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Those Silly Dads on TV 


Have you gotten the memo yet? If not, you must be pretty good at willful blindness as it has been pumped into our homes several times an hour by our mainstream media and its advertising apparatus over the last quarter century or so. 

While it has several stylistic variations, its central message is the following:

American fathers are amiable doofuses who mostly care about getting and sitting in front of big screen TVs while their much savvier wives scurry around for them, and provide almost everything of lasting value that the children might need. 

Then there’s the other part. 

You know, the one that says that when they’re not being puerilely useless watching football as they are, of course, venting their well-known and preternatural penchant for verbal and physical violence on the world around them. 

Watching this non-stop line of messaging you’d almost believe there are some powerful people out there in media-land who fantasize quite actively about a world without men, or at the very least, a world in which 49 percent of the culture would come to feel tentative and a little stupid about exercising the roles they have played in all healthy societies since the beginning of time. 

And what might those be? 

Silly little things like modeling essential values like courage and forbearance, or of providing, through their carefully observed and loving knowledge of each of their children’s unique personalities, the accurate parameters for that unique and growing person’s spirited exploration of the world outside the home. 

Or counter-balancing the laudable maternal tendency to protect the child at all costs with an ethos of greater intrepidness that acknowledges the constant existence of fear and danger, but that posits them as problems to be managed rather than avoided. 

And last but not least, of being, by dint of their generally more physically imposing, and when necessary, aggressive nature the last line of defense against those outside the family who might openly threaten the moral or physical development of his children. 

My old colleagues in the academy love to talk about how horribly gender-unconscious some people can be, as in how, when speaking on a given issue a white male of a certain age is, of course, deeply unaware of just how deeply immersed he is in his psychic cage of misogyny and/or supremacism and how he must be re-educated to see the light of his ways. 

Could it be a healthy difference of opinion? Nope. In their telling it’s inevitably a case of moral waywardness that can only be remedied by a vigorous program of cultural re-education. 

Though I heartily reject the essentialism that is so often implicit in this approach, I would, as I have suggested earlier, be the last to deny that there are, and have long been, gendered approaches to viewing and analyzing key social issues and phenomena. 

Where I differ with the zealous re-educators currently holding power in so many of our social institutions is that I am a) not interested in forcibly changing anyone’s view of the world under the pain of social sanction and b) not prepared to cede to one particular social group the exclusive right to talk about how unconsciously internalized gendered thinking can, at times, lead to infelicitous or unbalanced behaviors. 

Which leads me to what would appear to be an exceptionally large elephant in the room when we talk about Covid: to what extent can we speak of the response to Covid deployed by our government and virtually all of our leading cultural institutions as a highly gendered one, wherein the traditional male-female dynamic on the matter of security versus risk suddenly became so heavily weighted to the stereotypically “female” side of things? 

It would at least seem to be a question worth asking. And yet, nowhere do I see it being asked.

And if in our investigations on this matter we were to be able to substantiate the existence of such a tilt (please note my use of the subjunctive mood), it seems valid to ask how this dramatic departure from the historical gender balance on such matters came about, and/or was engineered to come about. 

Coming up with an airtight explanation to such a query that necessarily involves numerous social dynamics would be next to impossible to do. 

That said, I think we would be remiss if, in our attempts to respond to the matter we were to obviate the enormous role that media in general, and advertising in particular have come to play in what Even-Zohar calls culture-planning; that is, the way powerful elites use their control of key social institutions to generate versions of social “reality” that make their often predatory aims seem normal, if not laudable. Or how they promote tropes that effectively cancel those values circulating among the citizenry that are most likely to generate resistance to their long-term aims. 

I may be wrong, but the last time I checked the BlackRock-level predator class was still an overwhelmingly male bastion. And if there is anything males learn early on, especially if they are ambitious and aggressive ones, is to size up the probable strength of their would-be competitors, and/or those most likely to raise spirited and difficult objections to their grand designs. 

I know that if I were one of them, I would, given the undoubtedly greater of ability, should things come to it, of men to physically resist my attempts to cement overall control of the population, do everything in my power through the culture-planning processes at my disposal to make people question the validity of traditional masculine contributions to society. 

This, while highlighting the importance of the more traditionally female approach of seeking higher levels of security through a series of quid pro quos with extant (and usually masculine) centers of power.

Think about that the next time you hear the absurd slander of “toxic masculinity” or see yet another amiable and ultimately useless male doofus in a family setting on your TV screen. 

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  • Thomas Harrington

    Thomas Harrington, Senior Brownstone Scholar and Brownstone Fellow, is Professor Emeritus of Hispanic Studies at Trinity College in Hartford, CT, where he taught for 24 years. His research is on Iberian movements of national identity and contemporary Catalan culture. His essays are published at Words in The Pursuit of Light.

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