Friday, February 10, 2012

The Former Angry Young Man: A Gendered Character Study

Cool weird old poster of an Angry Young Man.  By James Montgomery Flagg [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

Maybe you've encountered this guy:  the Former Angry Young Man.

When he was young, the Former Angry Young Man (FAYM) (yes, "Man," we're getting to that) was full of piss and vinegar.  He was ambitious for himself, and idealistic for his world.  He took shit from nobody.  He spoke truth to power; he raged against injustice.  He had no time for niceties like planning birthday parties, listening to long pointless stories, or being nice just for the hell of it.

The FAYM, though, has changed.  Now that he's older, he recognizes that "no man is an island."  Maybe he went through a divorce, and needed his friends.  Maybe he had kids, and realized that someone has to buy the birthday cake.  Maybe he got sober and realized he was being an asshole.  Now, he knows that life is too short for all that negativity.  Now, he knows what really matters:  other people.

This narrative has attractive elements, and the classic FAYM doesn't hesitate to play them up.  The idea of the FAYM brings together worldly sophistication and down home values.  It has the sheen of learning and wisdom.  Like the parable of the prodigal son, it engages our love for the reprobate who finally learns his lessons.  It makes a person seem fun and good at the same time, which is never easy.

But attractive or not, the FAYM thing is a guy kind of thing.

For one thing, young or old, nobody likes an angry woman.

The only teensy loophole to this law is that if you're very attractive or very young your anger can be interesting and legitimate, because it is sexy.  When Courtney Love got plastic surgery back in the 90's, she said she had to do it because she was angry, and only physical beauty would legitimate her anger.  Like, if a babe goes on MTV and shouts a lot it's "hot" and interesting but if some regular looking girl does it she's just a mess and someone we feel sorry for.  Say what you want about Ms. Love, but that is true.   

For another thing, some of the stuff that happens to guys to trip the "no man is an island" brain wire in men happens to girls when they're like 14. 

The reason I got thinking about this is that I'd been reading or hearing about some FAYMs and kind of half-heartedly absorbing their narratives, and it kind of came to me like a flash:  you know, I'm not Formerly Angry.  I'm Angry right now.  All the stupid idiocy in the world, the wars, the pointless suffering, the stupidity ... I'm probably ten times more angry about that now than I was when I was younger. 

Where we're going to go with that Cultural Icon-Wise, I don't know.  The "Currently Angry Middle-Aged Woman" doesn't have a lot of style or panache.  

I guess you'll have to just call me a Feminazi Boner-Killer. 

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