What does a boy get as a role model?
The boy in the 80s is offered a fantasy role model: a lone hypermale fighting impossible odds. His strength comes from muscles (Arnold) or insanity (Martin Riggs) or bravado (John Mclean) or rage (Rambo.)
That eventually fizzed out, and by the time the teens were in their mid to late twenties– out of reach of a sufficiently traumatic backstory that would propel them to grandiosity (Vietnam vet; family murdered; double crossed a decade ago) they were offered a temporary post-modern solution: you don’t have superpowers now, but if you needed them, when you needed them, you’d get them. (The Matrix, etc.)
Simultaneously, you had a surge of superhot, hyperfemale action heroes. You started to see it with The Fifth Element; La Femme Nikita spawned a remake and a TV show. Lara Croft, Ultraviolet, Evolution, Charlie’s Angels, Wanted, Resident Evil, Barbed Wire– which inspired a whole lot of barbed wire tattoos. On men.
All of this was a message to ourselves: we’ll never be brave heroes, but we could still be with such a hero.
These films tracked the generation raised on Arnold, and corresponded almost perfectly to the years of sexual discovery. It was clear you would never be a covert agent, but as long as you were single there existed the possibility that you could have sex with a covert agent, and then you would yourself become a covert agent.
“So female action heroes wasn’t a sign of women’s gaining dominance or men’s emasculation?” Ha! No, it was wishful thinking.
And then the same men got…. married. No more possibility of meeting a covert agent.
The next step in the life cycle was to have kids, and a really optimistic narcissist, still clinging to the fantasies, might say to himself: I am old and fat, and I’ve forgotten all my Russian. And anyway, the Russians aren’t our enemies. I think.
What hope is there? Your wife is older and heavier– or much, much thinner– and isn’t even motivated to talk about covert action, let alone be a covert agent. She’s no Long Kiss Goodnight.
But the kids… they are limitless reservoirs of possibility. Sure, they don’t know kung fu now, but they could learn.
At this point the only hope left to realize your fantasies is for your kid to become that fantasy, and then drag you along with them.
That’s a huge burden for a kid. I’m sure it will turn out just fine.
But why is it always a daughter? How come there’s no precocious boy action heroes?
First, take a look at your son: he’s an idiot. Maybe he’s really smart but he’s as physical as a bag of water; or a super-spaz who can barely articulate a sentence. The only thing he’s really, really good at is the left and right fire buttons.
But your daughter, at two, at four, at six, seems very sophisticated. Sometimes she almost seems like an adult. And she’s so pretty.
Never mind girls mature faster than men and the cards are stacked against girls anyway; your girls seems uniquely special, in a special way, and if there is anyone who could take advantage of an alternative universe where possibilities can be willed into reality, it would be the girl…..
So: Hanna. So: Brave. So:…
What happened to the mom?
She’s dead. Or something. Her only function was to bear the child and provide some emotional force for your grandiosity. Remember in the 80s how the family was killed? Phew; they left the daughter alive.
Which is good, because you can’t run a winning Electra complex if it’s the boy you’re left with.
While this is all happening– while 40 year old men are being offered a last ditch-last ditch attempt at fantasy, the new cycle of kids are starting from the very beginning: marginal guy saves the girl: Harry Potter, Twilight, and about thirty or so comic book movies. They run parallel to the middle-agers digital wish fulfillment, which reads: marginal guy is saved by his kid, redeemed by his kid, his partial object.
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