Hawking Up Hairballs

Saturday, January 24, 2009

They Call It Manhood

Dr. Strangelove was on the Turner Classic Movies channel last night. Given that it is one of my all-time favorites, I had to watch it, and I wasn't disappointed. The movie has aged well. Its premise is simple: The Cold War was a who's-got-the-biggest-dick contest among the politicians and the military of both sides, and the bastards were going to get us all killed with their posturing. This premise is made pretty clear right at the beginning. We see a close-up of the boom of a refueling tanker in midair, which is obviously meant to symbolize a hard dick. Next we see the boom from the tanker's perspective as it connects with the bomber below it. Then we have General Ripper, who stopped making love with women because they wanted to sap his bodily essence by draining him of his fluids, i.e., semen. George C. Scott is brilliant as the mad warmonger General Turgidson. The two most memorable characters of all are Peter Sellers as Dr. Strangelove in his wheelchair, and Slim Pickens as Major Kong. The major's got the biggest symbolic dick of all, the hydrogen bomb that he rides down to his, and everyone else's destruction.

This warrior conception of manhood is still alive and well in America but, as is so often typical of us, though we glory in it, we don't have the courage to truly embrace it and accept the consequences. The TV coverage of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan are an example of that. As John Stewart recently pointed out on The Daily Show, the AP news feeds, which he gets to see, show the war as it is. There are plenty of shots of dead, mangled bodies which make it abundantly clear just what war is really about but, as he said, none of that ever makes it on the TV news. The coverage is sanitized for our Polyanna sensibilities.

This notion of manhood isn't just manifest in war coverage. Last weekend I watched some of the NFL playoff games. In promoting the matchup between Pittsburgh and Baltimore, the TV analysts were going on about how it would be a manhood game characterized by hard hitting and vicious tackling. They were really getting the prospect of it. You could almost see the drool on their lips. Then during the game, a Baltimore player was hit particularly hard and didn't get up. He apparently couldn't feel his extremities for a while, and they were afraid that he had suffered a spinal injury that would leave him paralyzed. All of a sudden, the TV guys got all serious and talked about how no one wanted this sort of thing to happen, etc., etc., ad nauseam. Bullshit! Professional football is ritualized combat, and the point of the defense is to punish the ball carrier. That's why defensive coaches tell the players they want to see hats on the ball carrier. They expect their players to hit him as hard as possible. They are to lead with their helmets in order to dish out the maximum physical punishment. People are going to get hurt when you do that, so don't act like you don't welcome it. That's like saying people don't like the wrecks in NASCAR racing.

And since I'm on the subject of the warrior conception of manhood, I have to smile every time I hear some bozo go on complaining about gays in the military. Don't they know anything about history? The warrior ethic is intensely homoerotic. The ancients knew this and they accepted it. The Celts and Spartans are just two examples. They took lovers among their fellow warriors. Their wives were little more than brood mares. Lest you think that there's been "progress" and that this sort of thing is no longer the case, I refer you to Churchill's remark that the British navy ran on "rum, the lash, and buggery." But then, we're not a reality culture, and we haven't been for a long time. We were the ones to come up with Disneyland. We're the ones who invented public relations and advertising as they're known today. To paraphrase, Jack Nicholson's line, we can't handle the truth.


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