Saturday, June 25, 2005

Barbarians in Pink

When the French fashion industry speaks, the conservative commentariat of America takes notice. This article, defining the Fashion Group International's vision of the New Man of Europe and America, has earned "outrage of the day" status on most of the conservative blogs, online magazines and talk radio stations this week:


PARIS (AFP) - Macho man is an endangered species, with today's male more likely to opt for a pink flowered shirt and swingers' clubs than the traditional role as family super-hero, fashion industry insiders say.

A study along these lines led by French marketing and style consultants Nelly Rodi was unveiled to Fashion Group International during a seminar Tuesday on future strategy for the fashion industry in Europe.

"The masculine ideal is being completely modified. All the traditional male values of authority, infallibility, virility and strength are being completely overturned," said Pierre Francois Le Louet, the agency's managing director.

Instead today's males are turning more towards "creativity, sensitivity and multiplicity," as seen already in recent seasons on the catwalks of Paris and Milan.

Arnold Schwarznegger and Sylvester Stallone are being replaced by the 21st-century man who "no longer wants to be the family super-hero", but instead has the guts to be himself, to test his own limits.

"We are watching the birth of a hybrid man. ... Why not put on a pink-flowered shirt and try out a partner-swapping club?" asked Le Louet, stressing that the study had focused on men aged between 20 and 35.

Sociologists and other experts spent three months analyzing some 150 magazines and books and 146 Internet sites, as well as interviewing a dozen experts from Europe, the United States and China.

The traditional man still exists in China, Le Louet said, and "is not ready to go". But in Europe and the United States, a new species is emerging, apparently unafraid of anything.

"He is looking for a more radical affirmation of who he is, and wants to test out all the barbarity of modern life" including in the sexual domain, said Le Louet, adding that Reebok with its "I am what I am" campaign had perfectly tapped into this current trend.


This is all-too-easy fodder for culture war broadsides aimed at the ever-devolving wimpiness of European manhood, and the commentariat has not disappointed. Three of the top four Google hits for "Pierre Francois Le Louet" are from Freerepublic.com, RightNation.US and ConservativeLife.com. Here is a gem from a character named iluvfreebeer at ConservativeLife.com:

EuroPeon fagolas continue to push their agenda of feminizing men and turning them into sphincterfiles. Homosexual activists are quickly joining Islamofascists as the greatest threats to civilized society. I'm starting to think the Patriot Act should be ammended to cover these fanook dirtballs. As Archie Bunker once said so eloquently, "England is a f a g country." That goes for most of the rest of Euorope as well.


For a more enlightened analysis, Likeks takes a sensible and highly humorous view, as usual:


"We are watching the birth of a hybrid man. ... Why not put on a pink-flowered shirt and try out a partner-swapping club?" asked Le Louet.

Perhaps because you’ll look like a florist ad and contract the clap? There’s your modern lap: FTDs and STDs. I hate to break it to these theorists, but it does not take guts for a young man to want to have multiple sex partners. It takes guts to settle down and have a family and rein in the roaming libido.

Sociologists and other experts spent three months analyzing some 150 magazines and books and 146 Internet sites, as well as interviewing a dozen experts from Europe, the United States and China.
The population of China, the US and the EU is – what, almost two billion? Twelve experts. That’s a ratio of one expert per 150 million people.

The traditional man still exists in China, Le Louet said, and "is not ready to go". But in Europe and the United States, a new species is emerging, apparently unafraid of anything.

Except the Chinese man, who will kick his ass if they look at him the wrong way.

"He is looking for a more radical affirmation of who he is, and wants to test out all the barbarity of modern life" including in the sexual domain, said Le Louet, adding that Reebok with its "I am what I am" campaign had perfectly tapped into this current trend.

All the barbarity of modern life. Got it? Modern life is barbaric. The plucked and shaved and moussed and hair-dyed fellow flouncing down the walkway with the Patented Serious Model Scowl is ready for some barbarism. Like what? Black belt with brown shoes? I am what I am. It worked for Popeye, as an unapologetic expression of being a short squinty sailor who stood foresquare against Blutoism. Here it’s an excuse for being a selfish fop who, without family or any other civilizing instincts, never considers that he might end up in some Clockwork Orange world having his teeth kicked out by some hooligans dressed in the height of modern fashion, sampling that delicious barbarism.

But the search for new markets is also driving research to profile the new European consumer -- the theme of the debate held by Fashion Group, which unites some 6,000 fashion industry professionals.

The answer is not simple, as culture and changing demographics make it hard to pin down the typical European, especially with the growing population of elderly.

