Where Have All The Cowboys Gone? The Decline Of The 'Real Man' Through The Prism Of TV
These TV 'New Men' May Have Their Uses, But Who's Going To Punch The Baddies?Dan Avenell looks back at the Manly Men of TV's yesteryear, and mourns the loss of the uncomplicated tough guys and charming rogues that once filled our screens, and looks at how television has mirrored the changing face of masculinity, from Tom Selleck in Magnum P.I to, er, Tom Selleck in Friends. (Although he doesn't actually mention Tom Selleck from when he was in Friends, to be honest. He supposes he could go edit in a reference now, but he isn't going to.)
So... cowboys? Where have they all gone? And is it time to say 'Feminism... look what you done did'?
Real Men Blow Stuff UpDuring the UK Celebrity Big Brother International Racist Bullying Special of a few years past, Dirk Benedict contended that his armed-vigilante kids' show The A-Team was the last truly masculine TV series, featuring Real Men unashamedly indulging in Real Man activities like building things and blowing other things up, without need of female approval. 'And women loved to see that' he reckoned.
Benedict also recently said of Battlestar Galactica 'You can't have a character like Starbuck today -- a cigar-smoking, drinking, womanizing lovable scoundrel. The feminist movement got rid of those guys.' In the new series of Battlestar Galactica, Starbuck is female.
And why not? Women have been improbably kicking butt on the small screen since Emma Peel and if that makes the little poppets feel empowered where's the harm? It's not like The A-Team was grittily realistic in the first place.
Feminist PlotBut flicking through the channels, the TV Tough Guy is a rare beast today - and the charming rogue all but extinct. So is Benedict just a bitter old has-been cranky that the playing field is now even? Or could he possibly be a bitter old has-been who's onto something? Where have all the cowboys gone? Has a feminist plot to banish everything fearlessly macho from our screens brainwashed a generation of boys into becoming subservient, spineless pussymen?
Certainly the TV screens of yesteryear were awash with enough testosterone to kill a horse.The Professionals, The Sweeney, The Knight Rider The Magnum, their lives a rich tapestry of solving mysteries, destroying property, having mustaches, women, being the unknown stuntman that made Eastwood look so fine, and women. It was an age of innocence and amiable violence.
But this glorious Machotopia was doomed. Women were not best pleased with how they were being treated on TV, or anywhere else much, and invented Girl Power (or feminism as it was then known). Now some might say that as television was invented by a man, women should go make their own viewing device. Instead, out of a mix of guilt, fair-play, and hope for a little peace and quiet, men agreed to try this 'New Man' idea that was going around...
What's That Being A-Fangled? Political Cowhatness?As the Patriarchy was a-crumbling, the supposed homoeroticism of The Professionals and its kind were laid bare by The Bull****ters, Ben Elton hectored men to be more sensitive and proud of their 'fartyness' and comics who dared suggest that women might not be made of sugar and spice, like Sam Kinnison or Jerry Sadowitz, were shamed as misogynists. Though to be fair, both of them probably are/were misogynists. Whatever, women now had oppressed minority status (despite not being a minority).
In sit-com land, Cheers forced unreconstructed alpha male Sam to deal with the independent and liberated Diane, and later his intellectual and sensitive rival Fraser. The battle seemed unwinnable all round. After years written as a happy bachelor, new-fangled political correctness meant Sam eventually learned his womanizing was a mental illness. Diane fared no better and ended up an unfulfilled Hollywood hack.
Fraser, however, got his own show.
SatanIn new kid on the sit-com block Friends, Ross and Chandler reflected 90's man as mostly confused and emasculated, and Ross even had a symbolically lesbian ex-wife. Only the borderline-retarded Joey was allowed to be confident with women.
Meanwhile in the real world, many women were suffering buyer's remorse. Somehow the old-fashioned Real Man (or even the 'Bad Boy') seemed more exciting and challenging than the eager-to-please new model.
To quote George from Seinfeld '"She thinks I'm a nice guy. Women always think I'm nice. But women don't want nice. Why is nice bad? What kind of a sick society are we living in when nice is bad?"
See also South Park when Satan is torn between Nice Guy Chris and Bad Boy Saddam Hussein. Like Satan, the modern woman just can't decide what she wants. Unlike Satan, the modern woman has invested decades of effort nagging men to shape up, and she's not about to throw it all down the drain because of one weeny-little unforeseen problemette. Consequently, she has decided not to disseminate her findings with modern man, who can figure it out on his own if he's so bloody clever.
Allegorical SpankingCome the mid-nineties, new football & boobies 'style mag' Loaded gave birth to the 'New Lad' - who defied female authority generally by acting like a naughty boy, but attempts to ride the post-Lock, Stock mockney geezer-wagon into the UK's living rooms with an execrable tv adaptation, alongside reheated versions of The Professionals and Minder, failed to ignite much interest. At least you could get away with calling women 'birds' again, providing as it was a bit ironic or you were working-class and hadn't noticed feminism much anyway. In The US, David Hasselhoff marked the changes by swapping his super-car hi-jinks for the exciting world of the lifeguard. He rarely punched or shot anyone, even on the wildly unsuccessful detective agency/ghost hunting spin-off series Baywatch Nights.
So are there no manly men on our screens today? No hunky action dudes to excite little boys (wait, that sounded bad...), no wise-cracking macho cops for teens to emulate in place of their fathers who have either ran off or been chased away by their mothers? The cinema, curiously, still has its action heroes, many of them of the super-powered variety today. But on TV you are generally only allowed to be a macho alpha male if you are also a gangster (The Sopranos), a Sexy Bad Man (all soaps) or from the past (Mad Men).
Will it ever be so? Or could men somehow reclaim masculinity from the false dichotomy of Nice Guy/Bad Boy and get some more lovable rogues and punch-happy heroes back on the small screens? And will the media arm of the TwoRonniesian Matriarx allow this to happen?
For a clue, lets go back to Celebrity BB. During the national shame-fest over Shilpa Shetty's persecution, there was one issue that went unexamined in the media - that as in previous series it was the female housemates that proved incapable of playing nice for two minutes without reverting to playground bitchiness and bullying. Where were the Real Men then, unafraid to metaphorically put the spoiled brat that is Modern Woman over their collective knee and give her an allegorical spanking?
As the unemployed Face-Man might say, the feminist movement got rid of those guys.