I’ve certainly spent a lot of time the last couple of years talking about the loss of masculinity in American pop culture. In a time where we are inundated with pop singers and Disney kids primed as tomorrow’s only action stars, it makes it hard not to look back at yesteryear and wonder what happened.
From the likes Justin Bieber and Zac Effron to actors like Tobey MacGuire, American pop culture seems to have forgotten what masculinity is. There is plenty of talk about how women are objectified by the media as skinny and sexy, and how that makes girls feel bad. Well how about boys now with nothing but the hairless, well manicured excuses for men that Disney is pimping out? There is a definite difference between the action stars of yesteryear and those the studio execs deem acceptable today.
In recent years there is a new social standard that has emerged. A sort of cookie cutter prototype that is present today in the entertainment industry. I understand that the film industry is a business, and pretty boys sell tickets, but is it too much to ask for one guy? One ‘Man’s Man’ that our generation could cling to like my Dad did with Clint Eastwood, or like my Grandfather with John Wayne? Sure, as a kid I had Stallone and Schwarzenegger, but Arnold hasn’t done a good movie since True Lies. And even at their peak, they were never identifiable as an everyman. None of our action stars are anymore. From Jason Statham to The Rock to Jet Li, they’re all famous for taking off their shirts and fighting 30 guys at once. The closest thing we’ve had is Bruce Willis in the original Die Hard, which is arguably the best action movie of all time. But Die Hard is over 25 years old, and Willis is pushing 60 years old.
I mean, you never saw guys like Steve McQueen with a personal trainer that waxed his chest and oiled up his abs…
Last year for Bam Kapow I wrote about how I thought Timothy Olyphant would’ve made a good Captain America if he were just a few years younger. That was right after Justified had premiered, and the first episode delivered exactly what I had been looking for. Here was the exact type of character that I had felt was missing from TV and movies. A well-mannered, principle driven, hard ass. Slams his whiskey, tells the truth, and looks a man in the eye before he shoots him.
It’s so popular now, when you have a badass character, for him to be morally corrupt like The Shield’s Vic Mackey. Or for him to be deeply flawed so he can see the error of his way, and then be forced to ‘Open Up’ about his feelings like Hank on Breaking Bad.
Well Justified started strong, and was absent of those things, but the premiere was quickly followed up with a few cookie-cutter type of episodes. I was scared it was about to turn into just another police procedural. Well the first season really picked up the slack after that. Marshall Raylan Givens is TV’s most genuine badass, but with a real old-school feel about him. And it’s not the cowboy hat. It’s the fact that he tips said hat in the presence of a lady. It’s that he has an immense faith in his ability on the quick draw, but that he isn’t cocky, just confident. It just feels like you could cut him out of the TV and paste him into an old Dirty Harry movie and he would have been a perfect partner for Callahan, if he weren’t the better shot anyway.
Reminiscent of Elliot Gould’s turn as Phillip Marlowe (a character made famous by Humphrey Bogart 30 years earlier) in The Long Goodbye, Givens is out-of-place almost. Gould’s Marlowe was seemingly stuck in the 1940’s while the world around him had evolved. Raylan Givens is similar in both behavior and ideals, and while more intimidating than Marlowe the similarities are pretty evident.
It’s funny to look at a character like this as being a fresh breath of air, seeing as he seems so classic, but that’s how rare it is now that I find myself here celebrating what used to be common place. A character who works off a logical, common sense based set of principles, and isn’t hog tied by an inability to conform to social norms. Marshall Givens has given me hope that not all is lost for tomorrow.
Now obviously Rayan isn’t the only thing that makes Justified work, in fact almost as important is his relationship with Boyd Crowder, his foil. Like the Batman and Joker, or Felix Unger and Oscar Madison, the characters simply work better together than alone.
Between Justified and Deadwood, (not to mention Live Free or Die Hard) Timothy Olyphant has given us the closest thing we have to a Gary Cooper/Lee Marvin/Charles Bronson type. He must seem archaic to kids today, something they just aren’t familiar with anymore. I just hope he can keep it up, and maybe Hollywood will start to pay attention.
Images: FX, HBO, Disney