But even though society is changing, Jean-Pierre Fourcat, a director with consultants Sociovision specialising in discerning social trends, believes there are some common threads.

"There is an increasing desire for people to be in charge of their own lives, and an intolerance for any lack of autonomy," he told the debate.

All of which must take place within the construct of socialism, of course.

"We are also moving into a different situation. We no longer need what we are used to, rather we need what is new.”

Never heard that before. Aside from the Carnaby Street fashion revolution, the hippie look, the back-to-nature look, the disco-era styles, the broad-shoulder Izod look, grunge, and other attempts to shove down the public gullet a style that comes complete with a philosophical outlook, we’ve never heard that people want something new and different for their different new situation. Finally:

"We have to help people to create their own look. And we absolutely must help people to dream, and if we help people to dream perhaps the world will be a little bit better," he said.

The world will not be better because men wear their suspenders backwards The day I ask French fashion consultants to help me dream is the day I start drinking so much coffee I never fall asleep. To paraphrase Bart Simpson: Can’t sleep. Clowns will dress me.


Before gleefully jumping on the pigpile, lets put a little perspective on the significance of this article. This is a press release by a FASHION MARKETING FIRM, not a declaration of principles embedded in the EU Constitution! This is the sort of self-serving fawning over impressionable, narcissistic consumers that you would expect from fashion trendmakers. No need to raise the bulwarks against a concerted onslaught on our vital, manly fluids by the One World Government vanguard. As silly and preposterous as it is, a listen in at a brainstorming session at just about any major advertizing company in New York, London or Tokyo would yield a load of claptrap nearly as vacuous.

Having said that, there are real cultural issues at play here, although this New Man is nothing new. In America, it dates back first to the 1950's and Hugh Hefner's Playboy Philosophy. Hefner's "movement" was more about men ditching their responsibilities as husbands and familial providers in exchange for a worry free hedonism.

In the Seventies, this philosophy took a different twist with the Sensitive Male movement in the wake of Vietnam, the Woman's Movement and the Sexual Revolution. Men were expected to disavow their male competitiveness, their desire for social, sexual and political dominance as institutionalized in their roles as carreer climbers, soldiers and heads of families. In place of those archaic, patriarchal roles, they were invited to explore their "feminine side" through taking on roles as caregivers, expressing their pent-up "inner child" in encounter groups, and establishing caring, supportive partnerships with women as co-equals.

In America this new role for men began to break down in the late Eighties and early Nineties with the re-appraisal of post-Vietnam military defeatism following the Gulf War, and the realization by men and women that women really don't desire wimpy men.
Post 9/11, the Sensitive Male was decisively laid to rest in the rubble of the World Trade Center in New York. On that morning men who took responsibility for others like the firemen who rushed up the stairs of the burning towers, and men who agressively fought against those who preyed on the innocent, as the passengers who rushed the hijackers on Flight 93, earned a premium in society's eyes.

So what to make of this New Man, this Barbarian in Pink? Is he a new phenomenon or just a marketing play by greedy clothing firms trying to cash in on a fleeting trend? Probably a little of both. The rise of Responsibility Man after 9/11 was an unplanned and unwelcome setback for those who preferred the diminished social role for men. The radical Muslim upsurge was like a bloody gauntlet thrown in the face of a complacent, tame western society. The resurgence of American manhood in reply put the European male, who would rather opt out of the fight, in a bind. How can he project a dangerous, manly image to those who would doubt his manhood without actually changing his daily routine of unattached, uncommited hedonism?

The Urban Barbarian trend may very well provide a temporary ego boost to these reluctant males. It is a mask that can assuage his insecurities for a period of time, allowing him to put off the tough decisions for a later time, when his expanding paunch and balding scalp will no longer allow him to pull off the barbarian act with conviction. Hopefully America will have won the War on Terror by then, and made the fantasy of a peaceful world order viable again.

Which may answer the question why there are so few children being born in Europe. Without children, there is noone to ask the uncomfortable question "what did you do in the War, daddy?".

14 Comments:

Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Nice, interesting post, Duck. You are right that traditionalists, good 'ole boys, Bubbas, accountants, revivalists, veterans and other assorted tight bums and party poops (who of course are insecure in their sexuality) can look pretty silly preaching and venting spleens against youthful fashion and seeing Armageddon in every phlorescent shirt and moisturizing cream. And yet...

