Monday, July 26, 2004

The paradox of manhood  

I like movies. I like watching them, thinking about them, analyzing them, and talking about them. I can offer a measured opinion of nearly every movie I've ever seen. Some of those opinions are more controversial than others, especially among sci-fi and comic book geeks. For instance, I think Batman Returns (which featured Christopher Walken, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Danny Devito as the villains) was superior to Batman (starring Jack Nicholson), and that Gene Wilder would have been an exponentially better Joker than Nicholson could ever have aspired to, and that I will never forgive Nicholson for destroying what could have been a great movie. I think that the ending of The Usual Suspects ruins what is an otherwise excellent movie. I also think Fight Club is a total chick flick.

Trust me, I have good reasons for all those pronouncements, but I'll explain the last one because it's relevant to today's post. See, I have a theory, which may be right or not—feel free to disagree in the comments—that women are drawn to warriors and repulsed by aggression. There is something primal and intensely masculine about a man who can lay waste to all around him, and a woman feels her own femininity in direct proportion to her man's masculinity. However, women are also gentle creatures and often feel shock and horror at the idea that a man would be capable or desirous of inflicting harm upon another human being. This is a contradiction that has plagued sensitive high school boys ever since the first high school was built. "They say they like sensitive guys and yet they only date jocks," is the plaintive cry of every non-athletic adolescent male.

Well, Fight Club eliminates the contradiction. Here is a group of men who fight each other for no reason at all. They have no feelings of ill will or aggression, they (usually) stop before anyone gets hurt, and they're all friends afterward. Fight Club is a school for turning men into the perfect blend of warrior and pansy. Throw in a few scenes of a shirtless Brad Pitt and you have a movie that leaves guys wondering, "What was the point of all that?" while their dates drift off in reflective reverie. I would bet that most men who say they like that movie enjoyed it only because they thought they were supposed to. Like I said, though, I could be wrong.

Anyway, however women feel about men's physical prowess on a field of battle or athletic competition, men want women to be impressed by their skills in those arenas. I'm no exception. Problem is, I'm not really that athletic. I'm too small for football, too short for basketball, too slow for soccer, and too uncoordinated for hockey. I do possess a fierce competitive streak, however, and that sometimes gives me an edge against more capable but less driven competition when I do participate in a game. I'd like it if my wife recognized that and felt some measure of pride because of it, but she rarely sees me play any sport at all because it just doesn't interest her.

Recently, though, our church had a picnic in the local park in which the youth group challenged the church deacons to a game of dodgeball. We accepted the challenge…and beat them into the ground. I hadn't played dodgeball since the age of 12, at which time I was the smallest person on the court by 100 pounds. This time, the teenagers only outweighed me by 25 or 30 pounds, and for some reason they seemed a little intimidated by the old men. Let me tell you, I made some spectacular plays. Both my teammates and our opponents were wowed by my performance. After two games in which the rickety grownups dominated the vigorous teens (some of them jocks, even, heehee), I found my wife and asked, "Did you see me out there?" Her reply? "Oh, I watched for about five minutes, but then I heard someone singing and went over to listen."

So maybe my theory about women being drawn to warriors is a little wacky. I hope so. That dodgeball game was two weeks ago, and I'm just now beginning to be able to move without feeling the tortured protest of every muscle in my body.