Friday, December 16, 2011

Fictional Male Role Models

School is fianlly done for the semester, so I figure it’s high time I catch up on my blog which I haven’t really been consistently updating over the past few months. To make it up to you (since I know how much you all love reading this, all 18 of you) I’m going to be doing a blog post a day between now and the end of the year. We’ll get the ball rolling with my top fictional male role models (and by “role model” I don’t mean people who should be emulated, but characters who I feel have somehow shaped the way we perceive masculinity today) going in order from oldest to most recent.

First seen in: The Iliad (epic)
Although The Iliad is ostensibly about Achilles and the Greek army besieging Troy, it is Hector, leader of the Trojan forces who, despite being on the enemy side, managed to get himself named as one of the Nine Worthies by Jacques de Longuyon. He is a fearsome warrior, a loving father and husband, and a virtuous man. In many ways he is the noblest of all the characters and becomes the hero of the story. Whereas most Greek heroes from Hercules on down to Odysseus are little more than arrogant, violent brutes, Hector exhibits a softer side in addition to his battlefield prowess, especially in his relationship to his son whom he lifts into the air and whispers his hopes and dreams into his ear. He has the courage of a legendary hero, the virtue of a chivalrous knight, and the love a man.

King Arthur
First seen in: Various Welsh and Breton poems and tales
One of the most enduring perceptions of what a man should be is a knight in shining armour despite the fact that the Middle Ages ended centuries ago. Since Don Quixote this stereotype has been deconstructed time and again, yet many men still see it as their duty to be “protectors of the realm” serving a code of chivalry and nobility that may never have existed outside of popular imagination. King Arthur and his knights perfectly embody this moral code with their holy quests, feats of valour, honourable bearing, and of course their saving of damsels in distress. It is interesting to note that these damsels often prove to be the downfall of the men (Tristan and Isolde, the Arthur-Lacelot-Guinevere love triangle). In hindsight it does all seem a tad ridiculous, but there is still something gripping about it, to strive to be the best one can be and to help those in need. It may be fanciful, but there are far less noble goals a man can set himself.

Don Juan
First seen in: The Trickster of Seville and the Stone Guest (play)
Don Juan is the ultimate playboy. All he cares about is getting pretty girls into bed regardless of marital or social status with absolutely no concern for the consequences. He is a dick in more ways than one, yet despite this (or more likely because of it) he has become the symbol of what many men strive to be in their sex lives. He’s not particularly nice, he’s certainly not cut out to be a family man, and the only reason why he’d help you is if he might somehow get laid out of it, but boy is he sure a ladykiller. This of course plays into the double standard where it’s accepted and even applauded when men sleep around, but a capital crime for a woman to do the same. I think this perception of sexuality is ssslllooowwwlllyyy fading away, and maybe one day instead of calling Don Juan a playa, we’ll call him what he truly his: a gigantic whore.

Conan the Barbarian
First seen in: Weird Tales (magazine)
Conan is absurdly hyper-masculine to an almost incomprehensible degree. His muscles are massive, he doesn’t believe in shirts nevermind armour, and as his name suggests, his number one problem solving method is to beat things into a bloody pulp. His outlook on life can be aptly summarized by this quote from the movie: The greatest pleasures in life are “to crush your enemies, see them driven before you, and to hear the lamentations of their women.” Not exactly politically correct, but the notion of male aggressiveness that Conan espouses remains pervasive even today. Many men really want to be this uber-man defined by violence against both men and women to assert their dominance. You can see it in bodybuilders, MMA fighters, and pretty much anyone who self-identifies as a “gangsta.” My favourite part about Conan has to be that because so much focus is put on the male body, it comes around full circle and becomes homoerotic. You probably shouldn’t say that The Situation however.

Bugs Bunny
First seen in: A Wild Hare (animated short)
Whereas most characters on this list tend to rely on raw physical strength or sexual power to assert their maleness, Bugs Bunny depends almost entirely on his wits and trickery. His aggressors will use guns or brute strength in their pursuit of his demise, but Bugs foils them time and again by toying with their feeble minds. He proves that brains trump brawn while providing an alternative to what it takes to be a man that goes beyond the physical, and will influence all future representations of manhood. Bugs is also something of a transgender icon as one of his favourite tactics is to dress up as a woman. I find it odd that it takes a cartoon rabbit to show that without developing the mind, a man is no better than an animal.

