Saturday, August 15, 2009

Leading Men--A Sad Progression?

Last year I found myself remembering a fluff piece from one of those women's magazines I read back in the eighties, in which the author pointed out that the previous generation or two's manly leading men, like Clark Gable, had given away to perpetually boyish leading men, like Matthew Broderick. And I wondered if she'd been onto something and there really was a progression--from manly men to boyish men, and now from boyish men to Topher Grace and that kid from Juno.

Don't get me wrong, I like Topher Grace (he was great in That Seventies Show, he was fine in In Good Company, and it wasn't his fault Spiderman III was a flop) and if I were a very young girl, I might very well want to cosy up to that supremely non-threatening boy in Juno. But, let's be honest, neither of these actors have very manly onscreen personas. Both are physically scrawny, Topher Grace plays awkwardness like a fiddle, and the central fact of that Juno boy is that he is non-threatening. Heck, the girl's father's response to finding out who was the father of his daughter's baby was to say in surprise that he never would have thought the boy had had it in him. How many teenage boys can you say that about? And did you notice how I instinctively switched to a more passive voice when I referred to the pregnancy? This is not a kid you say "got someonely pregnant" or "knocked a girl up"; he's too passive for that. Superhero and action movies aside, it almost seems as if the passive male is the new ideal.
This morning, unable to sleep, I check The Corner and what do I see, but Kathryn Lopez posting that "Jay Marini, who watches [The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance] with groups frequently, explaining that young women increasingly like the Jimmy Stewart character, Ransom Stoddard, whereas women used to go for the Wayne character, Tom Doniphon." Jimmy Stewart normally played good guys, but preferring him to John Wayne--well, that doesn't sound right. Not in general, or based on what I've heard about the movie. Jonah Goldberg came in with a suggestion that it might be understandable for women to prefer Stewart's character to Wayne's: "Ransom Stoddard (Stewart) is honest, heroic, compassionate and principled. No, he's not as well-suited to frontier life as John Wayne, but John Wayne is not as well-suited to the rule of law and civilization. "

Well, now I have to watch The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance. I've actually been meaning to watch it for a long time, but like that big westerns-viewing marathon I keep saying I'm going to do, I've been fairly content in my ongoing procrastination. But now I have to know which Liberty Valance character is more attractive, so I'm going to be driven to getting off my duff to procure a DVD and getting on my duff to watch it. I hope they're happy with what inconvenience they've wrought upon me. [grumble, grumble]

The weird thing here is that I don't know which character I will find more attractive. Jimmy Stewart did play good and decent characters generally, but he's too lanky for me to find him sexually appealing. And like most Americans, I love John Wayne--indeed, even if I hadn't liked him before, I might be afraid not to now, considering that Uncle Pookie once advised a friend to call off his wedding upon finding that his intended did not like Wayne--but somehow I've never thought of John Wayne as the romantic lead type, even though he did sometimes have love interests in his movies. He's tall and non-scrawny (two of my big requirements) and he's definitely manly, so I don't know what it is. Perhaps it's that he's almost too much of an institution to be erotically appealing; nobody wants to do the Washington Monument.

Of course, this is John Wayne in the movies. Perhaps if I'd met him in real life, I would have done a Maude and melted like butter on a biscuit before him.

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