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David Bouchier: Tough Guys

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We all know how annoying some adolescent boys can be, especially those of us who had the unfortunate experience of being one. The adolescent male attitude seems to be built into our DNA, like a set of rules for bad behavior. Never explain. Never apologize, never admit a mistake, never show sympathy, let alone empathy, never admit that you care about anything except sports, never listen to reason, and never hear any inconvenient facts.

We have all been there – at least the male half of the population has been there. Adolescent girls, of course, are perfect in every way, or at least that’s what I’ve been told. This unpleasant masculine stage is probably a necessary rite of passage for young men who are trying to separate emotionally from their mothers and be accepted as real men by their own age group. It’s irritating, but entirely natural and probably served a purpose in more primitive societies when mindless male aggression and toughness was an essential survival mechanism. In prehistoric times nice guys didn’t just finish last, they never finished at all.

I admired tough guys when I was young. All the best movies for kids came from America in those days, and we loved to see the cowboys perpetually shooting each other for no particular reason, the GIs winning the war, and fearless policemen and detectives serving out justice in a hail of bullets, to say nothing of superheroes who destroyed just about everything and everybody in sight. Good and bad, they were all tough guys, and the movies offered a world perfectly designed for dimwitted young boys to live in, with never a thought or even a hint that humanity had progressed beyond the Paleolithic Age. It was just about the only model of masculinity on offer for the pre-baby boom generation, and it had the advantage of being easy to understand. All you had to do to be tough was to put your invincible self at the center of the universe, despise everybody else, and always be ready for a fight.

We left that childish fantasy behind, most of us, although it was fun while it lasted. Once common sense has dawned, we feel no need to pretend to be tough guys. It is virtually all pretense, and what I call the white collar tough guy is usually just faking it, and would run away from any physical threat. Life is too short and too complicated for all that silly macho playacting, and at some point most of us gave up the game. This process is called growing up.

Do you get the impression that growing up is not as popular as it used to be? This epidemic has revealed not only the real toughness of first responders and frontline medical staffs, but also the fake toughness of a lot of prominent men who seem to have reverted to adolescence. They have perfected the sour, hostile, swaggering adolescent pose, a toxic mixture of fear and aggression. We see it on our TV screens all the time, and it’s a sad spectacle to see men in their sixties and seventies wearing expensive suits but still acting like resentful teenagers, refusing to take responsibility, throwing out insults, and choosing sides as if this was a game.

But this is no time for games. It’s time to grow up.

Copyright: David Bouchier

David began as a print journalist in London and taught at a British university for almost 20 years. He joined WSHU as a weekly commentator in 1992, becoming host of Sunday Matinee in 1996.
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