Once upon a time, in a book far away the hero was not the cuddliest man for miles. It sounds like fiction, and in a way it is. Fiction reflects its germinative society. In fact it not only reflects that society, it is by necessity and evolution a symbiote of that society. Neither can endure healthily without the other in good health, and a decline in one will foretell a depreciation of the other.

Back in the time of legends, it was possible to meet a hero, or even a hero’s sidekick or temporary companion who was not a nice guy. A good guy, sure, but the type of man who inspired Churchill to utter; “We sleep soundly in our beds because rough men stand ready in the night to visit violence on those who would do us harm.”, and everyone in the allied nations to not only know what he meant, but to hold those men in high esteem.  The Lone Ranger wasn’t the type to talk a bad guy into putting down his gun because violence never solved anything, he shot the bastard and got on with life. Being willing to do violence to those who needed a foot broken off in their ass and not paralyzing oneself with doubt afterwards (or before) is historically (and today) a highly adaptive trait.

Of all the civil rights era men who did good things, it seems only Martin and Malcolm are really remembered. Malcolm X is seen as some sort of boogieman, a mostly tame boogieman, much like a domestic version of Fidel Castro, but while being acknowledged as scary, he’s otherwise just sorta there. Martin Luther King Jr, who’s honorifics have been eroded is somehow just about the sole martyr of the struggle. While both of them did good things, it is probably a third man who had the most lasting impact on peoples lives. In the era of bus boycotts and lunch counter sit-ins, he helped push food banks, literacy programs, and voter registration. While Martin pushed an almost servile passivity, and Malcolm’s sabre rattling set the teeth of even his allies, Bobby Seale managed to invigorate and activate the forgotten middle. In his own words:

They came down on us because we had a grass-roots, real people’s revolution, complete with the programs, complete with the unity, complete with the working coalitions, where we crossed racial lines.

Yet, most people born after the civil rights era don’t know who he is, or that they should be wishing him a happy birthday today. How is that possible?

It’s possible, because the value of a man as protector, as avenger, as the half of the fabled learning duo that isn’t orange and topped by string leafs has been consigned to the realm of villainy. And yet, on the other hand men have been excluded by social pressure from elementary education, day care, and after school programs. Organizations like 4H are nearly overburdened with testosterone if they have one in twenty male leaders, and not shockingly they retain only a slightly higher percentage of male membership.  So men aren’t allowed to inspire people to behave better out of fear, nor are they allowed to be involved in nurturing. Decades ago when the dark hero, the Bobby Seale, the Conan, the gruff uncle or grandfather was a common sight, men were allowed a variety of roles. These human wolfhounds didn’t (and don’t) just exist to set limits on what the wolf can do, but to steer the flock as well.

Just judging by the point the change from traditional scope of roles become fodder for Hollywood humor, Mr Mom (1983), Michael Keaton’s exploration of full-time stay at home daddyness as compared to something the current Hollywood might produce? The “good guys” in much of today’s fiction are indistinguishable from most of the women except by pronoun, and occasionally which restroom they use. This isn’t nearly as much because of a change in how women are portrayed, as it is in how men are. Gruff men, dark heroes, strong males are never shown as present, or at least not present for long.

As fiction is a symbiote of society, this portends things that are not good for anyone. From the business point of view, it doesn’t inspire men to read, or appreciate women who do. Why would any man want to contend with hundreds of reinforcements of a stereotype that if he’s strong he’ll either leave soon or be evil (and probably evil)? This blog post has an interesting spin on the role of men.

  • Xander Opal

    I keep saying this more and more: “Real men have self-control.” In this context, self-control is directing one’s anger, ability to do violence, force, power in a constructive manner. To channel the effects of being regarded as less than fully human into the efforts required for recognition as being just another human being.

    Real men don’t tear everyone else down in a tantrum of jealousy. They don’t ruin others’ lives just to see them hurt. They don’t try to destroy their jobs, their income, their savings just to stand higher than them in the resulting rubble.

    Real men stand tall and walk straight. They decide on a course of action for their goals and accept the consequences, after considering the same. They decide on the consequences they desire, and undertake the required courses of action.

    A real man is confident in his own masculinity. Regardless of what clothes he wears, the tasks he must carry out, “I am a Man” is as much an undeniable part of his core self as “I am a Woman” is part of a real woman. Men and women are different; it is natural to celebrate that difference, just as it is natural to celebrate things in common.

    Real men inspire boys to become more real men. To stand straight, walk tall, be solid and just. To lead where it is necessary, to recognize and support great leaders. To build up where others have torn down, and build up higher yet, to break new ground. To support real women, whether the woman’s path is to stand high and stand alone, or to stand side by side together.

    It is just as wrong to make all men meek and submissive, as it is to make all women meek and submissive.

    • Onyxhawke

      I couldn’t have said it better myself.

