Reading about one of my favorite topics, men’s fashion, a few weeks ago, I stumbled on a somewhat dated, but nonetheless timely and deeply disturbing article. The author, James Gallichio, a style consultant based in Melbourne, Australia, was relating that while advertising his consultancy, a great many members of his gender ridiculed him by espousing anti-gay slurs. Apparently, this was because his profession requires something unspeakably vile; dressing well, with the added audacity of suggesting that others do the same.
It seems that, up to just a few decades ago, from the first chapter of civilized society to all the way through the 1980s, proper sartorial taste was something worthy of being revered, not reviled. Today, though, a man who has the gall to don a jacket and tie, and sometimes even a pocket square, is treated as a second-class citizen. Interestingly enough his peers, serving as a collective social judge, jury, and executioner, mock and degrade him as they take pride in their inverse snobbery; ripped dungarees and stained undershirts reign over the stuffy, elitist, and repulsively superior garb of yesteryear. Now, with all of those effete, self-important throwbacks out of the way, real men can rule the day and thrive in their mediocrity.
This brings us to what is arguably one of the most important writings penned by the late comedian and social critic, if not scientist at times, George Carlin.
In his penultimate book When Will Jesus Bring the Pork Chops?, a brilliant, hilarious and cynical philosophy treatise, he devoted many pages to what he called “The Male Disease.” According to Carlin, the disease is responsible for virtually all of the world’s problems, the most dire of which can be traced to how fathers treat their sons, particularly during childhood. Upon reflection, the theory makes perfect sense, as males tend to be strong authority figures during parenthood, albeit more so in some cultures and households than others. Normally raising offspring to meet a highly idealized form of their respective self-images, Male Disease-ridden fathers rarely care for the innate interests and characteristics of their sons. Instead, they pursue perhaps the most vulgar form of irrational selfishness imaginable; creating clones of themselves for the sole purpose of feeding their own egos.
The lion’s share of these same males also are members of at least one of Carlin’s six deadly subcultures, all of which overlap: cars and machinery, police and military, outdoors and gun, sports and competition, drug and alcohol, and last but most certainly not least, womanizer and homophobe. As far as I am concerned, being an automobile enthusiast, public safety officer, recreational hunter, athlete, sensible legal drinker, or respectable ladies’ man is absolutely nothing to be ashamed of. Taking any of these to extremes, however, can and will result in terrible ordeals, especially when one uses said hobbies to measure the validity of his manhood.
Maybe Carlin’s philosophizing can tell us exactly why it was that Mr. Gallichio was taunted by his proudly primitive peers. Could it be that they saw his refinement as a threat, and vocalized their fears by falsely accusing him of being that which they despised most: one sexually attracted to another of the same gender? I believe that this is more than likely the answer.
In any case, such envy masked in manliness transcends the world of menswear. During the holiday season I was shopping for gifts at a local entertainment media store. As I was flipping through a neatly lined stack of CDs, a man walked up next to me and began sorting through the adjacent row. He had a wife or girlfriend in tow, who pointed out a Barry Manilow album, noting that the soft rock singer was one of her significant other’s favorites. He quickly hushed her with the grumble that she was making him sound “queer.” As a devoted Fanilow myself, I was disgusted, but walked away without saying a word. Still, it is this precise sort of attitude that reeks of the Male Disease and perpetuates ludicrous stereotypes; after all, only the grandest of fools could honestly believe that enjoying a certain genre of music, or a specific artist, has any impact on one’s sexual orientation.
In what is its most troubling manifestation, the disease is rapidly infecting our nation’s political process. One need only look at the Republican Party’s ongoing three-ring circus of a presidential nomination contest for evidence. For months, hordes of easily influenced, bravado-infused, and highly emotional middle-aged males have been flitting blindly from far right, to pseudo libertarian, to theoconservative candidate in search of a purist alternative to the moderate Mitt Romney. Indeed, with each succeeding selection, the prospective voters have become increasingly radical: more guns, more anti-intellectualism, more he-man ruggedness, more religion twisted to keep those pesky individualists from stepping out of line or, should they opt to embrace rational thought, cast into the mud. If Carlin were alive to see this all American carnival, he could easily pen a doctoral dissertation on how it so directly relates to the illness which he originally diagnosed.
Needless to say, the Male Disease is not a uniquely American phenomenon. It was probably formed somewhere near the dawn of humanity, has progressed steadily since then, and will continue to do so far into the future. However, in any civilized society, such base emotionalism has always been tempered by the guiding light of reason. This has allowed humans to invent items which are today regarded as being essential to our existence: the wheel, the alphabet, vaccinations and computers. It has also brought about the origins of philosophy, science, and literature. Without reason, it is all but unimaginable where the human race would be. While the Male Disease’s most repugnant aspects were seemingly kept in check for much of the post Civil War nineteenth century and virtually all of the twentieth, it appears to be making a serious comeback at the present time. Will this be long or short lived? Can anything be done to reasonably negate it? How much of civilization will have been degraded by the time all is said and done?
My guess is as good as yours.