What happened to guys?

My friend Mellie linked this interesting TED Talk that discusses the downfall of guys and how the media might play a role in the whole thing. It’s amazing how convinced this man could make me of his stance in less than five minutes. Sure, I do take quite the stance against our current multimedia culture, but when someone else says something my knee-jerk reaction is to defend it. Not this time. He’s pretty spot on.

The media is rewiring men to only seek arousal states. The most popular games are adrenaline rush promoting FPSes, and the most popular movies require action or a (generally bad) joke for every five minute interval of film – excluding the credits in most cases. I find this comparative to Barney’s New Year’s “Get Psyched Mix” mix tape (CD?) in the first season of How I Met Your Mother. He described most mix tapes as boring because they rise and then fall. His, on the other hand, is all rise. In both versions, you can tell he’s pretty much accurate in his description. And that’s how guys want to live their lives.

As for the part about guys not knowing how to speak to women or even having a lesser interest in knowing how, that’s accurate as well. I think the media is to blame there as well. Very few television programs or movies show healthy, realistic relationships between men and women. You usually have to choose between shows about men who want to hang out with their bros and not want to engage in adults norms or shows about women who want to be independent and strong in a world of men who objectify and subjugate them. If you assume that both shows manage to get into the psyche of their intended audiences, you find yourself in a world of juvenile men and strong women. There is an inherent incompatibility there. How would a man know how to talk to a woman wired to believe that they are powerful creatures and men are pigs? What would a strong woman see in a guy who believes that his Xbox Live achievements have real world merit? That’s only one example. I’m not going to go into examples of male bonding and how women are also taught that they are little princesses who need to be saved. Examples are all over and you can find them. Even if you don’t have a TV, I know for a fact that you have internet access.

While I did very much agree with the Phil Zimbardo’s short speech, there was an issue I found with it almost immediately. It was a speech about hetero-normative behavior. How are gay males performing in school? How about in becoming men? How are they doing with communicating with each other? What difficulties are they facing? You cannot discuss guys and not provide a single mention for…well, guys. We’re a very diverse group. I’d like to know if we’re damaged across the board the board by the media or if some of us are safe.

Author: Gospel X

Media commentator who tries not to waste time - and often fails

4 thoughts on “What happened to guys?”

  1. I saw that TED talk yesterday. And while it draws a very strong picture of what’s wrong, Zimbardo noted he’s not sure of any solutions and is there to be alarmist.

    I didn’t like the talk because it didn’t even posit possible solutions. Nor did it provide information — as you pointed out about gay men. What about alpha v. beta males. Or the socio-economic poor vs gifted. Are women being affected by our culture of stimulus seeking? Probably, but less? How much less? Women use Facebook and other social networking tools more than men of similar age groups.

    I’m not a fan of alarmist news. That said, for most of my life I recall hearing how women were more successful in school in several areas (e.g english) than men. Slowly, the number of fields where women were outproducing men has grown to now include stereotypical male strengths such as math and engineering. Two years ago now, (another TED talk actually) suggested we should help boys. That’s the first time I’ve heard that as a conclusion. I’m surprised we don’t have a larger discussion on male v. female learning and work styles. My girlfriend, who graduated with a degree in computer science, was reading a book on women in computer science. The title escapes me. Anyways, Sandy was frustrated by it because it shows that women are far better than men at working as a group. When women are looking for feedback on performance, they are noted for their strength of working well as a group but do not get much acclaim for individual leadership. While there will always be room for both, this is more of a continuum. It seemed to Sandy that the author wanted to have both.

    I think there is room for both learning and work styles. I am not willing to throw technology under the bus for being the root cause. I think its use (and our instant-gratification culture) that drives the problem. Technology could be used as part of the solution. But I do feel that men have been painted into a corner — and I’m not sure that men or women like what have happened to men. Especially if our current trajectory is men become the elois and women the morlocks.

  2. What’s a man to do when challenged? Go his own way. Be John Galt. Stop playing the game.

    The reasons for males to be dropping out of school, failing out of their jobs, and bailing out of their relationships and lives cannot be put on a single factor. The lack of fathers and good, accessible male role models is part of the problem. The lack of gender roles, or more specifically, the inability to default to a gender role [they exist, but male role in society is under great pressure to change] in the face of adversity, I think, plays a part by leading to apathy (and eventually dropping out) when unable to react to a situation in such a way that will be seen as positive. Technology and media allow those who have dropped out to live a comfortable lifestyle filled with gratification. Never before has such entertainment and gratification been cheaper. This is not to be understated, but blaming technology is like blaming a scorpion for stinging you after you placed it on your hand.

    While I clearly do not know, I’d wager this is mostly effecting the socio-economically gifted of our generation. I hinted to this above with the question, I’d bet the socio-economic status plays an indicator whether someone is likely to drop out, but their sexual orientation does not. I’m curious why women would have not been so effected. Maybe they have been? Or perhaps, the nature of women, and their social habits, seeking mentors and role models work to slow the effect. The gender roles provided to women have been expanding possibilities and opportunities over the last forty-fifty years. And interacting socially provides norms and roles — of which there are a variety.

    Women’s expanded gender role includes more opportunities at the top of the human pecking order. The expanded role for men is frittering away time and/or money on looks and leisure. What woman would want a man that is prettier than she?

    I mention that because not fitting into (a role in) society is uncomfortable. Geek, loser, fag. Being called these is emasculating and challenge that someone belongs. Having your tribe question whether you belong can provide more reason to retreat into comfort zones rather than engage. I think having roles, and redefining them is the first step. Geek is no longer an albatross. This is great. The social mores are shifting and eventually some of these other deviations from the norm will be accepted.

    We want to put people in a position to be successful. Accessible mentors and role models for children and young adults (I’m including college students in this group) would help. A number of useful life skills are not being taught in todays schools. Classes on how to receive and provide constructive feedback would be useful. Such that when first receiving criticism, the knee-jerk reaction isn’t “I’m not a good fit here.” While on the topic of education, using whatever motivates students and breaking them into groups would probably be useful, although un-sellable politically. For male students, reading scifi/fantasy or action novels instead of F. Scott Fitzgerald may be the ticket for reading. Critical thought doesn’t come from classics, it comes from analysis. Chemistry is more interesting when the application is explosives or pranks than creating a salt. The flip side of this is also important, female students may be more motivated to create and find chemicals related to the medical field. These are stereotypes, but using them, while not limiting those who participate (e.g males interested in healthy uses of chemistry, should be all means take the class using health as a theme/motif) might work.

    I am concerned about our culture’s ability to strip things down into thirty second, 15 secs, 5s info bytes. This is another problem that perhaps education could solve. It revolves around reading and consuming longer pieces of media. Consistently.

    As for the roles that men fit into… I dunno. The roles are very much in flux. Metrosexual has died down as a term. Being a stay at home father is seen as both weak and nice. This is going to take time to gain acceptance.

  3. Although he uses heterosexist language, I think if you replace the word woman with partner it would still be applicable. As an observation, in communities where the gay population cannot easily be out, media has allowed them to connect and explore options that would otherwise be inaccessible.

    And, though I’m a little tired right now, I think that Corey H’s comments touch on a lot of issues I think Zimbardo’s survey is trying to get at.

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