Jeffro's Space Gaming Blog

Microgames, Monster Games, and Role Playing Games

First They Came for the Heroes…

This Father’s Day post at Didact’s Reach highlights a crucial cultural shift that dates back at least to the seventies:

A real father has to show his son what it means to be a man – and the best kind of father has to make the distinction between being a good man, and being good at being a man. The two are not the same thing and far too many modern Churchian fathers have led their sons astray, to their own everlasting shame, by pretending that the two things are the same.
Being a good man means showing up on time, being polite, being honest to a fault, carrying out one’s responsibilities, and shouldering life’s burdens with minimal fuss and complaint.
But one can be a good man, and still be weak. There are plenty of Churchian Beta males out there today who are good men, yet are still weak and pliable and easily led by others, who do not stand up for themselves, who do not put their wives in their places when it is needed, who do not discipline their sons and daughters, and who simply cannot be relied upon to uphold the truth of the Word of God.
Being good at being a man means being strong, courageous, honourable, and masterful. Such a man knows how to take command and lead, to get things done, to protect his tribe and his people, and to make hard choices when necessary in order that his people might survive.
But one can be good at being a man, and still be an utterly immoral piece of human trash. There are plenty of young men in prison today who embody all of the highest masculine virtues of strength, courage, mastery, and honour – or at least, honour as defined within the code of conduct by which their gang or tribe lives – who are nonetheless brutal murderers, thieves, rapists, and thugs.

You can see the cultural programming for this present disaster hit hard just by looking at the movies of the sixties and seventies. Marathon Man (1976) features a “nice guy” protagonist. Dustin Hoffman plays a nebbish that blunders into a bit of a thriller. “Realism” in this case means that he is such a loser that the only woman willing to take up with him is one which is willing to do so under the orders of a mysterious figure from the underworld. (Note how this character type would undergo some modifications in the eighties: loser protagonists in both Gremlins and The Karate Kid fall into completely arbitrary female favor without establishing any of the sort of qualities that could motivate it while characters that could command that sort of attention are painted in the worst light possible. The “realism” of the seventies gives way to the unvarnished narrative of the eighties, where dominant, successful men are are treated as if they are necessarily toxic.)

The flip side of this is not much better. In The Mechanic (1972), Charles Bronson is the archetypal man’s man of the seventies, exemplifying all the pagan virtues while being utterly devoid of goodness. In yet another nod to seventies “realism”, he cannot hold down a woman’s interest without paying a premium. The guy has a lot of admirable qualities, his line of work as a professional hit-man notwithstanding. But the net result combined with “honor among thieves” plot points makes for a dreary ordeal of a film.

The people that sneered at the pulp era starting some time around 1940? The thing that they hated most were male characters that exemplified both goodness and masculinity. That’s how you end up with a Frank Frink in The Man in High Castle (1962), a completely unattractive loser that ridiculously holds out hope for a rekindled romance with his ex-wife that had moved on long ago. It’s how you get Poul Anderson’s Flandry and Robert A. Heinliein’s Lazarus Long, masterful men that can reel in the ladies, but which are short on genuine goodness. It’s how you get a the elaborate plot of Fred Saberhagen’s Berserker’s Planet (1975) in which everything is set in order to allow an out and out coward to slip into the role of “hero” if only for a moment.

It’s no surprise that a generation that was trained to scoff at the very idea of good, masculine men very quickly ceased to be able to even imagine such a thing in the context of this cultural milieu. It’s also no accident that the generation that succeeded it had precious few of either sort.

And the people that did this go us could abide neither heroism nor romance.

3 responses to “First They Came for the Heroes…

  1. Pingback: Sensor Sweep: REH Guide, Realism, Short Stories, Street & Smith Pulp Sales, Star Wars –

  2. Terry Sanders June 18, 2018 at 4:44 am

    One small caveat:

    In THE MECHANIC, I got the impression that he “paid a premium” not because he couldn’t “hold down a woman’s interest,’ but because he regarded such attachment as an itch to scratch, and didn’t want to invest any time or effort in doing so. The movie itself was in many ways a horror show, and that scene was part of the horror. In the middle of all that emotionless, uncaring butchery, we see him being human for a moment (however callously)–and then learn that it was fake, that it meant nothing to him. *Here’s a bonus. Do the letter again next time. I liked the letter.*

    This as opposed to his apprentice, a sadistic b****** who found a girl suiciding over him amusing. In that scene, I got the impression Bronson disapproved–not because it was evil, but because it was personal. Vincent shouldn’t have enjoyed destroying lives–it was unprofessional.

    It doesn’t take away from your point at all, of course. It may bolster it. “A man who’s good at being a man is an amoral monster. Got your role model right here.”

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