Granite Men; Marshmallow Boys

Imagine a woman in the mid 1800s crossing North America by wagon train. Now imagine her amazement if she was to travel a  similar distance today by jet. Multiple blessings of gratitude would spill from her lips. I tried to keep this in mind recently when I was cramped into a small seat, grazing shoulders with my neighbor, not quite sure where to place my legs and basically confined to that place for six hours.

Still, the trip was long. I was not disciplined enough to focus on work or even to concentrate on the current book I am enjoying reading. American Airlines, aware that a benumbed clientele makes for a successful flight, provided each passenger with a personal entertainment device that had more movies available than I have ever seen on an international flight  let alone a domestic one.

My flight was long enough for me to watch a personally constructed double feature. My first choice was a relatively recent movie that a friend had recommended, The Intern, starring Robert de Niro and Anne Hathaway. After that, when there were still a few hours left to the trip, I pulled up the classic from 1942, Casablanca, starring Humphrey Bogart and Ingrid Bergman. My interest in Casablanca, which I last saw many years ago, was sparked by references to it in a wonderful book I just read, A Gentleman in Moscow by Amor Towles. The book highlighted certain details from the movie. (I include this completely irrelevant information only because I know many of you are voracious readers and I do recommend this book.)

Seeing the two movies one after the other inevitably led to comparison. I particularly want to focus on the male leading men. I don’t know how old Rick, Humphrey Bogart’s character is supposed to be, but my guess is that if you showed the movie to college students today, most of them would guess that he is older than the audience thought him to be in 1942. His face is mature; his bearing solid.

The Intern reiterates that Robert de Niro is playing a seventy-year-old character. His face, too, is mature and his bearing solid. To the amazement of his younger male colleagues, he not only wears a suit and tie to work, but—prepare to be shocked—he shaves each and every day including on weekends.

The contrast to the younger men in the movie could not be greater. They are soft and cuddly looking. Not only are most of them not clean-shaven but their hair is not even groomed. They probably don’t know how to fasten a tie and might not even own one. While not the main point of the movie during the course of events, as they grow to respect and admire Mr. de Niro’s character, some of them begin to model his physical appearance. Nevertheless, before that happens, they represent the desired look for their generation. With the exception of military men, the rugged, strong, manly look is not common. Neither, is the rugged, strong, dependable man. The popular phrase ‘toxic masculinity’ in and of itself suggests that being manly is problematic.

Casablanca was made at a time when the Allies’ success in World War II was uncertain. At its conclusion, Humphrey Bogart says, “I’m no good at being noble, but it doesn’t take much to see that the problems of three little people don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.” Stopping the Nazi threat to civilization took priority over personal ambition, love and emotion.

There are young men today, many in the military, who do live for noble ideals greater than their personal feelings and fulfillment. They are not the young men popularized today on Youtube, Netflix or in movies. Humphrey Bogart portrayed a flawed character, not a saint. In that way he honestly represented a generation of young men from the 1940s, warts and all, to whom we owe a great debt. The culture may not present that type of man as a role model, but as even one of today’s movie shows, that doesn’t mean that young men (and women) today don’t crave exactly those examples.

19 thoughts on “Granite Men; Marshmallow Boys”

  1. What defines masculinity? Appearance? Rugged looks? Clean shaven and traditionally dressed? Big muscles? Chopping wood? Perpetuating stereotypes from the 50s and 60s isn’t’ what makes a man a man is it? I think society at large needs to reflect on what a real man looks like. Does he cry? Does he change diapers? Is he all-knowing and the leader of his family? Is he approachable and tender, or aloof and quiet with inner thoughts? Is it his gender parts? What does Scripture say about men and what a man looks like? I think men and women need to think about such things for both genders and not perpetuate ridiculous notions, or long for days of old when men were men. There’s a lot about the 50s-60s man to appreciate and a whole lot to disregard. Brylcreem hair, wingtips, a suit , and a strong jawline doesn’t make a man more manly than a blonde hair beach dude with flip flops does it? As a man, I ponder often what it is to be a good man. A Godly man. A real man.

    1. Kevin, I don’t know about Brylcream hair but I actually do think that dressing neatly and having tidy hair do make a man more manly. It shows a respect for yourself and those around you. Flip flops belong at the beach but men only belong at the beach on vacation or in their free time unless they are lifeguards or otherwise working there. I think both men and women should dress differently on and away from the beach. You are asking a good question about what makes a man and what makes a woman and I don’t think all the stereotypes of the 5os were right while many of them were. For example, I do think that financially supporting one’s family makes a man more masculine while financially supporting one’s family doesn’t make a woman more feminine. It may be a good thing to do or necessary, but it doesn’t affect one’s femininity if one doesn’t do it while is does affect a man’s masculinity if he doesn’t. Definitely worth a discussion.

  2. Miss Susan, Excuse me for posting again in the same Musing comment section, but I wanted to recommend a series of books I have been enjoying. The books are by Faye Kellerman and involve a Jewish Detective and his Orthodox Jewish wife. The first is The Ritual Bath and is a page Turner. There is a good deal of information about Jewish tradition and ritual. The books are not gratuitous as far as sex or violence but do portray passion and love of each other and their religion.
    Bill Brower

