Wednesday, February 4, 2009
"Que es Mas Macho?"
The header for this post is from an oft-repeated line from Laurie Anderson's wonderful 1986 movie, Home of the Brave. In this case, the source is as relevant as the tagline.
After Sarah Palin energized a certain subset of the arch-conservative base, it became popular to wonder if an Obama victory would bring the kind of vermin from the walls that Bill Clinton spurred with groups like the Michigan Militia. So far, the racism angle has remained in the background, and Obama's centrist slant has made it hard for the conspiratorial right to assemble complaints about the UN, socialism, New World Order, or the war in Afghanistan. Heck, a Pakistan invasion might be more likely under Obama than McCain!
Instead, wackos have been gathering at the center of the Venn diagram where cars, nationalism, the environment, and machismo converge. And the results might not be pretty.
Let's begin with the UAW campaign of late January to "Buy American." We all know that this was attempted in the late 1980s, when union organizers took sledgehammers to Datsuns in parking lots. It was stupid and jingoist then, and remains so today (check out response 220 in this link - the commenter has the audacity to invoke John Lennon). But when the UAW members opened the Pandora's box of working-class resentment, they found that many at the Detroit auto show said they wouldn't even buy a Volt (currently in deep trouble due to the financial meltdown), because electric cars and hybrids were for gays. Real men were proud of their large carbon footprint. In fact, some argued that industrial working-class jobs were inherently more manly than service or professional jobs. UAW leadership realized that this view could short-circuit the effort to canonize the line worker, and to depict the financial and corporate "Masters of the Universe" as the powerful men behind the scenes. Worse still, it reinforced the unfair image of industrial worker as a Neanderthal lout swinging a lug wrench around.
A recent article about a Colorado Prius owner who went on a road-rage rampage against pickup trucks spurred page after page of online responses, as readers reiterated the Michigan mantra that Priuses were for wussies. After all, readers said, caring about conservation and watching one's carbon footprint was such an effeminate activity. Real men loved to overconsume, to super-size everything, to drive their SUVs to their 5000-square-foot mansions, and all this talk of recession-inspired downsizing was just so much emasculation.
This kind of thinking is wrong on so many levels, it circles back on itself and becomes right in its own perverse self-referential domain. Testosterone to a certain extent is indeed responsible for wars, imperialism, and "livin' large." To wilfully engage in self-denial might be seen as a form of castration. But whether you are one of the wacko global-warming deniers or not, to try to make an argument against cutting the waste and carbon production in your own life is lunacy of a new order we have yet to experience. To say that caring about the environment turns you into an "emasculated metrosexual" is an observation so addle-brained, it represents a new breed of Know-Nothing Party. To reject the notion of sustainability is as foolish as rejecting the scientific method (and there are a growing number of people, particularly conservative Christians, that see the scientific method and rational discourse as satanic).
Should we care about a new reactionary underground that overtly rejects sustainability, right-sizing, and green transportation as a threat to masculinity? It's tempting to say that NASCAR fans can keep spending extra money on their big vehicles and off-road ATV fun, and drive themselves into extinction. Just remember, we once thought that we could keep the militias in their paintball-war compounds, but some, like Timothy McVeigh, decided to walk off the farm.