This is the piece I wrote that I mentioned in this weeks podcast – here for your reading pleasure!
So… I received the latest issue of Game Informer magazine in the mail. I know what you’re saying, “Phil – why on earth do you subscribe to a video game magazine?”
Fair question. If you’ve ever purchased anything at a GameStop store, you know it’s nearly impossible to walk out of that place without somehow having agreed to free issues of Game Informer magazine. So they show up in your mail, you pick them up and say, “Oh.” Then you drop them in the recycling bin. But before you drop them in the recycling bin, you glance at the cover art and say, “Oh my.” What’s on the cover? Something very, very aggressive. It may be a soldier. It may be an alien. It may be a bank robber. But whatever it is, they will be angry. And armed. And aggressive. Because that’s what American men like.
This month’s issue celebrates the upcoming release of Grand Theft Auto 5 or 6 or 12 or whatever the new version might be. Grand Theft Auto, for those of you just returning from the mission field and completely unaware of the last decade of American pop culture, is a game so aggressively violent my home state of Illinois attempted to make it illegal. It’s a game that allows you to set a police officer on fire on your way to picking up a hooker whom you are going to murder.
It makes me miss Tiddly Winks.
The image on the cover of this month’s Game Informer shows three men in a Grand Theft Auto-inspired scene, out to make mischief. And no, they aren’t on their way to teepee their high school or egg the neighbor’s front door. One has a handgun, the second an assault rifle, the third is pulling a gas mask out of a bag, apparently implying his contribution to the party will be chemical weaponry. They look angry. They look aggressive. What is odd, though, is that they also look to be in their late 30s or early 40s. They’re practically middle-aged. They’re the age that should be coaching their kids’ t-ball leagues and barbecuing in the back yard. They should be speaking at Rotary meetings and serving as deacons in their churches. And yet here they are, armed to the teeth, ready to lay waste to Los Angeles.
Why? Because apparently, that’s what American men want.
What’s going on here? Defenders of violent video games like Grand Theft Auto say giving men the opportunity to wreak virtual mayhem reduces their likelihood of wreaking actual mayhem. It helps them “get it out of their systems.”
Really? Is this really in their systems? Are millions of American men constantly fighting the urge to go all “Grand Theft Auto” on their fellow citizens? Is that REALLY what’s inside us?
Men have a “warrior” instinct. Don’t believe me? Watch any promo for the National Football League on any given Sunday. I rest my case. We want to go all “Grand Theft Auto” on something. Alexander the Great went all Grand Theft Auto on the Persian Empire. Genghis Khan did it to the Chinese. Hitler did it to half the world.
There was a day when our warrior instinct was indispensable. The world was a wild, lawless place. Someone had to clear a forest while fighting off bears, wolves and injuns. Someone had to conceive herculean construction projects – marshall troops to dig the Panama Canal through malaria-infested jungles. Men, with our warrior instincts, tamed the world. But now that the world has largely been tamed, we don’t know what to do. Constant warfare – as much as our warrior instincts love a good fight – is really expensive. Everything you break you need to build again. Fix it. Put it back. Clean up after yourself. It isn’t a good way to run a society. So survival of the fittest has given way to the rule of law, and international treaties, and UN peacekeeping. After taming the world, we’ve turned our attention to taming ourselves – taming men.
And the rule of law – the taming of men – has allowed something extraordinary to happen. It has allowed women to lead. In business, in government, in virtually every area of society, the rule of law has opened the door for the best possible leader – not simply the biggest and most aggressive person in the room.
So we find ourselves witnessing a dynamic that should seem instantly familiar to anyone who grew up in a typical American household – men making messes, and women cleaning them up. Only now this dynamic is playing out on an international scale. Greedy financiers – almost entirely men – went all Grand Theft Auto on the global economy. Europe sank into fiscal chaos. And two women, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Christine Lagarde, head of the International Monetary Fund, are attempting to clean up the mess.
Christine Lagarde is an extraordinary person. If you’ve seen the award-winning documentary Inside Job with it’s insightful analysis of the global financial meltdown, you’ve seen her. She is the interviewed expert who consistently makes the most sense. She wasn’t head of the IMF at the time the documentary was filmed, though – at that time that job was filled by a Frenchmen named Dominique Strauss-Khan. Strauss-Khan lost the job and gained a great deal of notoriety when he went all Grand Theft Auto on a hotel housekeeper in NYC. The housekeeper entered his room to straighten things up, and, allegedly, 60 year-old Strauss-Khan ran out of the bathroom buck naked and jumped on her. And thus the job running the International Monetary Fund was removed from Mr. Strauss-Kahn and handed to Ms. Lagarde. Once again an aggressive man makes a mess, and a woman is called in to clean it up.
So what is happening? Have men outlived their usefulness? You could say that a shift is taking place – that the world is shifting from a paternal order – building and conquering and fighting – to a maternal order – cleaning up and maintaining and “can’t we all just get along?” And many men of the old school seem a bit confused. Poor old Osama bin Laden stuck in his compound watching DVDs and waiting for the Navy SEALs to show up. You almost feel sorry for him. “I just wanted to takeover the world. Guys used to do it all the time.” Sorry, fella. Permanent time out. Saddam Hussain, hiding in his spider hole with lice in his beard. Sorry, fella. Permanent time out.
And so we come back to my issue of Game Informer with the middle-aged guys looking to open a can of Grand Theft Auto on someone. Is this the desperate cry of the alpha male, completely flummoxed by the changing tides of culture? Is there nothing left for aggressive men except video games and the NFL? Fictitious conquest? Fantasy football leagues and all-night Halo4 marathons, while our wives manage the world? What has become of us?
Has the “age of men” officially passed?