Not long ago, my wife and I took our daughters to see a performance of “You’re a Good Man, Charlie Brown.” Last week, we took them to see Disney’s “Beauty and the Beast” on stage. Though at first glance the Beast and Charlie Brown might not seem similar, they share a common disease, one that has infected American men.
Despite their outward differences, the Beast and Charlie Brown are woefully insecure. Maybe this is more obvious when you think about Charlie Brown, the quintessential, worry wart for whom nothing ever goes right. He worries constantly about what the Little Red Headed Girl will think of him. He never learns that Lucy is going to snatch that football away.
The Beast is no better. He’s just Charlie Brown with fur and a mean growl. After he manages to trap Belle in his castle, he frets about her reaction to him, leaning ever more intensely on his friends for advice and reassurance.
At issue here is more than just the psychological make-up of a couple of cartoon characters. The problem is that these character typify a male insecurity now so widespread most of us fail to notice it even when it is perpetually before us in popular culture. I’m sure there are other examples. Maybe the guys from “Big Bang Theory” are that way. Who knows? I don’t watch that crap.
Eventually, we begin to assume this is how men are supposed to be.
Going through life as the epitome of the insecure, bumbling goofball never plays out in real life the way it does in stories. In real life, the socially awkward but well-meaning guy never just magically gets a beautiful girl who lives to give herself, body and soul, to him.
But, most people can’t see that. Most people believe the movies are reality.
This media indoctrination is so complete that a lot of men actively aim to imitate the models of quaking need held up as examples for them. Most guys see no alternative.
Part of this is because most guys have no real life examples to counteract what they see on television. When your relationship with your dad is pretty much a fiction, you look to actual fiction for models.
There used to be models of mature masculinity in popular media. Those cowboys are, of course, out of fashion now. Now, it’s all fairy tales about the wonder of being lonely, anxious and self-involved.
Once you see this, you can’t unsee it. Once you begin to contrast the way men are portrayed with the facts that men can, in reality, be leaders, can achieve goals, can actually walk right up and say hello to a pretty girl without making a big deal of it, you’ll see the disparity everywhere.
In spite of what the media tell us, there is another way. Men are not doomed to a Charlie Brown existence. Real, flesh-and-blood men are able to nurture their spirits, to envision a way forward for themselves and for those around them. Men can go to war to make that vision real.
But, the media has trained that warrior spirit out of us; shamed the best aspects of masculine nature, told us that masculinity is dangerous and the only way a man can be safe for others, and therefore worthy of love, is to be weak, nervous, and willing to please. Men have been trained to accept pity as a substitute for respect.
Fortunately, we don’t have to keep trying to kick the ball we know Lucy is going to yank away just because to refuse to do so would make us “not nice.” We can overcome the Charlie Brown minset.
But, doing so takes work. The transformation begins by noticing how this way of being, this habit of accepting punishment from the world for no good reason, of celebrating one’s inadequacies and making those the center of your identity is present in most men you see in media and, sadly, in most men you know.
To get better, you’ll have to eradicate self-pity. Make some goals and set out toward them. As soon as you do, conflict is going to come up. If you’re right, don’t give in. You can play win-win or no deal. You don’t have to be the loser, the perpetual Charlie Brown clown.
Soon, people will notice a change and they’ll respond. Because once you stop being a sad-sack comic strip character and choose instead to be a man, people will be scared, but they won’t all run, because secretly, they will, in their heart of hearts, also be thrilled.
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