James Bond
First seen in: Casino Royale (novel)
At first glance, 007 may appear to be little more than a womanizer in the same vein of Don Juan, but unlike his predecessor, sex is not the be all and end all of the famous spy. Sure he’s suave and debonair, but he also has an aggressive side and the vast majority of his problems are solved by coolly taking out whoever stands in his way. The two sides temper one another and are balanced by his intellect where he uses a variety of gadgets and deceptions to uncover conspiracies and protect British interests. Essentially, he’s what comes to your mind when you think of a man’s man. Women want him and men want to be him. The Dos Equis Most Interesting Man in the World is an updated version of Bond with the only real difference between them being a majestic beard, but Bond is still the more influential and culturally enduring what with the countless books, video games, and movies that glorify his name.

Atticus Finch
First seen in: To Kill a Mockingbird (novel)
This is about the only character on this list who is non-violent and non-sexual, but has still come to be seen as symbol for what a man should be. He is honourable, gentle, a great father, and sticks to his code of ethics even as the whole town turns against him. Too many he is considered one of the greatest heroes in literature and film because he presents a new template of what it takes to be a man based on humanitarian principles such as truth, justice, and integrity rather than purely masculine ideals. He always tries to do what is right and he does so without breaking any bones. He’s the portrait of the better man we all wish we could be, but often fail to live up to.

Indiana Jones
First seen in: Raiders of the Lost Ark (movie)
The thing I love about Indiana Jones is that he relies just as much on his wits as he does his whip to see him through to the end. He’s rough and tumble, but he’s also an educated archaeologist who’s just as adept at solving puzzles as he is at throwing punches. I’m not gonna lie, he was pretty much my idol when I was growing up. I wanted to be just as cool as he was which meant being smart as well as being strong. I only succeeded in one of those areas, so I don’t think I’ll be going off on any zany, dangerous adventures any time soon. Nevertheless, he’s the best and most iconic representation of your typical outdoorsman with a sweet hat, just the right amount of stubble, and the know-how and skill to survive whatever life throws your way. Also of awesomeness: snappy one-liners. You can never underestimate the importance of those.

Jesse Custer
First seen in: Preacher (graphic novel)
You’ve heard me rave about Preacher before, but it cannot be understated how awesome everything about it is, and the titular character is no exception to this rule. He’s got the toughness of Indiana Jones, though he’s not all that bright. He makes up for this with his unwavering sense of justice that no being is exempt from including himself. In many ways, he’s the modern knight who fights for the love of a woman, has a strict code of ethics, and also carries a certain charm around with him even has he’s bashing a chair over someone’s head in a bar brawl. A large part of what makes him who he is, is that he recognizes his own faults, past mistakes, and his own outdated look on gender that causes him to keep Tulip out of harm’s way even though she proves over and over again that she can hold her own. What’s more, he tries to atone for them which is a helluva lot more than most on this list can say.

Don Draper
First seen in: Mad Men (TV show)
Don is by no means a good man, nor is he particularly attentive to his family, yet he has still become an icon for maleness. He’s a snappy dresser, clever and creative, forward-thinking and daring, and has a mysterious element to him. All of this is well and good, and it’s easy to see why we might find these qualities attractive, but the key to Don is his relationship with women and it is from this source that all of these other qualities flow and why we find him so enigmatic. He is defined by his ability (or inability) to connect to women on an emotional or sexual level and this forms the core of his being. His talent for always knowing the right thing to say in a pitch meeting is tied to his talent for always knowing what to say to a woman whether he’s seducing, mentoring, or manipulating her. Despite his mastery of language, words often form a barrier between him and other people, disabling the formation of any meaningful bonds. For this reason he can find temporary pleasure in the arms of any woman he wants, but any lasting happiness is forever beyond his reach. I think this all makes him perhaps the most apt male sex symbol for the modern age.

Honourable Mention: Eddard Stark from Game of Thrones

Bonus points to whoever comments on their favourite fictional female role model.

No comments:

Post a Comment