Sunday, April 16, 2006

Annoying Boy of the Week; or, Man, Oh Man, Part Two

Thanks to Randa for alerting us to the existence of heinous douchebag Tucker Max. Now we need a vengeance demon like Anya on Buffy so we could wish ourselves into a world where Tucker Max was never born. Even if such a wish unleashed giant trolls or vampire hordes, it would be a better place than a planet on which Tucker Max walks un-tarred and featherless.

Tucker Max maintains a website and has authored a book, I Hope They Serve Beer In Hell, that celebrate his life as an amoral, hard-partying, lothario. His highly contrived and utterly unimaginative posture combines that uniquely American brand of pathetic, rebellious masculinity cooked up for capitalist country clubbers like Lee Iaccoca and Jack Welch, when the time comes for revenants to pen their memoirs, with graphic descriptions of conquests over disposable, seemingly interchangeable women. For his pains penning misogynist hate-tracts, Max earns a more or less glowing write-up in the New York Times, and is cited by Warren St. John as the leader of a new literary movement, "fratire." St. John strikes a typically gutless MSM tone, mixing prudish tsk-tsk-ery with unmistakable arousal at the thrusts and moans of a new marketing phenomenon inseminating the American consciousness.

This brings us back to the theme of a renascent masculinity spreading its odium over the contemporary cultural field. St. John's article brings to light a number of other elements in masculinity's symbolic matrix that allows us to see the deep links between capitalism, machismo, the subordination of women and class struggle. The generic neologism "fratire" (a very bad moniker, because of both the weakness of the pun and the imputation of witty social critique within writing that seems to entirely lack any kind of self-awareness) brings to mind, of course, the heinous Greek culture of American universities. After reaching an apex of pseudo-coolness in movies like John Landis's Animal House (1978), fraternities began a precipitous decline in esteem in the popular imagination. Behind the togas lurked nauseating entitlement, inherited privelege, repulsive racism, and a propensity for sexual assault and rape. Fratboys may have participated, for instance, in the independent music culture of the 1980s and 1990s more than I imagine, but if they did, they left their beanies at home.

As it turns out, the class element of fraternities was not just a social fact that lurked under the surface of relations between Greeksters and their inferiors. As Stephen Norwood has demonstrated in his great study of masculinity and twentieth-century anti-labor violence in the United States, Strikebreaking and Intimidation: Mercenaries and Masculinity in Twentieth-Century America, participating in strike-breaking activity was a common part of college merry-making for fratboys in the first hald of the twentieth century. Why? Norwood sees a "crisis of masculinity" among the alpha gamma jackass set who desired "intense, violent experiences that provided feelings of power and mastery," (Norwood, 21-22) such as bashing in strikers' heads, to compensate from the insecurity occassioned by the sedentary, "emasculated" nature of modern surplus extraction.

So the formation of fratboy consciousness was shaped to a large degree by violent anti-labor rites of passage. The working-class could not be allowed to own "manliness." Instead, "manliness" had to be rebranded as an upper-class entitlement. "Risk" was recalibrated to denote the legal pugilism of hostile takeovers or the decisive shredding of documents. Workers who braved the dangers of a strike were not "risk-takers" but criminals and riff-raff-- unable to prove themselves on the country club green or flash a five-figure timepiece, they were hardly men at all.

So, to return to "fratire." Can we not hear echoes of this heritage in the risible he-man blather of Jeremie Ruby-Strauss, Tucker Max's editor? "All of this is a reaction against over-socialization, or maybe an over-feminization of the culture... think all of these books are about men searching for a model other than what they're being told to do, something more rebellious, less cautious and less concerned with external approval." Rock on, dude. We can add to the lineage of this philosophy the misogynist reaction against the castrating effects of American mothering common in the 1950s, and best represented by Philip Wiley's Generation of Vipers, and even to militaristic male-bonding cults of masculinity like the post WWI German Freikorps, (as documented so brilliantly by Klaus Theweleit in Male Fantasies) who morphed into Hitler's shock troops in the 1930s. Awesome!

And what should we make of Fax Herbert, the 19-year old Tufts freshman interviewed by St. John about his passion for the works of Max? According to Herbert, "We're all under a lot of pressure to pick a path and follow it... "Here's a guy who didn't do what his parents wanted him to or what society would have expected him to do. He blazed his own trail."

Screw you, Mom and Dad! I am going to drink a lot in college, have a lot of heterosexual sex, talk about it with my friends in a manner that suggests that I have little respect for my partners, and eventually make a lot of money by cynically pandering to male fantasies of potency and strength (which no one else has the guts to talk about), get rich, and give interviews to the New York Times wherein I will ultimately re-frame my whole rebel project in the most conventional, traditional and banal language available (Max concludes by saying, "I show that the best way to live is to be true to yourself"). You can't stop me, Mom and Dad! I'm a MAN!


femme feral said...

I'm sure all the blowhole poser-men who love swingers and entourage probably totally sweat this guy. yucky.

Donia said...

Not just them duuuuude! This other woman I work with at the bookstore here at my school was reading his book during the off-hour last saturday and she was "Oh I love this guy he's hilarious! You should read this." I took one look at it, gave her a "you're pathetic look," went over to the stacks and picked up "Raising boys without Men" and said, "You should read THIS."
She spun her sorority-letter embroidered bracelet thing around after looking at it, rolled her eyes, and said "You don't know if this is true. I doubt guys who grow up with single moms are happy..."
one word:

mzn said...

Your post reminded me of a Happy Days episode I'm sure we watched together. Richie and his buddies rush a fraternity and are encouraged to do things they think are wrong. Disillusioned, they decide not to become pledges. In the message moment in Fonzie's office, he tells Richie, "Institutions aren't cool. People are cool." That sounded insightful back in the day but now it could be the tagline of a bank or insurance company commercial and probably is.

Speaking of masculinity: last night's Sopranos? They might have encouraged me like Vito before trying to solicit my sympathy for him.

rockslinga said...

you know, i can't decide if the grossest thing is the content of the article, and the idea of "fratire," or the fact that NYT worships money. it's obvious that their fascination with all these pricks is that they went from lowly "web writers" to published authors who make tons of cash. the idea that women are exploited, or that these "men" are cowardly fuckfaces doesn't faze the NYT, because that's not what drew them in the first place. yuck.
i enjoyed your post very much. rock on, professor.

Mat said...

For the most part I agree with what you're saying, and it's pretty frustrating that folks are trying to spin this as "explorations of new masculinity" or whatever, when this really seems to be a retreat into outdated, patriarchal notions of masculinity.
Small thing, though: calling a Jew - no matter how sexist and irresponsible he may be - a Nazi.. is that, um.. kosher?