...there is something a little worrisome in the fact that the only respectable way to attack this kind of thing is through laid back, Lileks-style mockery--the funnier the better. It's a riot, but it does leave the impression that it really doesn't matter in the end or nothing can be done or we really don't care all that much. Anyone who tried to criticize it seriously as reflecting something real and disturbing, and preached such views to the young, would be dismissed as a Cotton Mather pretty fast. Ah well, if older men think it's all benign and none of their business ("Kids these days!"), and women are stupid enough to encourage it, I guess we'll just have to pin our hopes on those virile and muscular Chinese.

One thing that induces gagging is the predictable suggestion that all this is an expression of some kind of courage. It's amazing how many liberals and libertarians will trumpet their bravery in every abdication of duty or each very public living-out of some new self-indulgence. Since Hefner, we've all seen odes to the "courage" of those who leave their families, have abortions, give kids up for adoption, come out of the closet, put kids in daycare, surrender to affairs, put parents in institutions, desert to Canada, etc. etc. I don't mean to suggest the converse (that these are all cowardice) but what a strange notion of courage.

Far be it from me to troll or anything, but something similar happens often with religion. Nothing is more bizarre than seeing some self-indulgent, modern childless type spend a lazy morning in Starbucks pontificating on how the religious guy (who is probably attending to some family or community need at that very moment) lacks existential courage and "needs" to believe because it gives him comfort and peace of mind.

June 26, 2005 5:26 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

Peter,
I think that the popularity of Manly Man after 9/11 has given the traditional, visceral response to this trend much more respectability than it would have earned pre 9/11. The success of Arnold Shwarzennegger and his "girly man" taunt gives us free rein to go after this nonsense with more gusto than previously. Unless you live in Canada, of course.

Sonmehow, I knew you'd bring this discussion around to religion. I've been consciously making an effort to diversify the content of my posts away from the religion & evolution rut it seems to have gotten in, but since you opened up the topic, I'll run with it.

Actually I agree that such bravado by atheists does tend toward the self-serving. Personally, my own experience has been not that I am one of those few hardy souls who has the inner fortitude to cast away the crutch of religion with abandon. Far from it. I lost my faith because, upon examination over a period of time, I found that I just couldn't believe it anymore. Being brought up to believe that my faith was my bulwark against the corrupting influence of my fallen nature, I did intially suffer a bit of anxiety over what my future held for me. But I've found that the strength that I had depended on religion to provide me was available to me from within. My contention isn't that only the strong are able to face the loss of religious faith, but that the strength that religious people look to religion to provide is also available from within themselves, though they don't realize it.

June 26, 2005 8:32 AM  
Blogger Peter Burnet said...

Oh, I will happily concede stoics are just as wise and resolved about this kind of thing.

June 26, 2005 9:07 AM  
Blogger Brit said...

Don't these things just go in cycles? I don't think there's much of a general trend one way or the other.

There have always been fops. How trendy they are at any particular time varies. Only 10 years ago in Britain the cultural trend was for 'laddishness', and it was the thing to be ultra-masculine: beer, football, crew-cuts and loutish wolf-whistling at scantily-clad 'birds'.

Now they're flogging the next generation of young lads moisturiser and pink shirts. But ultimately the boys are always motivated by one common (heterosexual) urge: the hope that they will improve their success rate with the opposite sex.

June 27, 2005 7:21 AM  
Blogger Duck said...

Brit,
I think the difference here is that the fashion is wrapped in the guise of a philosophy. It is not so much that these young men are just doing what they think will get them noticed by women, but that they are trying to justify a set of values underlying their lifestyle. They are not so much making a short-term decision to do what it takes to sow their wild oats, but are trying to justify to themselves and to society a reason for maintaining such a lifestyle permanently.
Society always had some level of tolerance for youthful hedonism, or if not tolerance at least an expectation that it was inevitable. Young men, as they explored the wild side, did so without making a challenge to the values status quo. Since Hefner, that has changed. It is an attempt to re-write the status quo.

June 28, 2005 9:12 AM  
Blogger Oroborous said...

Being an atheist is easier than being deeply religious.

For some, possibly most, being religious means having a Sky Daddy to take care of things, and impart meaning to what otherwise would be fairly disturbing random events.

Deeply religious people usually feel that they must DO things, must act in certain ways and refrain from acting in others... That with knowledge comes power, and with power comes responsibility.

Religion can be a simple crutch, but it's also a carrot and a whip.
(An unfortunate byproduct of this is that fanatics usually only see the whip, and have no qualms about using it on themselves and others).

Anyway, atheism can be brave, a breaking free from an oppressive religious organization or upbringing, but in modern America, is usually just a giving up, sinking into comfortable apathy.

June 30, 2005 9:23 AM  
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