Once upon a time, in a book far away the hero was not the cuddliest man for miles. It sounds like fiction, and in a way it is. Fiction reflects its germinative society. In fact it not only reflects that society, it is by necessity and evolution a symbiote of that society. Neither can endure healthily without the other in good health, and a decline in one will foretell a depreciation of the other.
Back in the time of legends, it was possible to meet a hero, or even a hero’s sidekick or temporary companion who was not a nice guy. A good guy, sure, but the type of man who inspired Churchill to utter; “We sleep soundly in our beds because rough men stand ready in the night to visit violence on those who would do us harm.”, and everyone in the allied nations to not only know what he meant, but to hold those men in high esteem. The Lone Ranger wasn’t the type to talk a bad guy into putting down his gun because violence never solved anything, he shot the bastard and got on with life. Being willing to do violence to those who needed a foot broken off in their ass and not paralyzing oneself with doubt afterwards (or before) is historically (and today) a highly adaptive trait.
Of all the civil rights era men who did good things, it seems only Martin and Malcolm are really remembered. Malcolm X is seen as some sort of boogieman, a mostly tame boogieman, much like a domestic version of Fidel Castro, but while being acknowledged as scary, he’s otherwise just sorta there. Martin Luther King Jr, who’s honorifics have been eroded is somehow just about the sole martyr of the struggle. While both of them did good things, it is probably a third man who had the most lasting impact on peoples lives. In the era of bus boycotts and lunch counter sit-ins, he helped push food banks, literacy programs, and voter registration. While Martin pushed an almost servile passivity, and Malcolm’s sabre rattling set the teeth of even his allies, Bobby Seale managed to invigorate and activate the forgotten middle. In his own words:
They came down on us because we had a grass-roots, real people’s revolution, complete with the programs, complete with the unity, complete with the working coalitions, where we crossed racial lines.
Yet, most people born after the civil rights era don’t know who he is, or that they should be wishing him a happy birthday today. How is that possible?
It’s possible, because the value of a man as protector, as avenger, as the half of the fabled learning duo that isn’t orange and topped by string leafs has been consigned to the realm of villainy. And yet, on the other hand men have been excluded by social pressure from elementary education, day care, and after school programs. Organizations like 4H are nearly overburdened with testosterone if they have one in twenty male leaders, and not shockingly they retain only a slightly higher percentage of male membership. So men aren’t allowed to inspire people to behave better out of fear, nor are they allowed to be involved in nurturing. Decades ago when the dark hero, the Bobby Seale, the Conan, the gruff uncle or grandfather was a common sight, men were allowed a variety of roles. These human wolfhounds didn’t (and don’t) just exist to set limits on what the wolf can do, but to steer the flock as well.
Just judging by the point the change from traditional scope of roles become fodder for Hollywood humor, Mr Mom (1983), Michael Keaton’s exploration of full-time stay at home daddyness as compared to something the current Hollywood might produce? The “good guys” in much of today’s fiction are indistinguishable from most of the women except by pronoun, and occasionally which restroom they use. This isn’t nearly as much because of a change in how women are portrayed, as it is in how men are. Gruff men, dark heroes, strong males are never shown as present, or at least not present for long.
As fiction is a symbiote of society, this portends things that are not good for anyone. From the business point of view, it doesn’t inspire men to read, or appreciate women who do. Why would any man want to contend with hundreds of reinforcements of a stereotype that if he’s strong he’ll either leave soon or be evil (and probably evil)? This blog post has an interesting spin on the role of men.