Desperation is mostly inseparable from masculinity. Men strain for fame, for female attention, for sad, trivial triumphs over one another. We are a people perpetually trying to figure it all out—flexing in the mirror, using lines we've heard before, trying to seem bold and dignified. We're not cowboys or poets. If we are, we wear it as a disguise. Mostly, we are vulnerable and self-conscious and probably masturbating for the third time on a Tuesday afternoon, because we're off work and that Lea Thompson scene in All the Right Moves just came on. We are not men, but almost. Note: columns may also contain William Holden hero worship and meditations on cured meats.
Image by Courtney Nicholas
When the aliens arrive, they will marvel not at the Earth’s quantity of fetish pornography or the comments section of WorldStarHipHop videos, but at the American male’s infinite commitment to dedicating new things to his own existence. The aliens will ask the grown men why they have rooms decorated with the hoods of NASCAR cars and deer antlers and posters of Will Ferrell movies and replica football helmets. The men will tell them that these are their man caves, you see; places where only men can go, to do man things, with other men, for hours at a time, because a man’s life is so devoid of pleasure otherwise. And then aliens will incinerate everything in sight, because fucking obviously.
Man caves are still a thing, all these years later, and for that civilization is worse off. They are the male ethos writ large: no ambitions beyond hiding in a place surrounded by miniscule triumphs and pedestrian hobbies, while females are present only in two dimensions on a television screen with the volume turned down low. Their vision of paradise is microwavable appetizers, a beanbag chair with Dale Earnhardt stitched onto it, watching that Kate Upton .gif again, not being reprimanded for their music being too loud, and avoiding women at all costs, whom they see as diabolical, enigmatic creatures that speak some unintelligible dialect and only exist to tell them they were supposed to be home an hour ago. The existence of man caves almost confirms that, essentially, all a man desires is to reenact his twelfth birthday party. The men depicted in beer commercials exist, scurrying from women like boarding school students around a schoolmarm. They are inattentive to female needs beyond offering to take them to the mall or halfhearted foot rubs given specifically to facilitate three minutes of spastic gorilla sex. The man cave exists as a kind of salvation for suburban dads who resent their families for interfering with their fantasy football drafts.
A piece in the Chicago Tribune described man caves as a place for men to proudly display “beloved, tacky lamps and beer-can sculptures.” A book written by an English professor at the University of Florida said they are an environment where men can “smoke, fart,” and “tell the same jokes over and over again.” Sam Martin, who wrote Manspace: A Primal Guide to Marking Your Territory said garages were one of the ideal, de facto man caves because “You spill a beer there or leave a hamburger overnight, who cares?”
Is this really who men are? What they value? Farting and leaving half-eaten red meat out to rot? Is the prohibition of these things significantly restricting their day-to-day happiness? What kind of aspiration is devolution? How is it possible that the middle class, privileged white males who can afford these man caves feel like they need some respite from their middle-class, privileged white lives? Why would someone with such a perfect reality ever deserve a fantasy, too? But there they are, buying pinball machines and turning the driver’s seat of their 1978 Trans Am into a recliner with a refrigerator and a USB outlet built in.
There’s an undeniably territorial, sub-Neanderthal, almost animalistic element not just to a man cave’s practical function but the need to have and pride in having one. Men see the assembly of a man cave as some mighty move to take over a region of their house; in reality it is a pathetic retreat from compromise and dialogue with women, to a den of Pearl Jam bootlegs and clan meetings with your Halofriends on Xbox Live. Man caves appeal to the most mediocre, unremarkable segment of the population—men who see plasma screens and sectional sofas and vacations to Orlando as beacons of success.
They are men who are obsessed with consolidating and hording the remnants of their glory days and tangible proof of their conquests—guns and trophies and empty beer bottles and tap handles. They display them in their caves like animal pelts or the skulls of their enemies. They can’t stop collecting worthless trinkets as proof of their DEDICATION to STUFF. They celebrate things so insignificant it almost can’t be sincere—catching a foul ball at a minor league baseball game or the time they got a picture with Erik Estrada at a TGIFridays. Women are mocked for their unabashed sentimentality, yet who among them maintains a room in the house that is exclusively hers where she keeps, say, her wedding dress hanging on the wall? Men frame their high school football jerseys and can reminisce for a single, 16-minute-long unpunctuated sentence about the State semifinals when some guy named Donkey or Kevin the Neck Nugget or Farts MacTavish played the whole game with a broken collarbone and then caught the winning touchdown and celebrated by removing a Busch Light from his helmet and pouring it down his pants. They display jerseys, autographs, pictures of women, people they’ve never met. For all of man’s self-proclaimed independence and rogue aggression, no one is as consumed by creepy hero worship.
In an April article in the New York Times, a realtor discussing the impact of a man cave on a residence’s resale value mentioned a client who installed crown molding made from baseball caps, and another who decorated a room entirely in maize and blue to show allegiance to the University of Michigan. For all eternity, man will simultaneously be as corny and obstinate as a 72-year-old and as delusional as a six-year-old.
A caveman’s style is one devoid of nuance; nuance is only a distraction. Cavemen want one unified theme that extends from the ceiling fan to the saltshaker to the doorknob shaped like breasts or arcade joysticks. These men are not capable of being delicate. The websites epicmancave.net and mancavecentral.com are actual places. Everything must be TOTAL DOMINATION and COMPLETE TAKEOVER. A caveman’s idea of great sex is to pound you like he is trying to break a continent in half; his idea of cooking is to cut an onion so fast that Looney Tunes dust clouds begin accumulating around him. And his idea of a sanctuary includes subwoofers and speakers the size of a naval fleet, painted with giant Dallas Cowboys stars on them.
I say don’t wait till the aliens come: detonate the cave entrances now and seal the inhabitants behind the rubble.
Previously - Kanye West, Bad Yearbook Pictures, and Growing Up
John Saward likes O.V. Wright and eating guacamole with no pants on. He lives in Connecticut. Follow him on Twitter @RBUAS.