Monday, August 6, 2007

The New American Male

"Go on with the world, get gold in its strife,
Give your spouse the slip and betray your friend!
There are two who decline, a woman and I,
And enjoy our death in the darkness here."

-Robert Browning, from 'Dramatis Personae'-

To fit the mold of the fully functioning American Male, one must first abandon one's romantic resolution. All the men in American myth, Deerslayer and Captain Ahab being the foremost examples, were practicing monks in buckskin; later variations built on the same mythos, a la Eastwood and McQueen, appear before us in the guise of consumate loners. American masculinity is of the post-Byronic breed that excite emulation, but defy approach. Most of us have come to expect this, and the opposing type of man always seems a bit too revealing, a bit too effete. An adult male who simply wants to love, and love well looks like someone who suffers from a tragic poverty of imagination. The conquest of the frontier and its attendant challenges leaves precious little time to indulge the softer emotions, and it follows that the American conquistador has scant inclination to create a legacy for the progeny he doesn't have. In America, a man's wealth, like a man's wisdom is his own to do with what he will. Dynasties do not often here occur; we have our Rockefellers, but our Carnegies and our Warren Buffets excite more admiration. We may leave our conquests and capital to those that follow after, but to do so appears in questionable taste.
This is why it remains for us to raise the term "American Empire" only with a certain set of necessary qualifiers between either of the phrase's two parts, of which the two most most common are "Corporate" and "Capitalist," words whose mention immediately divides those who can't speak them without spitting at the nearest Starbucks label, from those on whose capuccino the aforementioned label is most likely located. But leaving these two sets to their free exchange of opinions, I think it is best to remove the phrase "American Empire" from our discourse, polite or political, in toto; at least, that is, until we have actually conquered something, and conquest, allow me to insist, is a practice seperate from buying and selling; the former demands endurance, endurance suffering, and suffering is worlds away from market speculation. A thing we have made, sweated and bled over demands an attentiveness and obligation that a bought commodity can never hope for. We cannot liquidate empires like so many stocks.
Here our two men, the American Male and the romantic male take their first step closer to contention. The former, in right perspective, still holds hejemony over the stock exchange and the cocktail party, for which environs he traded in his harpoons and hunting rifle around the turn of the last century, since which time he has grown ever the more comfortable. He has never met the romantic male, of which America offers precious few, of whom the only notable was Scott Fitzgerald's greatest creation. To his more extablished counterpart he cannot help but appear morbidly obsessive, as does Gatsby, the host of a thousand soirees he himself never attended, and who makes his first appearance reaching bayward for the woman he cannot have.
Needless to say, dislike, if not enmity would be a foregone conclusion if these two were to meet in a singles bar. In the short of it, the American Male as we now know him trumps all adversaries. But the romantic male does not suffer the handicap of having to recreate himself with each turn of a generation and each change in the fashion of leather jackets; he is always himself, and his bruises become him. Throw these two together for long enough, and synthesis will finally avail itself. And then, when the dust has settled, we will have our New American Male.


Anonymous said...

Is Tom Buchanan the quintessential American male in "The Great Gatsby"?

Thomas Banks said...

Well, I certainly hope not.