Let's re-welcome the classic macho man
Whatever happened to the idea of the metrosexual? Nobody ever uses that word anymore—though certainly not because of the sheer lack of metrosexuals. They’re still very much around, though perhaps the word has faded into obscurity because it’s become the norm. Men do give a damn about what they look like, the lifestyle they live, the measures of urbanity with which they conduct themselves, but the term “metrosexual” has been diluted over time, signifying a shift in the masculine ideal.
Pop culture has once again come to favor men who are either cold and nonchalant, or strong and gallant, or all of the above—men of the classically macho mold.
That was the male of the 21st century as we know him, pursuant to that masculine ideal: his well-coiffed head, his slim jeans and bright-colored socks. We’re familiar with his post-500 Days of Summer view of relationships, his noble support of feminism, and his uncanny appreciation of the Korean drama My Sassy Girl, which he may or may not have cried to (he’ll tell you he did). We know that he respects women, especially his mother, and that he listens to hip-hop, especially Drake. We know him well because he’s been around for some time: he’s Tobey Maguire in Spider-Man, David Schwimmer in Friends, Seth Rogen in Knocked Up, Michael Cera in anything with Michael Cera, or John Lloyd Cruz in One More Chance. He was the product of pop culture in the 2000s, endorsing this complex, sensitive guy-type, reminiscent of the once-peculiar metrosexual male and at odds with traditional views of manly men, a reassurance for all that Man at His Best is also Man who Can Cry.
Or so we thought. Because times do change, and over the past few years, there seems to be yet another polar shift in our ideals. The sensitive guy has declined as a trope in popular media, and with it the good ol’ fashioned macho man has risen. These days, we see more musculature and heroics; more of the machismo which we once let go. We see this in the dual male leads of Captain America: Civil War, in which Chris Evans’ Steve Rogers and Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark, who both have something to prove and no qualms about going to war against each other to show it. It’s also been the year of Alexander Skarsgard’s Tarzan, Chris Hemsworth’s Huntsman, and the year of a resurgent Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. It’s a year after Tom Hardy’s Mad Max, Chris Pratt’s Jurassic World, and most representatively, Channing Tatum’s Magic Mike XXL. Even the chick flicks of today, like Me Before You and How to Be Single, have slowly let go of introspective, complex, discernibly emotional men. Pop culture has once again come to favor men who are either cold and nonchalant, or strong and gallant, or all of the above—men of the classically macho mold. And in real life, we see people are buying into it: Crossfit centers are producing more buff bodies in sandos, and the trends are inclined to believe that bulkier is better.
It also bears noting that these themes arise simultaneously with the global shift in political preference—see the rise of the Donald Trumps and Rodrigo Dutertes of the world, as thriving, living, breathing, signs of the world’s preference for action.
What we once appreciated as charming character flaws have, over a prolonged perpetuation of the stereotype as male lead, become insufferable.
Maybe we can attribute it to fatigue. Maybe seeing through these sensitive men has caused a pendulum swing of the masculine ideal. What we once appreciated as charming character flaws has, over a prolonged perpetuation of the stereotype as male lead, become insufferable. And so the rugged, virile man of yesteryear has been resuscitated to become the contemporary ideal of a man. His most defining characteristic is strength, not vulnerability. He is uncomplicated, unfussy—at his best, he is kind and forthright; and at his worst, indifferent and headstrong.
So what do we make of this new mode? We can regard this resurgence as a way of tempering the otherwise-unbridled proliferation of the self-invested, emotionally complex male. This new ripped-to-the-core man is not necessarily our foe; he is our friend, back to remind us that men must still be men—not man-children—and that we owe it to ourselves to get our heads out of our asses. He’s not the eloquent, meticulous, magazine-reading, stylish guy you see in the mirror—he’s our reminder to stop looking in the mirror so damn often.
This article originally appeared in our August 2016 issue.