary left, but merely manage and redirect their changes. They construct boundaries for the revolution, but have not the slightest desire in stopping it, much less reversing it.

Matthew H. writes:

I have a different take on the phenomenon of parents who seem to demean themselves and sacrifice their authority by trying to become their children’s playmates. Yes, there has been a trend toward “being your kid’s friend” over the last generation or so. But I see another important factor.

We live in a culture where the common cultural assumptions that once allowed parents to confidently permit kids to roam the neighborhood going from house to house at will have been destroyed by decades of disastrous court decisions and plummeting standards of personal conduct. This combined with new technology means images that would once have been seen as pornographic are only one seemingly innocuous search term away and where fifth graders access the hard stuff on school computers (true story).

Parents who are repulsed at the prospect of their children’s minds being smutted by too much exposure to this stuff (in truth some of it cannot be avoided) often face the choice of giving in versus saying no to a whole range of what, in a healthy society, would be normal childhood activities because they can’t assume that the other adults will exercise the same level of vigilance they do. Nor can they have any expectation that other children will have been raised with any kind of moral standards of speech or conduct. And it only takes one exposure to some of the filth with which our culture flows so freely to twist a young child’s mind.

Responsible parents are often in a position where a child’s natural need to play and have fun must be weighed against the risks of turning them loose in our increasingly depraved society. Often they will try to make up the difference by becoming their kids’ play pal or “funcle.” While this may diminish their authority many parents would rather do it than risk their precious little ones by letting them run free.

Such are the joys of raising a Christian (or any sort of moral) family in the cultural sewer that Liberalism has made of our once morally straight and generally safe nation.

As an aside, I recently spoke to an older Korean lady who as a girl had escaped with her family the Communist advance into North Korea after WWII. After settling in South Korea she was able to come to the U.S. for nursing school in the 1950s and sometime later immigrated here. A direct quote from her: “America in the fifties was heaven.”

Brian writes:

I read your recent post on the picture of the man and the woman and I felt compelled to say something on this. I am not someone to contribute to a discussion, but I realized something today when I saw this post.

The photograph of the man and woman is from a movie I saw last weekend. It is called “One Day.” In your description, you basically described the whole plot of it. It is one big liberal cliché, not anything that my wife and I were expecting when we saw it.

The movie is about two people who met at their college graduation, going through their lives in their vacuous and pretentious ways. He’s a spoiled rich kid, who was a host on an MTV like show and lived a sex-crazed lifestyle. His parents are displeased with him because he had no purpose in life and skirted his masculine duties well into his 20s and 30s. She is a self-serious type stuck in dead-end jobs and seeking to become a writer. They become friends after a failed sexual encounter, but she has resisted his sexual advances over the years. She is the typical protest type, with peace sign pins on her jacket and clothes, Nuclear Disarmament posters on her wall and so on.

The photograph describes the whole movie. It describes their dynamic exactly. Because of this dynamic and their character, I failed to connect with the characters. I came to the point where I just did not care about them; I just thought there was nothing redeeming about them, but at the time, couldn’t pinpoint why. That is, until it hit me just today when I saw the photograph and your description of it.

This movie would be considered a stroke of genius if it critically chronicled the life of the modern man and woman: agnostic, listless, aimless, non-discriminatory, prideful, arrogant, and lifeless people who go through their lives as if it just happened without meaning. The opportunities that they do have to capture meaning are lost on them, as they continue their life soullessly into the future. But it isn’t genius, I suspect, because I believe that the director wants us to take these two persons seriously. So the movie ends up as a litany of liberal clichés.

While this type of cultural trend is hip and chic, and is something that I see in movies a lot, a movie that showed people who have something true to lose carries more weight than watching two aging teenagers go through their lives without any meaning.

I just want to say: Thank you for your blog. I have been a reader for many years. Your political insights have without a doubt shaped my own understanding about the issues of the day. I hope that God may continue to bless you richly now and in the future.

LA replies:

Thank you for your very kind words.

I had no idea that the photo was from a movie. It was just there on a page at the New York Times site without any accompanying text. But it’s “subtext” struck me immediately.

Posted by Lawrence Auster at August 26, 2011 09:20 AM | Send

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