Thursday, September 15, 2011

Fathers and Sons

A lot of the visual entertainment I’ve seen over the years involves sons dealing with the examples that their fathers have set. Typically, these fathers are absent, and the son struggles to come to terms with the (usually heroic) example that they have set. I’m thinking of the Harry Potter movies, Sons of Anarchy, Dexter, Six Feet Under, and I’m sure I could come up with many, many, many more if I sat down and really thought about it. Hell, even Cowboys vs. Aliens served up a big ol’ dish of this!

I've read a number of theories over the last year or so as to why this is the case. In most instances, the theory is that the role of a man in modern society has changed and these works are a way of working through male anxiety over their new role. In other words, comparing the modern “kindler and gentler” man with the more rugged men of our past. (I’m only talking about American culture here. I have no idea if other cultures are experiencing the same phenomenon.) I thought of this when I read William Saletan’s essay in Slate that a recent study on testosterone levels in fathers being lower than other males is being used in the same way:
Testosterone affects and is affected by many things. It probably does adjust to environmental cues as men become mates and then fathers. But we're just beginning to explore how and why this happens. The new evolutionary-psychology theory we're being fed has less to do with earth-shattering evidence than with changes in our economy and culture. Women are gaining more respect and consideration. Wages have shrunk, so both parents have to work for pay. Men have to help out more at home, and they can't get away with cheating the way they used to. For a bunch of reasons, we need a more domestic and egalitarian theory of masculinity. And we're using this study to sell it.
I can’t really speak to the accuracy of this, other than to say it certainly sounds like it could be true. Personally, it would be nice if shows would give this theme a rest in favor of focusing on having these guys handle their masculinity on their own terms would be nice!

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