Mansome: Men redefining 'manly,' and not just for laughs
Mansome isn't just a movie – it's a reality as the commodification of manhood has men redefining "manly." Clothes matter. Eyebrows matter. Hair matters.
New York — May, it turns out, is a manly month, and a funny one at that.
We've got "Mansome" from the "Super Size Me" dude, Morgan Spurlock. And "Man Made: A Stupid Quest for Masculinity" from Time magazine's Joel Stein. And "Dan Gets a Minivan: Life at the Intersection of Dude and Dad," from humorist-at-large Dan Zevin.
Why, when it comes to the discourse on masculinity, is the conversation routinely rolled around laughs? Where, exactly, does all the funny lead? Does it help redefine a new masculinity, make it easier for men to talk about this stuff?
We went straight to the source, the funny guys themselves and some of their foils, the unintentionally funny, to see if they could get serious about the burning issues facing MANkind today.
In his latest com-doc, Mr. Spurlock takes on male grooming, enlisting the mother lode of funny guys: Judd Apatow, Paul Rudd, Zach Galifianakis and "Arrested Development" brothers Jason Bateman and Will Arnett, both of whom are executive producers.
And Morgan Spurlock thinks the point is?
"Men are in a position now where we're being marketed to and targeted in the same way that women have for decades, where suddenly men aren't good enough. Suddenly you're too fat. Suddenly your skin's too ugly, you don't have enough hair. All those same types of things that were told to women to let you know you were inadequate unless you tried X, Y, or Z are now the same types of tactics that are being used on men, all in this effort to try and push this commodification of manhood."
So is that a good thing? For men, that is.
"I'm sure it's good for somebody, but for men in general? Shouldn't men want to take care of themselves? Sure. Should they spend a gazillion dollars? Probably not."
In Spurlock's movie, he and Mr. Arnett – spa robes on – compare shaving technique, get side-by-side pedicures and facials, take a soak together and try to keep the manly talk light.
What does Jason Bateman think is funny about manhood?
"The men who are speaking about it or presenting it are trying to avoid embarrassment and taking the subject, or themselves, too seriously."
Asked to get serious for just a sec, Mr. Bateman admits he doesn't have an answer for what it means to be a man.
"I try to be the best man I know how to be, which is just to kind of listen to myself and make the decisions that I'm instinctually drawn to make as opposed to having any sort of premeditated agenda, or any sort of strategy. I'm just trying to be honest and human, if that means being confident in one moment, then I'm that. If that means letting vulnerability show because I'm feeling vulnerable, then doing that. It's nice to be able to show it and feel it all."
Never an outdoorsman, always anxious, Mr. Stein did something he never thought he would when his wife got pregnant: He freaked out because the baby was a boy.
There would be camping trips and footballs to throw! So he decided to make a book out of a manly bucket list to overcome his fears and generally effete way of doing things. He did a 24-hour shift with Los Angeles firefighters. He knocked back Scotch, went hunting, and survived three days of Army boot camp.
So what'd he learn? What does being a man mean to Joel Stein?
"I think being a man today means less than it used to. It will always mean less than it used to. Don Draper [of '60s 'Mad Men" fame] seems like such a man. He says no to things, but if you remember those segments in the first season or two where they show his dad, and his dad was like coming home and just beating the heck out of his wife and his kids. It was like, 'Oh, men were even scarier before Don Draper.' They're always going to be scarier the further you go back. Being a man these days? It's still some version of being able to stick up for yourself and people around you, and it's still about being self-sufficient in every way."
Mr. Zevin lived in Brooklyn as a stay-at-home dad of two. And wrote a book about it.
He eventually left Aloof Hipster Dad in his Brooklyn playground and moved to suburban Larchmont, N.Y. where he worships at Costco and posts to YouTube interviews he does from his minivan. A balloon-twisting party clown was a recent subject.
What surprised Zevin about staying home with his kids?
"I thought it was going to be easy. I really thought it was going to be like I will continue to have this cool Brooklyn lifestyle and be a freelance writer and see my friends and go to cafes and do my work, my creative work, but the only difference is I'll just have a couple of kids in tow, you know, and I found out that it's hard. It's not so easy. There are great parts of it but it's not so easy and I think that moms have probably had that one figured out for generations and generations. We're just learning as we go along. Our dads weren't the role models. This is all new to us, this more involved fatherhood. If you can't laugh about this stuff you're going to go absolutely bonkers."
He's an Iranian-American pro wrestler living in Las Vegas. In "Mansome," he acknowledges he's one hairy guy. He began body shaving when he started wrestling at 15 and realized some of his new profession's biggest stars did the same thing.
Mr. Daivari demonstrates his head-to-toe shaving routine on camera, with help from a buddy for the scariest hair of all: The Back Hair.
"I remember the first time. I showed up at school for gym class on a Monday after shaving my body and legs for a match that Saturday. I was changing into my shorts and all the guys were making fun of me, like 'Oh my god, look at the sissy, he shaves his legs. He's like one of the girls.' It was kind of an embarrassing thing at the time, but now I just think I was ahead of the game."
Daivari is built. There are women at his gym when he goes there to work out, but it's usually other men who swoon when they get a look at him.
"I get more compliments from other men about my physique than women. Ever. Guys will come up to me and go, 'Oh man, how do I get arms like yours or how much do you bench press? I wish I could have a chest as cool as yours, or a 19-inch neck.' I think women are a little deeper than guys are. If that's masculinity, what I have right now, I really don't want it because I really don't want a bunch of guys slobbering all over me. I'd much rather be more feminine, if being more feminine is what draws attention from women. That's what I'd rather do."
The New York City clothing buyer is the ultimate metrosexual. Clothes matter. His eyebrows matter. His hair matters. He gets regular treatments and keeps his body toned.
"My personality, my confidence, is derived from my looks," he said in "Mansome."
The Sikh wore a turban until the age of 16, gradually turning away from the traditional look to make it easier on his parents. Now, on a scale of 10, he said he's a six.
"Everyone has a hobby. My looks have become my hobby," he said.
On camera, Mr. Apatow declares the notion of men trying to look good for themselves "[Expletive] up." Off camera, Mr. Manchanda strongly disagrees.
"First and foremost you should be doing it for yourself," he said. "You ladies know after getting a facial or getting your nails done or getting your hair done, you feel great, and feeling great makes you feel better about yourself. It's very masculine, owning your look."
The competitive beardsman totally owns his full red one that hangs to his waist. Now 28, he started growing it at 19 and began competitive "beard building" at 21.
"Man-aged human males are stuck in kind of boyhood," Mr. Passion said in the Spurlock movie. "This is just how a human male looks."
Passion wrote "The Facial Hair Handbook" in 2009 and is working on a diet book for men.
What does his beard say about his masculinity?
"For me, growing a beard is probably the most politically correct, most nonviolent, easiest and most passive but also most authentic way to visually, externally demonstrate to the world, and more importantly to myself, that I have come of age as a man," he said in an interview.
"And so, since I have expressed that I am a man with my beard, I don't have to or even feel the desire to rely on socially constructed forms of masculinity, such as the macho guy, the tough guy, violence, rowdy sports, any of these sort of things. I don't even have to go there because I'm already calm and OK with the idea. I've already proved what I need to prove. That I am a man."