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Thursday, August 6th, 2009
In a recent post at Arma Virumque, the weblog of The New Criterion, James Bowman argues that a look back at Cary Grant can show how our idea of a leading man has changed over the years.
Cary Grant can be called a "real" man in the sense that he portrayed a man in real kinds of circumstances. He avoided whole genres of pictures that were outside of this. In this sense he could even be said to be more of a "real" man than John Wayne, whose Western characters could not be directly emulated since his male viewers didn't generally find themselves in such circumstances.
I have been in other conversations where, say, Leonardo DiCaprio is compared unfavorably to John Wayne with the remark that Hollywood doesn't like real men. Bowman's discussion takes this question to a deeper level. Is the primary question a strictly biological one? None of us can emulate the biology of another. But we can take another for a model of behavior. Hollywood prefers boys to men, and this goes deeper than boyish appearance. We should fight the disease rather than the symptom.
Bowman's description of comic book movies really highlights the difference. Comic book movies will often feature actors with hypermasculinized physiques, but do so in a way that appeals to boyish moviegoers of all ages and sexes. This just puts real manhood out of reach. A good leading man might make us say, "I can do that."
[To see a similar discussion that almost gets it, check here. Grown-up storytelling is mentioned, but the focus is primarily on persona rather than character and reality. The question we should be asking is not, "Why don't our comic book movies have grown-up looking actors in them?"]
5:41 am Pacific Standard Time