June 8, 2013

The demise of sensitive guys

If you haven't been there in a long time, it's worth looking around a Marshalls just to hear the most reliably upbeat '80s in-store music. They're guaranteed to show you something you haven't heard in years. Yesterday it was "Pure" by the Lightning Seeds.



This dude defines the shy, sensitive type of guy from the pre-cocooning era, when he would have transformed into a mumbling mousy type, a la John Mayer, or an affectedly cutesy-kiddie type, a la Jason Mraz. Those are two different ways to loudly broadcast your non-threatening nature to girls, both relying on the suppression of signs of a healthy libido.

Not like the guy from "Pure" is a balls-to-the-walls hair metal singer, but still notice the basics of normal human nature being intact:

- A willingness to open up, shown by at least a minimal range of intonation, rather than a straight monotone delivery (contra the mousy type).

- Doing so without resort to kabuki caricature (contra the cutesy type).

- And delighting the listener with something catchy -- the bouncy synth riffs throughout, and the New Order-esque guitar strumming at about 2:30 that's meant to tug just a bit at the heart-strings (contra today's music that avoids making such gestures for fear of appearing overly forward and eager to connect).

He clearly comes off as an introvert, but girls -- at least back then -- would be willing to give him a pass because he's making an honest effort to be social, engaging, and interactive. Not some off-puttingly mousy mumbler, or some spastic Peter Pan dork. Interestingly, he doesn't come off as gay either -- not spastic and childish, not whining and wailing a la the big gay singers of the time like Boy George or Morrissey. He's more of an awkward teenager than a bratty child.

He would hardly be at the top of their list of desirable dudes, but he passes the basic test, and there would have even been a small niche of girls who would've been really into this type of guy.

So what killed off the sensitive guy? The man-hating witch hunts of the early-mid-1990s, quite clearly. In an environment full of suspicion about the slightest signs of male advances toward females -- which were only two steps away from date rape -- you'd have to be out of your mind to open up to them. It's unwanted exposure, like some creepy flasher dropping his raincoat. And "shooting stars around your heart"? -- it doesn't get much more imposing and threatening than that, does it?

That's one of the greatest ironies of Millennial-era relations between the sexes: it was the guys who were the least threatening to begin with who were the main targets, while alpha males like President Bill Clinton got a pass from liberals and feminists, despite far sicker behavior like cigar-banging some fat Jewish broad at the office. O.J. Simpson did even better, getting off with double murder.

A typical feature of witch hunts is that the stronger groups team up against the weaker ones. If you think only in terms of male and female, then the '90s panic looks abnormal -- women teaming up against men. But if you look at all the variation in male status, then it becomes clear -- it was low-status and less desirable males who were the targets, not "males" in general.

Sure, there was also a hysteria surrounding date rapist jocks, but on an everyday level, it felt like it was the clingy-needy sensitive guy, or the desperate schlubby guy in his frat house, who girls saw as the most menacing. In the back of their minds, they thought the jock could get girls without resorting to date rape, while these eager virginal shy guys were more willing to go for broke.

So if you've been wondering why today's male singers practice such extreme musical hover-handing, that's why. Female audiences are just too easily creeped out by normal displays of human emotion, especially coming from males. In 1989, that was only beginning, and there was still room left in pop culture for endearingly awkward expression.

11 comments:

  1. Retrenched6/8/13, 5:39 PM

    Modern western men are in a catch 22 situation. If they declare their interest in women and make their intentions known they're creeps, harassers, and potential rapists, but if they don't they're nice guys, wimps, losers, and potential rapists.

    The only way for a guy to not be a "potential rapist" is be the kind of super-alpha rock star that every woman wants to be with. All other men are going to be suspects, and will be treated as "potential rapists" just looking for any chance they can get to victimize and hurt women.

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  2. Prefab Sprout, Swoon: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1T_GU1rwkYQ

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  3. Why do you think the feminists fixated on shy, sensitive guys? Is it just because they wanted to hurt any man, and the sensitive, lower status ones were easier targets? Or feminists felt genuinely more threatened by them, for instance thinking they were bigger professional rivals, or something else? They weren't attracted to them?

    I've definitely noticed the trend you are talking about.

    -Curtis

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  4. The past 20 years have seen the demonization of "infatuation". Crushes are now defined as psychological disorders.

    The New Wave was paradoxical in this sense - even though the culture was sexier and more promiscuous, media of the time portrays men and women as being more loving and faithful towards each other. Modern media is cynical. I can't do a rundown, but the latest example I can think of is "House of Cards" - where, in one scene, the Kevin Spacey character, talking to the girl he's about to sleep with, rattles on about how it is in the nature of older men to use and discard younger women.

    -Curtis

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  5. "Boy George or Morrissey"

    That's another thing - even the gay musicians from the 80s made no bones about how screwed they were. Think of the name "boy" George, or "The Crying Game", which is about how much it sucks to be gay (same goes for the movie of the same name). A more drastic example would be the song "Goodbye Horses" by Quo Vadis - about the suicidal desperation of many gay men, sung in a clearly gay tone of voice.

    Everybody is more sincere during rising-crime times.

    -Curtis



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  6. ok, the above is a little too harsh, but you get the point.

    -Curtis

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  7. "Why do you think the feminists fixated on shy, sensitive guys?"

    Compared to the more extraverted, popular, and athletic guys, they had less going for them at first glance. So they'd need some kind of long-shot sales pitch, a hail Mary display to win the girl over.

    In the '80s, maybe that would have worked, and maybe it would have come off as goofy and embarrassing. But by the '90s, the same level of desperation wasn't just something to pity the guy for, it was a sign that he could escalate to something even more desperate and imposing.

    People were more trusting in the '80s, so they didn't exaggerate what level the desperate guy could have escalated his actions to.

    Guys, especially young guys, are more desperate and risk-taking than girls in courtship. So all guys were affected by this shift toward perceiving male risk-taking as threatening. But some types of guys are more desperate than others, so they felt that shift even more strongly than the less desperate.

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  8. A girl at my high school was/is obsessed with Conor Oberst -- a sensitive singer-song writer if there ever was one. She found him extremely hot. She is now on the feminist leader brigade at college, social justice warrioring even after she has graduated.

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  9. This post hits home for me. As much as I've perused "Game" blogs, they ring somewhat hollow with me. I'll never be that person, and in some ways, that's probably a good thing. I'm always afraid of the "creep" label, and having diagnosable social phobia doesn't help.

    R. Jones, my first somewhat-serious girlfriend (and first other things too), was one of those chicks obsessed with Conor Oberst. I could never get into Bright Eyes, but chicks that can seem to dig me more than other types. But then if we get into sociopolitical talks, I'm probably screwed at this point (I used to be a staunch libertarian).

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  10. I figured it was just that feminista types "targeted" such males in excess because that was who their interactions were limited to - only sensitive men get through the bubble.

    This post totally reminded me of how, living in the 90s, the media kept pushing the idea that the 90s was the age of the sensitive "new man" - kind of makes sense if you see a shift in introversion, think that that's all that's going on and assume it'll be like the 80s with more introverts (and more of the late 1980s - early 1990s Edie Bricknell and the New Bohemians kind of vibe).

    But that didn't reckon on a continuation of the increase in narcissism and self obsession that had been going on all through the 1980s (and probably the 1970s at least), irrespective of the direction of the trends in extraversion... So the naive prediction was wrong.

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  11. Perhaps the feminazis subconsciously hoped some of the wimpy loser men might resist their PC-impositions.

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