If you were speaking of poor role moles for boys, Homer Simpson would be right.
Popular characters like, Homer Simpson, Fred Flintstone, Family Guy, American Dad and a host of dumbed down male fathers and friends – are all poor role models for young boys and all poor examples of boys to men.
Here is a portion of an interview with Frederick Marx, creator of the film ‘Boys to Men’ that makes my point.
Rachael Kohn: In America today, how many young men are without father figures?
Frederick Marx: Oh my gosh, well, I think there’s something like half of the young men growing up in America today either don’t have fathers in the home or they don’t have the father figure, as it were. It’s harder to define of course ‘father figure’, that can be quite broad, it can be a coach or an uncle or whatever. But for me this is one of the primary causes for so much of the social dysfunction that we see across the planet.
Rachael Kohn: But young people invariably look to some kind of leadership, and that would probably be in the popular culture, in bands and rock bands and in films. What sort of an impact do you think that’s having?
Frederick Marx: Huge, there’s no question. The simple truth is, as elders in this society, if we don’t take the responsibility to initiate our young people into mature masculinity, they are certainly not going to be able to cobble it together from popular cultural influences. You know, we still have…and these are extremes, but on one hand we still have the popular macho male myth, and on the other hand we seem to have the Homer Simpson model from the Simpsons cartoon. I don’t know how it has happened exactly, but over the last 20 years fathers have suddenly come to be seen as the buffoons of the family, as the figures who can’t do anything, who don’t know anything, and are complete idiots, not only in a sort of emotional sense but in any kind of practical sense. So that seems to be the scope of the images that are offered our young people. Obviously there are others, through music in particular. But it is really, really difficult in a post-feminist society for a young man to decide, well, how do I become that man that I want to be in my life? And if they are just left to popular culture, the chances are not good they’re going to find it.
Rachael Kohn: How much has feminism in fact altered the ideal man? In Australia for example we have the notion of the sensitive new age guy, the SNAG, which happens to also be the name for frankfurters or sausages on the barbecue, but that has certainly undergone some change.
Frederick Marx: Yes, and I think young boys, at least in the United States, they know that they are supposed to be sensitive, they know they’re supposed to be emotionally vulnerable, but nobody is really teaching them the skills to do this, giving them the tools to both access and identify clearly what these emotional states are, and then to use them in a productive way that will serve their lives for the better. And that’s just one skill set, is the emotional one. There’s integrity and accountability. My belief is that all men aspire to being in integrity, to being accountable, to being, in a sense, to use Joseph Campbell’s term, the hero of their own lives. But we don’t give them the tools, we don’t educate them in how to do this.
Rachael Kohn: But isn’t that what religious traditions have always tried to do, they have set up the ideals for the good man, the holy man, the pious man, the community leader. They’ve done this through rituals such as in the Jewish tradition the bar mitzvah, in the Christian tradition confirmation, or in other Protestant traditions declaring your faith in Christ and your commitment to the community. Isn’t this where religious traditions came into their own in a young person’s life and now perhaps not nearly as often, not nearly as much?
Frederick Marx: Yes, I think the religious traditions and certainly all of the indigenous cultures across the planet I think are the fountains, the source fountains of this knowledge about initiating young people. There is an African proverb that says if we do not initiate the young, they will burn down the village to feel the heat. In fact that is I think a lot of what we are experiencing around the world now with our young people. But what has happened in the modern age is that so many of these wonderfully rich and powerful traditions have been corrupted by consumer ideology, by the worldwide consumer fever.
So even a rich and wonderful tradition like a bar mitzvah practice…you know, when I was a young man and I would talk with all of my friends who were being bar mitzvahed, the conversation would begin and end with, ‘What did you get?’ It was all about the money you received, the gifts, et cetera. And so the real ritual intent of creating a threshold that was a real trial for a young man to cross in order to deserve that recognition as a man was not happening. There wasn’t enough of a trial, in effect.
The concept of a ‘trail’ is so important in bringing boys to responsible manhood. My new book to be released in December – MURRAN – explores this ‘trial’ and shows a positive example of it.