  3. Miss Susan, I totally agree with you. Men of my generation tried to emulate the leading men of the time, Clark Gable, Humphrey Bogart, John Wayne, Gary Cooper. These men projected a competence in any situation and a moral character that came through in their appearance and actions. I know that many of them were flawed in real life, but they still projected an ideal that young men could look up, doing the right thing in any circumstances even when they were playing bad guys.
    I have alluded to the lack of heros for young men in the past. The men I looked up to have been torn down, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett have all had the worst parts of their lives exposed and their picadillos exposed to the detriment of their image.
    The Disney Company used to produce great movies for children with manly men and strong women that provided, if greatly romanized, role models, exhibiting perseverance and morality, truthfulness and love of country and family. Now most of what you see is a “Princess” who may or may not have any strength of character, and who can go through life through cleverness and prettiness. Any men are relegated to secondary roles and are definitely not the heroic type. Who is a boy to look up to?
    Even Snow White had Prince Charming to rescue her. Who did Else have to rescue her from the scallywags? Her sister Anna. The men were buffoons who were hapless in any situation but finally, did not win the leading lady, but were merely accepted by the smart pretty girls.
    Is this what we want for our sons and grandsons?
    Boys and men and girls and women have no pride anymore, they have nothing to strive for. It is evident when they show up in court in ragged tee shirts and pants falling down, and marked up with tattoos.
    They are before a person who will have a profound influence on their future and they cannot conceive of dressing respectfully and showing at least a deference to the Judge.
    I split firewood as a first job, shoveled sand and gravel, worked as a cowboy and I developed a physique and a work ethic I was proud of and was very attractive to the girls around. Now what boy breaks a sweat doing anything?
    Proudly my son’s know how to work hard, and I know they would fight hell fire with a bucket to save someone. they are my heros now. I hope my grandchildren follow their example.
    Smooth seas and warm, fair winds for you and Rabbi. I would love to sail with you all sometime, I miss the sea and the sail.
    Bill Brower
    PS, notice I did not refer to my age. LOL I do not want to be blacklisted.

    1. Bill – I did notice! Though you slipped it in at the end. You are making such a valuable point about the tearing down of heroes. It is a serious problem when young people are taught to be cynical too early.

    1. I do recommend both Casablanca (movie) and A Gentleman in Moscow (book). It would be nice if I got organized enough to make a list. When I wrote about comfort reading a short while ago, someone mentioned the No. 1 Ladies Detective Agency series and I have been really enjoying those for light reading.

  4. Susan, thank you! So sucecently phrased and definitely truthful, I am so glad that I have crossed paths with both you and Rabbi, your husband. Keep both of your ideas and correspondence coming. As you both may well be aware of, many read my ” mail. ”
    Kindest regards,
    Debbie Evans

  5. Love this musing. It reminds me of a family story I hope you will forgive me for sharing, but you see, my Father was my first hero and has remained near the top most of my life, warts and all. Dad was almost 28 when WWII broke out. His younger brother Paul joined the Marines and eventually ended up in the South Pacific, even fighting at Iwo Jima. My dad wanted to sign up too, but you see, he lost an arm in a sawmill accident when he was 17. He begged the draft board to take him anyway, if only to fill a desk job at home so an able-bodied soldier would be freed up to go fight. But the draft board refused. That didn’t keep my Dad down though. Rather than give up, he served as a watcher in the forests of Pennsylvania, hot summer and bitterly cold winter, throughout the war. He not only watched out for forest fires but for Nazi operatives trying to infiltrate into the United States by parachute at night. He didn’t get much recognition for his service because he was a civilian. But he was a watchman on the walls, if you will, throughout the war until VE Day. He suffered long months of loneliness and, in the winter, he got frostbite a couple times because of deep snows and subzero temperatures, with no one around to help. Thankfully, he never had to deal with Nazi infiltrators, but he did what he could to ensure that none could get through if they came his way. When I think of my father and the hardships he suffered without ever going abroad to fight and the terrible sacrifices of those who served abroad, i am awed. They truly were, as you say, men and women of granite. How precious the heritage we have from both those who fought and those who kept the watch on the walls at home.

    1. Wow thank you for sharing. My father wanted to serve too but was rejected for health reasons and he really couldn’t have done what your father did but at least he lived long enough to give me life! Anyway what an awesome example of a man and a patriot your father was!

  6. You are so right. That golden generation survived the Great Depression on Godly values, discipline and self-sacrifice. And they resolved to give their offspring better than what life handed them. Alas, they succeeded all too well. In many of the following generations their devotion, discipline and ethic did not ‘take.’ The glamour of life soon wears off when one has to sit down for hours and work to attain one’s dreams. Being a scientist or an entrepreneur sounds prestigious and ‘cool’ till one has to sit down for hours, design the experiments or enterprises, conduct them painstakingly with patience and crunch the numbers. And nothing can prepare you for the emotional letdown when counter-intuitive Nature wins out and things don’t go exactly according to plan. There is nothing like the school of hard knocks our parents’ generation attended. Yet I believe some of our Millennials will accept the challenge, seize and carry the torch. Fortunately for civilization, some of the incipient, up and coming generation have always done so. [I’d rather live in an Abrahamic world, thank you very much!]

    1. I agree that there are some very impressive Millennials, James. For example, there are great young people leading the pro-life movement.

  7. Good morning, Susan,
    I so agree with your thoughts and observations.
    I think of the old time westerns, like Gunsmoke and Bonanza. The men in those roles were masculine and brawny. They were not the effeminate types in today’s shows.
    Even commercials when they do use males as the spokesman or salesman, they are geeky types, “non- threatening” in physique.
    We yearn for a time that is past.

    1. The sad thing, Terry, is that the masculine body types we see in movies today tend to be white supremacists or criminals if they aren’t military.

  8. Susan, as usual your observations are right on target. I have observed the physical change in today’s younger males from those of the age of our fathers’ age. The facial and body contours are softer and rounder, and to me at least, their general “bearing” is not as masculine, even to the texture of their skin. Perhaps the added hormones to our food supply is to blame along with social conditioning for the change. Anyway, I enjoy your column. Keep ’em coming!

    1. Dee, I also look at my mother’s high school graduation pictures and I think she and her friends look ten years older than the pictures from my yearbook.

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