Monday, May 18, 2015

Podcast Quackery and False Masculinity

One of the benefits of owning an iPod is the ability to peruse iTunes and its extensive collection of free podcasts. I'm a relative newcomer to the podcast genre, though I do see their appeal. If I had witty repartee to share with the public and the ability to ramble skillfully for half an hour, I might put my own together. My performing skills are mostly musical even though I have been known at times to speak in monologues. After all, my original life goal was to be a college professor.

Several podcasts are geared specifically for men, spouting the same familiar platitudes like maximizing your potential, often titled with bad puns. Podcasts designed for an exclusively female audience are not without their own faults, and tend to reinforce the same sloppy logic and gender norms in different ways. In these, women are often schooled in fashion and makeup.

Inspirational, motivational podcasts for men make similarly over-simplistic, overreaching assumptions that a man's most basic, most deserved masculinity is lacking somehow. Naturally, the creator, designer, and ringleader has the correct answer, the antidote to anxious masculinity.

I know this because morbid curiosity had me download one. After a two-minute, testosterone-drenched introduction that would not have been out of place advertising a monster truck rally, the podcast was underway. Its author was a self-professed life coach who made a living telling other men essentially how to be better, more efficient men. It was as if men came from a factory somewhere and only needed a fresh coat of paint or new tires to be secure in who they were.

A satisfied client, as we were told, was introduced. He rambled painfully from one unfocused topic to another. Like many people undergoing a bit of an identity crisis, he felt that he needed to take on some great personal challenge to regain his focus and his happiness. This man kept talking about writing a book as though it would be a curative, restorative experience. In reality, unless you have the patience and the focus necessary, writing a book is bound to be unsatisfying work. But it is a particularly persistent straw grasp at by those grasping at straws.

This man was lost, but, have no fear, the life coach had answers. It was here that my attention began to drift. Citing specific examples would be needlessly inflammatory, but I think that the faintest suggestion will demonstrate what I mean. Suffice it to say, what followed could have been called "A Dude Bro's Guide to Life." And a confused, self-doubting man hung on every word, every suggestion.

It occurs to me that I may need to define what a Dude Bro is. In that case, I will defer to writer Jill Filipovic.
What is a dude-bro, and how is he different from a standard dude? Answers vary, but the dude-bro seems fairly synonymous with the douche (an insult I remain strongly in favor of). He's Guy Fieri. He's the Abercrombie-wearing frat boy pumping his fist and screaming "USA! USA!" at the concert you're attending.
He's walking through the Burger King drive-in drunk at 3 am and calling the cashier a fag. He's probably wearing some variety of khaki short and maybe a baseball hat. He's probably white, probably fairly affluent, probably was in a fraternity and definitely refers to his male friends as his "bros."
I get tired seeing men gender police other men for being too soft or not being self-sufficient enough. As I have written about before, this might partially be a result of never being able to fit neatly into those boxes myself. The difference between myself and the interview subject is that I no longer worry as I once did about being man enough or masculine enough. Or, if I do, what resurfaces are the parts hardwired into me from birth, these notions which I now calmly examine rationally and then dismiss.

Part of this, if not outright rejection of masculinity, is a desire to see it on my own terms for a change. Being queer, depending on the definition, will always mean that gender is by turns transgressive, asymmetrical, and not easily defined or pigeonholed. I'd like to see a podcast telling gay men how to live up to their potential, to their truest form of male identity. But you don't see those sorts of topics out there, even though these are the sorts of men most likely to be the most confused, the most scattered, the most anxious. They might never talk about their fears openly, but the pain is there and it is real.

The Cult of Masculinity reminds me of the worst of organized religion. It preys upon those seeking an easy label to embrace that will somehow make them whole. It relies upon hucksters and swindlers seeking a quick buck as they dispense garbage advice. My women friends talk about their own inadequacies at being female. If it was socially acceptable, my male friends would say the same was true for them. Men aren't quite there yet and women in many ways have only just begun.

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