Saturday, November 30, 2013

On friendship




        In "Whatever happened to male friendship," the author decries the lack of representation in our media regarding traditional male friendship. As he points out:

...what these four young men represent is a challenge to the common portrayal of male friendship in our popular culture.  It is difficult to find, especially on television, an example of male friendship (outside of the military or law enforcement) that is neither transactional nor idiotic.  For cheap beer, it’s the wingman trope.  In sitcoms, it’s stupid men doing stupid things in stupid attempts at liberation from wives or girlfriends.  Male friendships, we’re taught, are about finding or fleeing women; they are not valuable in themselves.

          And he's right, of course. Think of the formulaic, successful sitcom. The husband is a well-meaning idiot who gets together with his friends as a relief from his hot-but-kinda-a-bitch wife. Single guys have wingmen, not friends- male friendships are either presented as female friendships using male actors, grown-up play dates, wingmen or other idiotic shit. What you don't see on TV are guys getting together on short notice because one of them just got laid off and wants to get safely drunk to forget about his troubles for a few hours, or doing things like agreeing to drive a friend to the airport at 4am just so you can hide a dildo in his carry on bag. 

      And the shitty thing is that, in my experience, we actually are systematically denying our own male children the opportunity to make lifelong friendships with other boys. How many of us became best friends as kids with another boy whom we first met in a fistfight? A fair number, I'll bet. When do we give boys the opportunity to wander in packs around a neighborhood or into a patch of local woods undisturbed?  Think about it... if your local cops saw a dozen 12-year old boys heading for the treeline, I guarantee you he'll follow and call for backup and then force them to go to a fucking store or something where they can be watched and be sure no one gets a boo-boo.  If my wife saw my kid, at 10 years old, with my buck knife in his pocket and a 6-foot spear in hand looking for animals to hunt down, she'd light me on fire and have my boy at a shrink's office... yet, this is something I did with my friends on a regular basis at 10... and at some point, someone always stabbed someone in the ass cheek. If you saw 4 surburban boys heading down the street with spears, it'd be on the news.

 What percentage of boys become Boy Scouts now?  How many men still maintain friendships with the guys who they went to camp with, or the guys who helped on their Eagle Scout project?  I feel we're raising some lonely boys, and yet no one seems to want to connect the dots between isolating and neutering boys and the neuroses and psychological conditions that are rampant in teen boys. How many boys who are heavily involved with team sports and outdoor activities end up on medication compared to their effeminate and sadly lost peers who get dropped off at a mall to go shopping on glorified play dates in their teen years?
  Boys need to be boys, and our now-mostly single mom parenting and female-dominated education system us setting them up for disaster by medicating and shaming and shaping them into a destructively joyless and pliable mold that is desirable only because it is easy to manage... or it seems to be, anyhow, until here and there one boy loses his shit, goes off his meds and gets on the news. 
   Boys need the freedom to learn to overcome adversity. Not just conflict, but to fight and manage their environment, to achieve understanding at multiple levels- we learn cooperation through shared goals, through messy, often difficult and incomplete victories. We don't lean that at the fucking mall. We learn that at a fistfight where we lose, out in nature, or on a rink or court, but we do that in groups, and denying the opportunity to set a social hierarchy through dominance denies boys the opportunity to learn their place and then rise up beyond it. 

 I'm incredibly lucky to have several long-standing friendships. I don't have a lot of friends, but the ones I do have are with guys who I went to grade school with, or met in junior high. I always think of one of my older brothers, who had hundreds of friends and was the most popular guy I ever met... and who lost all but one of two of those friends when he damaged his spine and stopped going out to party... and yet, I still feel he's better off with those small number of proven friends. 
 

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