“If you can dream, and not make dreams your master…”
From the November Zeitgeist…
When we think of the depiction of a typical man, our mind tends to drift toward a suit, a dinner jacket, or something similarly familiar, stable and unchanging. In truth, menʼs fashion – moreover our interpretation of masculinity – is very fluid and varies wildly according to time and culture.
At the V&A museum in London currently, an exhibition on the Maharaja is a good example of just how open to interpretation are the symbols of masculinity and power. In this case, “teardrops of diamonds dangling from succulent pearls” represent the pinnacle of masculinity. The bygone days of a world that celebrated “the effervescent elegance of a male world” serve to illustrate that the definition of what makes a man manly is inherently arbitrary, and therefore malleable. In this case, power and divinity were symbolised by an extraordinary amount of jewellery that even MC Zeitgeist would have been jealous of. The New York Times review says that with the independence of India so ended an era “when the male peacock finally folded its wings”.
Did it though? Pages of editorial are still detailing the rise of the metrosexual, seemingly one of the slowest ʻrisesʼ of anything ever. While one might be inclined to think that a womanʼs ideal man as sporting some kind of ill-fitting firemanʼs ensemble, with over-developed muscles straining underneath, in truth women in the UK apparently find willingness to do housework a most attractive asset. Perhaps increasingly then, it is responsibility that takes precedence over a more base hunter-gatherer, physical appeal.
In Japan, news of Toyotaʼs withdrawal from Formula 1 and itʼs first earnings loss in fifty years caused Tadashi Yamashina to break down in tears at a public press conference, specifically apologising for the F1 teamʼs failure to win a single race in nine years. Business failure in Japan equates to personal shame for the heads of organisations, and such a display of emotion is presumably intended to illustrate a full mea culpa and to show they are affected by the decisions they make for their employees, rather than appearing stone-faced and passive. This latter description is something of a stereotype for men – oblivious to the more sensitive side of their personality – and in this case shows the public that they truly care about the institution they preside over. As The Mirror comments “if the bullet train is delayed, you will see the CEO on TV bowing as low as he can. It’s about honour and showing sincerity”. Thus, while crying may not be seen by some as sign of manliness, in this context it is a conduit for showing you are a man of principles and respect, both tenets traditionally associated with masculinity.
Perhaps in another hundred years, when the current V&A is underwater, a future exhibition will remind us that brute force and intimidation, even from beyond the grave, once represented manhood. In Russia, the tombstones of erstwhile Mafiosi stand proud and very tall; several are life size depictions of the eternal residents, gazing menacingly outwards. These grotesque images are reminders that not all markets approach the concept of masculinity in the same way.