  • Susan Curnow

    Interesting, isn’t it? Eric says pretty much how I feel on the subject. This ‘nanny state’ attempts to take away simple common sense by presuming the worst of everyone. To go about with the presumption all men are pedophiles or any other label that is convenient, makes for a terrible society.
    I agree about the ‘dark’ heroes. I hope I have shown that in my current WIP where i took a man from a supposedly advanced society and threw him into a medieval-type setting. As in ‘Demolition Man’ where everyone is happy-happy,joy-joy, to suddenly find yourself having to cope with ‘real’ life is somewhat of a shock.
    On another note, it reflects society also when we send our soldiers into war zones and they come back suffering PTSD. Yes, this has gone on since Spartan times, but now on the one hand these guys are supposed to be soldiers but as soon as they react understandably society calls them murderers. Churchill was right indeed.
    I said to someone the other day, and they looked at me a little blankly, but, TV advocates that a man soften his ‘manhide’ with Dove soap, thus encouraging his feminine side, while his wife wants him to understand the buttons on the washing machine as well as she. Even if our roles are evolving, many women, myself included, still prefers her man to be a man and strength comes in many forms. There has always been a difference between gratuitous violence and defending what one cares about, and sometimes the bad must be cauterized more succinctly than many realize. Simplistically, there should be no difference between a man being able to cuddle his own child without guilt or defend that child against attackers, but apparently we have to analyze both actions to death because of some hidden meaning other than familial love.

    • Onyxhawke

      Damn my readers are effing brilliant.
      The other two issues are the “everything needs a consensus” and “all outliers are bad”. By this logic Einstien was “bad” becuase he was smarter than most folks.
      Dave’s bit about the androdgony of female models is stated too softly…they look like prepubescent boys.

  • This rambles greatly, and I apologize in advance for not editing.

    Pretty much it’s: why all the PTSD, tied back around to how dark heroes interact with society, then on to a very brief assessment of writing dark heroes and folks who do it poorly.

    I don’t know much about the details of his work, but part of Ronald Laing’s premise as a sociologist was that society was fundamentally insane and trying to cope with the contradictions of society was crazy-making for people.

    I think that’s a big worsener for PTSD for troops. They’re raised adopting one persona, one sense of “self” as normal. They go to war and in a combat environment they face a severe shock to their sense of reality and have to develop new ways of living and coping and vastly new definitions of what reality is and what it’s like and new definitions of themselves and other people just to survive. They develop a whole new universal, all-encompasing sense of, “This is what reality *really* is–and I never knew it–all those stupid illusions I lived by, and this is the hard truth.”

    They know they have to re-integrate to “civilian life” after deployment, but they also know that what they’ve experienced is part of actual reality in the world. Their eyes have been opened that those things can and do happen some places. They’ve seen things they can’t unsee.

    One of the things they’ve seen that they can’t unsee is that society runs this “Great and Powerful Oz!!!!” light show all the time, and they’ve seen the man behind the curtain. They *can’t* “pay no attention” to that man behind the curtain. They probably don’t use that analogy (maybe not the straight ones, Aunty Em. 🙂 ). But they no longer have the absolute blind faith in society’s snake oil that it’s selling as “reality” as being the Truth about how things are and as being capital R Reality.

    They know it won’t fit, they can’t make it fit, it’s upsetting, they keep getting grouchy and distressed, people around them seem to expect them to go back to being just like they were before–they say they don’t, but they really do. They want the same Johnny that left to come marching back home. And Johnny feels guilty as hell that he can’t “meet or exceed expectations” because he’s trying to compensate for survivor guilt and all kinds of feelings he’s carrying around.

    Trying to fit *back* into our society which is particularly sanitized and distanced from a lot of human realities is another trauma all over again for Johnny.

    It’s like having a multiple-fractured leg that healed bent get broken all over again, in multiple places, because you’ll walk with a limp if it’s not set right to re-heal.

    Only in this case, “right” is the somewhat arbitrary and procrustean way our cultural standards thinks a “normal, mentally healthy person” ought to act to “function and fit in.”

    My favorite well-rounded heroes in other works have usually run into several of these procrustean do-gooders and bits of bureaucratic systems designed to stretch them on racks or chop off the inconvenient parts that don’t fit.

    Usually, the do-gooders or the system have been one or two isolated voices. They haven’t been the overwhelming chorus that *succeeds* in shouting the hero down. They haven’t been the overwhelming society that *almost* succeeds or has to be completely overthrown for the hero to survive, as in Demolition Man.

    Ibsen’s “Enemy of the People” has society shouting down a whistle-blower. The whistle-blower is the do-gooder if you look at actual reality. However, if you look at reality through the distorted lens of the society he lives in, he’s a wild-eyed nut who’s trying to arrogantly and single-handedly, without cooperating or working with others, wreck their whole economy over some unproven, crackpot panic.

    On the other hand, dark heroes don’t stick around so much maybe because there’s not a whole lot interesting to say about the story after the action is done, and because we like to leave room for a sequel.

    I think some of the problem may be a failure in some literature’s portrayal of female characters. I think they sometimes have difficulty portraying or even figuring out the kind of woman who would form a stable partnership with a dark hero.

    They have trouble drawing him in his complexities and at the same time envisioning a woman who, over the long term, would put up with that guy–and be in a happy relationship–and not be a total wuss.

    You have a failure of authorial vision when you try to write people by imagining them from the ground up instead of really knowing your subject. A writer’s subject is people.

    The folks writing these trite and bloodless heroes that all sound like they attend the same circle of cocktail parties? They really need to get out more.

    • Onyxhawke

      Horribly, unforgivably sensible.

      I’ve said since I was a sprat that “reality is the cause of insanity.” and I’ve yet to see anything disprove it.