So: while I am writing a long and terminally unwieldy piece which aims to set forth a postmodern theory of pornography (yes, I am doing this, may God have mercy on us all), it seems like a reasonable time to be catching up on books in the ever-growing and slightly bullshitty field of Masculinity Studies.
Specifically, I really wanted to read Guyland. The basic premise of the book seems sound: young middle-class white men are raised with a tremendous sense of entitlement, which is threatened by the successes of women and people of color in formerly all-white, all-male environments, and they are therefore retreating into all-white-boy societies where they can act out a particularly virulent and ugly strain of masculinity without actually taking on any responsibilities or having their perceived superiority challenged in any meaningful way? Yes! Okay! Tell me more!
Fifty pages into the book, however, I regret to say that it is not very rewarding. The reasons for this are twofold: first, Michael Kimmel is a horrible writer, and second, he does not get the young people, which would be fine – does anyone ever get the young people, really? – except that it renders his thoughts about youth culture quite suspect. See this:
You can find them in New York’s Murray Hill, or Silver Lake and Echo Park in Los Angeles, Houston’s Midtown, or Atlanta’s Buckhead district, sipping their mocha lattes in the local Starbucks… They are the “friendsters” with their wi-fi computers looking for love, friendship, or hookups, or on monster.com looking for next month’s job.
… is some of the angriest music ever made. Nearly four out of every five gangsta rap CDs are bought by suburban white guys. It is not just the “boys in the hood” who are a “menace to society.” It’s the boys in the “burbs.”
OH GOD MAKE IT STOP MAKE IT STOPPPPPPPPP.
Yet it does not stop. As far as I can see, the writing remains precisely this terrible throughout the entire book.
There’s also the fact that Kimmel views terminal boyhood (which is, I can confirm, a very real thing with the dudes today) as an escape from the “responsibilities” of manhood, by which he chiefly seems to mean that these men are not angling for high-powered corporate jobs and getting married at twenty-one. I find that this is actually the least annoying thing about contemporary dudes – the conflation of manhood with social power and the possession of a wife was one of the chief targets of second-wave feminism – and Kimmel’s constant insistence that all of these men need to “grow up and settle down” (and stop “hooking up,” a phrase which he uses constantly and with the prim, scandalized air of an old schoolmarm) is fairly grating. Yes, there are men who can only ever hook up, men who shy away from the word “girlfriend” as from a branding iron, men for whom an equitable and serious relationship with a woman seems akin to hacking one’s balls off with a dull knife and putting them up for sale on eBay, and these men, my friends, these men are assholes – yet, when Kimmel’s exploring how male sexual entitlement can lead to rape, it would perhaps benefit his study if he did not speak about consensual, casual sex in the same breath as if it were the same thing.
This is not to say that the book is entirely worthless. If you’re looking for an Anatomy of the American Douchebag, this might be not be the worst place to start. It just has the same problem as a lot of social research: the person making the study aims to explain the culture at hand without absorbing it, and therefore ends by concluding that these people are freaks, so that while the actual behavioral patterns and insider perspectives can be enlightening, the framing narrative carries a strong whiff of normative crap. That problem is compounded, in this case, by hugely, spectacularly, breathtakingly bad prose.
Anyway, it’s all worth it for this:
Guyland now even has its own literature… in such recent novels as Booty Nomad by Scott Mebus, Love Monkey by Kyle Smith, and the widely praised Indecision by Ben Kunkel.
This is transcendence. There can be no greater joy in this world. My entire life up to this point has been justified, and I know now why I was born – for I have seen Indecision referenced in the same sentence as Booty Nomad.