Wednesday, February 14, 2007

under the sucker's moon.

I don't write about stuff like this. Perhaps because it's a relatively new phenomenon, these "men's magazines." Perhaps because I'm not the sort of man who reads them. They cultivate and articulate vanity, and it's not healthy for men to habituate vain territory.

But today I had to wait, and wait, and drink lots of water, and wait some more, in order to take a drug test for work. And there on the table was some men's magazine. I was glad it was there because I've been wanting to get an idea of how to get more protein in my diet, and inside there was, predictably, an article on working out. So, OK, lean meat, beef only twice a week, cut out the dairy, and "get to like egg whites."

However, as there was so much waiting, I took in far more of this piece of the "image culture" than I wanted to. And I took it in a)as an outsider and b) as a man. Let me share my observations.

The first thing I became aware of, the thing that caused me to pull a scrap of paper out of my pocket and jot down some impressions, was, well, I'll read it off the receipt from Metro 53:
Pressure vs. women's mags
images of perfection
setting the agenda
"image culture"
I felt myself becoming uptight and insecure as I read this mag. There's a little of that going on inside of me anyway, as I adjust to the fact that I am not in my twenties, or even in my thirties, anymore, but am increasingly surrounded by, and subject to, in some degree or another, people who are. The magazine completely tweaked that nerve.

It must just be something about human nature, something that the marketing community guards as its very jewel, that causes people to project themselves into the images they see glorified and glamorized. This, apparently, is the heart that beats inside the goose that lays the multibillion dollar egg. You see the men -- all between 23 and 34, all fit, all cocky, all approprietely rugged and confident, machismo and irreverence. See them on $65,000 Ducati motorcycles. See them on an island they rented for $46,000 for a weekend. See them standing there, with their arms folded, daring you to challenge their authority. See their toothy smiles shot at radical angles meant to strike you as the very picture of glory itself.

My heart immediately beat with compassion for women, who have had to endure this awful sort of torturous marketing for generations. Now I understand the protestations I used to hear every now and then (back when people cared) about the "pressure to be beautiful." Those poor women.

Here's what I mean. From the receipt:
A guy wonders: 'is this what it takes to make a woman feel fulfilled; is that what a woman thinks is Mr. Right?'
The question reeks of the insecurity that seems to emanate from the pages of this rag. No wonder women have been so insecure about their looks, their weight, their careers, their everything. You can almost hear them thinking, "is this what I have to be to be desirable to a man?" What a horrible burden to have to labor under.

All the things "the pro's use." The motorcycles. The workouts. The freaking shaving cream. The clothes. The agenda is being set for people, by subterfuge, if they really don't guard themselves against it. It ought to be freaking illegal. It most certainly is diabolical.

Am I still OK if I don't spend $250.00 on a matching custom designed razor handle and badger-hair shaving brush? If I'm not jetting off to some unheard-of place to drink some unheard-of-beer with the guys from the London office? Will she still love me if I put my (Men's Wearhouse) pants on one leg at a time and don't have a custome-made this and designer-name that? If I'm just an ordinary guy who doesn't have the perfect smartass comeback; if I don't view myself as a shark in pool of guppies; if I wouldn't sell my soul to close the deal?

If all I had to go on was what the magazines show, I'd have to conclude, "No way, loser." The more I understand the media, the more I'm thankful for the alternatives, including the Web, including a good book, including a walk in the park. It's a little strange to live in an "image culture," though. But eventually people wake up and realize that vanity is just a gold-plated straight-jacket. Hopefully before they've sold their souls for the beautiful life.

I "donated" my sample and left.


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