Friday’s print New York Times will include, in its Style section, under the rubric “Men’s Style” and the sub-rubric “Self-Help,” a list titled “27 Ways to Be a Modern Man.” The list, which is already available on the Times’ website, is by Brian Lombardi of Dekalb, Illinois. It’s … weird.
Some of the items invoke the familiar men are still Neanderthals trope. (No. 4: “The modern man doesn’t cut the fatty or charred bits off his fillet. Every bite of steak is a privilege, and it all goes down the hatch.”) Others bring to mind the equally familiar men have become feminized trope. (No. 17: “Does the modern man have a melon baller? What do you think? How else would the cantaloupe, watermelon and honeydew he serves be so uniformly shaped?”) You will note that these two tropes are antithetical to one another.
“Is it a spoof? I’m so confused,” one person replied when I posted it on Twitter.
“I thought it was going to be satire,” said another. “Then it was just a list of random stuff.”
Here’s what the list tells us about the modern man. He is considerate in unspectacular ways: He “buys fresh flowers more to surprise his wife than to say he is sorry” and “makes sure the dishes on the rack have dried completely before putting them away.” He is sensible: he “won’t blow 10 minutes of his life looking for the best parking spot,” and he “checks the status of his Irish Spring bar before jumping in for a wash. Too small, it gets swapped out.” (How unlike the men of my father’s generation, who spent their lives helplessly showering with tiny slivers of soap!)
Some of his preferences are weirdly arbitrary. What does the modern man have against Mountain Dew? Does he really have “all of Michael Mann’s films on Blu-ray (or whatever the highest quality thing is at the time)”? Even Blackhat? And what’s this about “at the time”? Are we discussing the modern man of right now, or a different modern man?
(Is Blu-ray the highest quality thing right now or not? Shouldn’t you know, if you’re making this list? Maybe you could find a modern man and ask him what medium his Michael Mann collection is currently stored on?)
On the question of emotional self-disclosure, so central to all discussions of the tropes of masculinity, the list is unhelpful. Point 2 advises that “the modern man never lets other people know when his confidence has sunk. He acts as if everything is going swimmingly until it is.” But point 20 tells us that, “On occasion, the modern man is the little spoon. Some nights, when he is feeling down or vulnerable, he needs an emotional and physical shield.” By this point in the list the modern man has decided to reject the advice of point two, and good for him.
“Having a daughter makes the modern man more of a complete person,” the list tells us. That’s nice. What’s more, “The modern man doesn’t scold his daughter when she sneezes while eating an apple doughnut, even if the pieces fly everywhere.” Wait—Did the men of earlier eras scold their daughters for sneezing? From whom is the modern man being differentiated here? Are we identifying traits of manliness or of modernity or what? Is someone working out some stuff, possibly stuff involving his own father? What is going on with this list?