Photos by Michelle Groskopf
In the last days of 2015, I became obsessed with Matt McGorry. He's the actor who plays a fratty, bonehead law student in How to Get Away with Murder as well as the fratty, bonehead prison guard in Orange Is the New Black. I didn't start to fixating on him because of his acting, it was because of how he carried himself on the internet. While none of us were looking, Matt McGorry became woke. Which is to say, it seemed like he did everything in his power to show the world that he was politically active, self-aware, and enlightened in the ways of helping others. He posted Instagrams of himself doing yoga. He protested censorship of female nudity by posting shirtless selfies with other nipples covering his own. On Christmas, he retweeted his followers who tweeted selfies of themselves holding their own copies of The New Jim Crow. The other night, he tweeted, "Thanks for letting me make your hotlines bling to talk about equality schtuff."
On one level, no matter how much of a goofball this stuff makes McGorry seem, this is a good thing. He's using his platform as a celebrity to convince people it's cool to care about social justice. Unfortunately, his social media posturing also sparked a good chunk of laudatory coverage. Unfortunately, the media chose to focus more on McGorry's celebrity than the complexities of his causes. Yes, McGorry was woke, but more importantly, he was bae, which is to say that people were super amped that he was a hot white dude who was super amped about equality.
It was everything that is annoying about the "social justice internet"—the posing, the posturing, the self-policing to make sure all the signifiers match up to form the correct projection of equality-mindedness (never mind that McGorry tweeted "#NoHomo" after appearing at a pride parade in 2014). I began tweeting incessantly about McGorry, mocking the way in which he was lionized by media outlets and spoofing the self-serious way in which he presented himself online, which often came across as him saying, "Hey, praise me for being a hot rich straight white dude who gives a shit about the shit non-hot-rich-straight-white-dudes are forced to give a shit about because they're some combination of not hot, not rich, not straight, not white, or not a dude!" To make a long story short, McGorry ended up blocking me on Twitter after I posted a picture of myself holding a picture of him holding The New Jim Crow. But because of this, I began thinking about how we, specifically men, presented ourselves in the world in 2015.
Instead of swingin' our dicks around with a complete disregard for other humans, last year we really examined what we were doing and why we were doing it. And yet, despite the glut of seemingly well-meaning men everywhere, it often felt like we didn't get any closer to making the world a better place.
Last year was fraught with these contradictions. We were, as Wesley Morris pointed out in the New York Times, obsessed with identity, at a time when identity became harder and harder to pin down. Similarly, we flocked to men who projected and owned their identity, whether that was "sensitive fuckboy," "male feminist," or "rich blowhard." So now, my hypothetical male reader, here's some advice for how to achieve the most important identity for a man to have in 2016: non-asshole.
Prepare to Get the Hell Out of the Way
OK, so the thing about being a dude is we've been in charge of shit forever. As the icy grip of the patriarchy loosens, some of that power will go away. This is good, and it is fine, and as a man you just have to accept it. Fewer men will hold high-level positions on corporate boards and in government, fewer men will be writing bestselling novels, and fewer men will end up writing articles for VICE about how to be a better man in 2016. All of this stuff will still happen, it's just that women will be doing said stuff instead of men. The key here, as a man, is not to get mad or complain that men's rights are being crushed. Instead, you should understand that the mediocre dudes who have ridden their dicks straight to undue success will largely be cut out of their positions of influence and power. If you end up being one of those dudes, that sucks. I will also probably be one of those dudes. I'm sure we will all find new stuff to do that we are good at.
Stop Trying to Act Macho
Undue machismo has plunged humanity into countless unnecessary wars, it made #gamergate a thing, and it probably helped keep the Beatles off of Spotify until a few weeks ago. 2015's ultimate avatar for everything unnecessarily dudely was the human 8chan thread Donald Trump, who transitioned from building an endless series of phallic skyscrapers into a second career as an neo-brinksman who might might end up becoming the leader of the free world. He wants to build a wall around America, has threatened to "hit [ISIS] so hard your head would spin," and during the seemingly endless series of Republican debates, he's done everything but push-ups onstage while calling Jeb Bush a pussified bitch-boy. He is a sentient nuclear arms crisis shrouded in expensively generic suits and insane-looking cotton candy hair.
Look around. Do you see rocks and caves and saber-tooth tigers everywhere? No! You see smartphones and cars and billboards and shit. Every day, you survive without spearing mammoths for food, and there's no point in trying to bop your enemies over the head with a rock because if you do, you'll just end up going to jail and your enemies will probably laugh at you. So stop acting like a fucking caveman.
Stop Living in the Past
Last year, we were bombarded with remakes, reboots, and retreads. All of them took pains to excuse their own sense of cynical retreading by pointing it out before critics—or even worse, audiences—could. With Creed, whoever's in charge of the Rocky movies realized they could essentially remake Rocky and keep Sylvester Stallone in it, giving Hollywood's new golden boy Michael B. Jordan his own can't-lose franchise. J. Cole's album 2014 Forest Hills Drive (which was technically released in December 2014, but went Platinum in 2015) was hailed as a classic by many hip-hop fans, simply because J. Cole took pains to load the album with signifiers that tied it to beloved rap records of yore. When Kobe Bryant decided to declare his retirement from the NBA, he did so by essentially rewriting Michael Jordan's farewell letter to basketball. But the most celebrated of 2015's crop of huge payoffs on incredibly safe bets was Star Wars: The Force Awakens, J.J. Abrams's stab at a Star Wars film that shied away from the wonkery of George Lucas's prequels while serving as a combination A New Hope remake/intravenous nostalgia drip. The movie featured the same arcs, hit the same beats, and found familiar characters having spectacular adventures in familiar environments.
