Monday, February 11, 2008

The Tale of Two Movies - True Masculinity

I watched two movies with my wife this past weekend. The first is the classic 1942 movie, Holiday Inn. I've seen it a few times, but my wife had never seen it. So late Friday night after the kids were in bed we watched it together.
Saturday evening my wife and I had a Valentine's date. She's taking our Venezuelan missionary to Alabama this week so she won't be around for V-day. I took her for a movie and a nice dinner. We saw the new movie 27 Dresses. Katherine Heigl has a classy look about her that seems to be in style these days.

I enjoyed the movie but it has today's moral setbacks. The alcohol use in the movie is little different than that of Holiday Inn. There were a few mild vulgarities used as expletives. There are more considerate ways that I demonstrate for my kids to display disdain, but these were not exceptionally burdensome. There was the normalization of illicit sex among consenting adults alluded to, which is something I didn't appreciate. June, the main character, was known to not do such things although the OSS was between her and one of the two love interests.

So you've never heard of an OSS? I'll make a parenthetical and explain it to you. OSS stands for “Obligatory Sex Scene”. These are often written into novels and screenplays without adding any meaningful movement to the plot. If you've ever heard the commentary from directors as to why they cut scenes from movies, you know that the primary reason is that some scenes interrupt the flow by not contributing anything to the movement of the plot. Think of the OSS in any less-than-X-rated movie you've ever seen. Take, for example, the car scene in Titanic when you see the sweaty hand smear the rear glass. It added nothing to the plot or character or relational development. The relationship between Rose and Jack had already been established and didn't need this for any emphasis. Most OSSs are implicit, but some don't leave much to the imagination. The fact that you are led to imagine anything is indicative of the intent to normalize illicit sex in our culture.

I couldn't help but to think that it's not cool to dance like Fred Astaire anymore. Today that kind of dancing isn't considered to be very masculine. When I told people that I took my wife to see 27 Dresses, it was generally assumed that she talked me into going to it when I actually wanted to see it! I asked my wife about this. She said essentially, “Don't get me wrong: you aren't the macho type. The guys who are the macho type tend to be mindless.” (Thank you, Dear!)

I know who the macho types are. I see them at the gym. They're kind enough because those are the rules at the 'Y'. I've been recovering from a pinched nerve and have been strengthening a wee little muscle in my right arm that has atrophied. I'm fair in enough exercises, but just as I had built my bench press of ten reps up to 115 lbs, the pinched nerve had dropped it down almost to the bar weight of 45 lbs, all because of a little shoulder muscle. I know these guys look at me pressing the bar and struggling with 65 lbs chuckle at my wimpiness.

Machismo existed back in the 1940s, but there was no doubt that men who refused to act macho were still masculine. Today, if I got up and started dancing like Fred I wouldn't receive much applause. I might receive some funny looks and many would assume I was light in loafers. What happened to respected tailors, chefs, bakers, etc? Oh, they still exist, but now we have to make it acceptable by putting the word “iron” in front of it and turning it into a sporting event. Does anyone want to try the fish that the Iron Chef turned into ice cream? Sure, if you have an iron stomach.

The reason I bring this up is that we observe that masculinity is on the decline today. But how can this be when we had the likes of Fred Astaire in the limelight in the 40s? I suggest that this is the reason machismo is increasing today. Have you seen the pictures of bodybuilders back then versus bodybuilders today? Forget the development of steroids. There's a reason men puff themselves up physically and egotistically today. They are less secure in their masculinity.

My wife is right, but it's not so much that the macho are mindless. Confidence is worn like Jane wears her weddings in 27 Dresses. The confidence of the macho is a struggle for acceptance. Even the “metrosexual” are following a trend. True confidence for a man is being secure in the masculinity that God has given him. But it goes beyond this.

[Warning! There is a spoiler in this next section if you haven't seen 27 Dresses!]

In Holiday Inn, Linda is willing to marry either Jim or Ted. She would prefer to marry Jim, but will marry Ted who has demonstrated a willingness to commit to her. In 27 Dresses, Jane has spent years desiring to marry her boss, but although she's in a position to win his heart, she viscerally decides he's not the one and runs after Kevin, who she had dismissed, now feeling that he is the “right one”. Of course, it's a cute story and we, the audience, agree that she should marry the other guy.

What I notice here may seem subtle, but I think it’s the worst part of the trend. In the 1940s, one could better trust that another committing to marriage would be inclined to keep their commitment. There was divorce then, but it was much rarer. Today, the divorce rate is high enough that one could only insecurely hope to remain committed. 27 Dresses pointed to the fact that couples put all kinds of resources into big extravagant weddings and fail to put the same sort of care into the marriage. Jim wouldn’t marry Linda until he had enough money in the bank to properly care for her. His life as a performer focused on events and no doubt he could have put on a huge bash of a wedding, but his purpose with Linda was the marriage afterward.

True godly masculinity is when a man is devoted sacrificially to others. Today’s machismo is when a man is devoted to himself. When Jim went to Hollywood to win Linda back, he wasn’t going for his own sake alone, but in the knowledge that Linda really wanted the life he had to offer. When Jane realized that Kevin loved her enough to leave her to her own decision, she realized that he was demonstrating a respect for her that indicated his capacity to commit. What is missing in many men (and I dare say women) today is the maturity to look beyond one’s own desires and seek what is best for someone else. That's true masculinity. It provides the security that women desire: a security that mere machismo can only imitate. A security that says to a potential mate, "I'll be there for you, support you and husband you with all that I am. I'll pursue your needs and best interests first. I'll seek the wisdom to guide you so that you can grow to your full potential as my wife."

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