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Tuesday, March 08, 2005

Tough Guy Chic and Evolution

I show up for the weekly Harley Davidson biker night at a local bar wearing a thrift store t-shirt with a picture of a teddy bear and the words “World’s Greatest Grandmother” emblazoned across the front. I look like the only person who didn’t get the e-mail about proper attire. Everyone else is dressed like one of the Village People--if the Village People had a gay biker character. Everyone is trying hard to look tough wearing leather jackets, leather pants, leather hats, leather gloves, and leather underwear (I can only imagine). It would seem that for Harley enthusiasts, Halloween comes every time they leave the house. I think it would be less trouble, with a lot less accessorizing, to dress up in drag.

At a local rap club I am sporting a “Kiss Me, I’m Irish” t-shirt. Every other guy wears the uniform of the hip hop dude: crooked ball cap, sports jersey, and baggy pants. This tired, decades-old fashion emulates inmates at federal penitentiaries. Once again, everyone is trying hard to look hard.

At a NASCAR event in a southern city I walk to my seat wearing a New Kids on the Block t-shirt. The dress code at NASCAR events seems to be that you wear the clothes you used to wear before you put on those extra 30 pounds. Everyone wears clothes that are so tight that I’m sure people have been killed by buttons flying off of shirts and pants at speeds greater than a car coming off the third turn. Once again, the overall tone of NASCAR fans is vaguely threatening. If I know one thing about hicks it’s that they can be violent if provoked in any way.

I have to interrupt this essay with a news flash. I just saw a crow fly by the window carrying a Chinese to-go box in its mouth or beak or whatever the fuck bird geeks call it. That’s something you won’t see outside of the city. Another crow flew by carrying little packets of soy sauce (That part isn’t true but the first part is).

It seems odd to me that in a culture where there is little need for physical strength, we all try so hard to be tough guys. As we move farther and farther away from a society in which physical strength is necessary, we seem to be embracing the concept that males need to be tough and threatening. At least in our street culture it appears that the only way to gain respect is through some sort of physical intimidation.

In our tough guy culture it’s a wonder that guys don’t dress up like professional wrestlers or super heroes when they go out for drinks. Even Michael Jackson went through his “Bad” phase, although I think it would take more than a leather jacket to make you tough if your idea of fun is having sleep-overs with 10 year old boys. Where will all of this tough guy posturing lead us?

I am reading Jared Diamond’s Pulitzer Prize winning bestseller Guns, Germs, and Steel: The Fates of Human Societies which attempts to answer a few questions on why some societies flourish and go on to conquer other societies. Through evolutionary biology—among a host of other disciplines—Diamond tries to explain why some cultures develop highly complex technology while others remain in more primitive agricultural, and hunter-gatherer phases. Reading this seminal treatise on human evolution I can’t help but wonder about the fate of our own society that places such a high priority on the tough guy archetype. How many generations of exalting dumb jocks, bikers, and rap artists will it take to negatively impact the evolutionary trajectory of the U.S. male?

I think that the male of the human species thus far in the 21rst century is already below the standard of men from other eras. If you read The Autobiography of Benvenuto Cellini it would be difficult to find a man of our era to compare with this paragon of the Italian Renaissance. Granted, Cellini is somewhat of a braggart in his memoirs and undoubtedly embellished his accomplishments. According to his autobiography he either beat up or fucked every person on the Italian peninsula in his first 40 years, but he was a great artist, a valiant soldier, and a fine writer--among other talents. Our idea of a well-rounded man today is a video game designer who dresses up like a gay Hell's Angel on weekends and whose idea of literature is a graphic novel. It seems that we are in a reverse evolutionary spiral that will lead us—if we aren’t careful—back into an era of hunting and gathering. It will be difficult for all of us not to look tough when humans are reduced to eating raw elk carcasses.

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