— midnite (@123midnite) December 12, 2014
Americans are currently enduring another prolonged bout of unease, stretching back at least six years. Since the Great Recession began, there has been a general handwringing in the media about the state of men—even the End of Men. The economic downturn disproportionately affected men, and it is clearer than ever that the single-breadwinner family is finally dead. The “traditional” role of the man as the primary provider is now firmly out of reach for most Americans. Which is why it seems particularly apt that (mostly) white, young, urban, middle-class men have once again picked up a symbol invented in the early twentieth century by men very much like themselves, a symbol that has long been gathering dust. …
At the turn of the last century, middle-class white men were, everyone seemed to agree, in crisis.
They were effete, anxious, tired, and depressed. Magazines and advice books worried that they had lost their vigor—the industrial economy and urban life demanded too much time inside, too much brain-work. Clerical jobs in dingy offices provided few opportunities for advancement to the ranks of the industrial elite, much less for feats of bravery and derring-do. Men trapped in cities began suffering from neurasthenia, a new disease that skyrocketed to almost epidemic status in the 1880s and 1890s. Neurasthenia was the overtaxing of the nervous system, a sort of male hysteria. Some wealthy and educated urban men suffered from what historian T. J. Jackson Lears called “cultural asphyxiation … a sense that bourgeois existence had become stifling and ‘unreal.’”
While women were ordered to bed rest for hysteria, the cure for men seemed to be just the opposite: They had lost their vital force, and they needed it back by getting in touch with their primitive, masculine nature. To do so, they looked westward.
Erik Loomis responds:
I don’t know. Is a bunch of bearded hipsters dressing like loggers really a crisis of masculinity? Are these guys really worried about a suppressed manhood that needs to come out? I’m skeptical. I agree with Brown that this is a middle-class romanticizing of working-class culture but I don’t think it’s that comparable to the Progressive Era. I think it’s really more about a broader desire for individualized authenticity among a larger group of people under the age of 35 or so that revolves around working with your hands, semi-opting out of the traditional work norms, and seeing the products of your work. It seems to me that this phenomenon is more closely related with women and the knitting craze and having backyard chickens than TR-style masculinity assertion. After all, do you feel like young hipster men today are really worried about what it means to be a man? Is that a big part of their conversation? I don’t see it in the public realm.
My thoughts on the lumbersexual here.