If you're a dude looking into 2016, you can learn from all of this unoriginality. Whether it's thinking about the clothes you're putting on or trying to write a book or trying to open an artisanal woodworking shop, remember that what made your forebears great is that they didn't try to carefully place themselves on the continuum of someone else's history, they were creating their own continuums.
Stop Talking and Just Be Yourself
In 2015, we tended to conflate dudes talking with dudes actually doing stuff. Drake won his beef with Meek Mill by making two songs declaring he had won, rather than actually shitting on Meek's character or addressing Meek's accusations that he employed ghostwriters or that some guy had peed on him in a movie theater, and we fucking loved it. Justin Bieber, who went from the next Justin Timberlake to tabloid whipping boy in 2014, told us he was sorry for all the bucket-pissing, monkey-having, and weed-smoking-with-his-dad-on-an-airplane-ing not by actively changing his behavior, but by making a song called "Sorry." And guess what? We fucking loved that too!
And then there was male feminism, which reared its ugly head in the form of men like our already-noted Man of the Year* Matt McGorry. By talking and talking and talking about the stain of the patriarchy and manspreading and self-policing and whatever else, guys managed to make feminism about themselves and inadvertently drown out women who have been trying to talk for, like, ever. Or even worse, there was the trend boy, who Broadly's Monica Heisey describes as a man who self-identifies as "a proud male feminist, or 'more of a humanist,' or appears legitimately invested in fighting misogyny. The trend boy adopts or ignores these beliefs as he pleases."
Perhaps the ultimate trend boy of last year was James Deen, whose veneer of Good Guy Male Feminist Porn Star was undermined by multiple accusations that he was a consent-flouting asshole. Or Bill Cosby, whose scolding of Black America felt hollow in light of the fact that literally dozens of women have accused him of sexual assault.
Now, I'm not saying that male feminists and trend boys are all horrible criminals or have made it so dudes shouldn't be feminists, but I am definitely saying that to be an effective feminist, dudes should shut the fuck up about how feminist they are and instead just not do or say terrible things to and about women.
Meanwhile, men who were less interested in talking and more interested in simply doing have already started winning big this year. Jaden Smith has started modeling for Louis Vuitton's women's line without offering a corresponding polemic on what it "means" that the greater implications of one of the most famous young men in the world is now wearing dresses. He just did it. That is extremely chill.
Stay the Hell off Social Media
Social media often creates an opportunity to project a second self. Appearing authentic on it can require a good bit of fakeness, which is probably why anyone I've ever met who is good at Twitter is also insane IRL. Look, I know how much fun it is to think a thought and then type it into Twitter and have like 15 people immediately hit you with responses, retweets, and likes, or how much fun it is to post a picture of your outfit on Instagram and obsessively check to see how many people commented on how sick you look. Each of those little interactions you receive after putting your content out in the world are little reminders that you did something that mattered, in some way, to someone.
But just like a couple semi-innocent early-evening key bumps can lead to you desperately texting your guy at four in the morning for an eightball just so you can keep the party going, too much social media can lead to, well, even more social media. In fact, a 2012 study by Chinese academics found that for your brain, internet addiction is functionally the same as a regular-ass addiction. This can have actual, fundamental changes on your behavior: getting interactions on social media gives your brain a little hit of dopamine, the chemical in your brain that tells you that you're receiving pleasure. When that little hit dies, a really great way to get more of it is to do some more shit on social media and wait for some more interactions. In this way, Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, and the like incentivize seeking the validation of others and might even influence you to start thinking, doing, and saying stuff because you know people will like it online. That can severely screw with your brain and how you behave, and cause you to distrust your own instincts. It's fine to lob a tweet or two out into the void every once and a while, but too much of it will drive you crazy.
And let's face it—the best case scenario for being super into Twitter is you end up becoming Rob Delaney, the comic whose Twitter fame outstripped his stand-up fame and is now just some famous Twitter guy who happens to do comedy. The worst case scenario is you end up undermining your own career by revealing that you're secretly a horrible person like James Woods or Cee-Lo.
Seriously, Change Comes from Within
I guess the point of all of this is that words should be backed up by deeds, which should be backed up by intent, and in 2015, dudes did too much talking and doing that didn't actually help anyone other than themselves.
Look, everyone likes to think they're a good person. It's just that most people's version of being a good person begins and ends at making sure they do stuff that will make other people happy. If you only do and say things to elicit a good reaction in others, that's stupid and duplicitous, and sooner or later, people will realize you're full of shit, or at least acting good for the wrong reasons. Being an actual good person means genuinely caring about others and treating them with respect and dignity, and doing that stuff should make you feel all warm and fuzzy on the inside. Figuring out how to change yourself for the better is a lifelong struggle, so if in the process of trying to be a better person, you do or say the wrong thing, or inadvertently act like some shithead asshole, that's fine! As a man, it's OK to make mistakes or say the wrong thing, as long as you're dedicated to learning from that stuff. And if you're correcting the inputs—trying to have more just attitudes, thoughts, and ideas that consider the fact that there are other people who live in this universe of ours—it'll be a hell of a lot easier to produce more desired outputs.
*Please note that Matt McGorry is not actually the Man of the Year; the Man of the Year was Nathan Fielder, or, like, Jidenna.
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