Culture

Hollywood is selling a ‘new man’ for the #MeToo era but still misses the point.

by Rachel Reilich

October 24, 2018

Who better to circle the pending death of #MeToo than Vulture? In a recent puff piece—“Timothée Chalamet is the Perfect Star for 2018”—the magazine conspires with an “assortment of Hollywood hands” to quietly poison the movement it pretends to champion. 

The trouble begins with the headline itself, which chalks up the young actor’s appeal to good timing. The so-called “Year of the Woman” hasn’t generated a cultural shift—it’s kicked off a trend. Just as the bullet bra delivered the perfect breast for the atomic age, Chalamet delivers “the perfect star”: a skinny man-shape for our female-empowered world. 

But because the nature of trends is to flare up and expire, built into this fashion-blast headline is a subtle threat. If Chalamet is a fad—a hot trend destined for obsolescence—then this whole “woman” thing is, too. 

From the article:

According to a hit-making movie producer… [Chalamet’s] absence of macho swagger, his innate sensitivity, and his apparent emotional availability are his primary selling points.

“Girls love him now because I don’t think they’re scared of him,” the producer adds. “They’re falling in love with the idea of a good guy. And audiences support that. That’s why Tom Hanks is so great. He’s always the good guy. You’re selling the new male.”

Never mind the vacation from logic required to describe Chalamet as the “new male” and in the same breath compare him to “old male” Tom Hanks. Here we have one man talking to another man about how best to hawk men to women. Gross. The whole notion of “selling the new male” is staggeringly cynical, an echo of Don Draper’s indelible line: “love was invented by guys like me—to sell nylons.” In this version: “sensitive men were invented by guys like me—to sell movie tickets.” 

And who are the doe-eyed patsies buying these nylons and movie tickets? Women. Of course. 

Like Don Draper, you get the sense this producer doesn’t believe in the thing he sells. The “new male” is a fantasy—not an actual good guy, but the idea of one. Hollywood producers like him (and there are a lot like him) aren’t adapting to the women’s movement because they’re woke. They’re responding to a marketplace. Repackaging an old product and claiming it’s new. 

But actors like Chalamet—young, beautiful, soulful, delicate—are not, in the words of our hit-making producer, “redefining what it means to be a man.”

They’ve been around since the dawn of cinema. As far back as 1926—that’s almost one hundred years ago—an unsigned editorial in the Chicago Tribune blamed leading man Rudolph Valentino for America’s “degeneration into effeminacy.” Railing against the installation of a face-powder dispenser in a new public men’s room on the city’s North Side, the anonymous editorialist wrote:


A powder vending machine!  In a men’s washroom! Homo Americanus! Why didn’t someone quietly drown Rudolph Guglielmo, alias Valentino, years ago?… Do women like the type of “man” who pats pink powder on his face in a public washroom and arranges his coiffure in a public elevator?


We have an endless line of “girly” men through history whom women have passionately adored (to the utter bafflement and annoyance of “manly” men) — and yet, we keep pretending their appeal is bizarre and unprecedented. It happened again, 30 years after Valentino, when James Dean came on the scene. In a review of Rebel Without A Cause—Roger Ebert defined him as one of, “three role models [who] decisively altered the way young men could be seen in popular culture. They could be more feminine, sexier, more confused, more ambiguous.” 

Nope. James Dean was just another girly man in an already long line-up. Timothée Chalamet is nothing new—and I’d wager the Hollywood muckety-mucks in this article know it. For them, #MeToo is a branding opportunity—a chance to repackage a familiar type as a fresh and exciting product of the zeitgeist. This may seem like no big deal, but the quickest way to undermine a movement is to co-opt it for branding purposes: Hollywood using #MeToo to sell Timothée Chalamet is akin to PepsiCo using Black Lives Matter to sell Pepsi—a disturbing reminder that people in power—top-tier advertising executives and movie producers—still don’t get it. 

But our anonymous hit-making producer is not done. He goes on to drop this bomb:

What does the new male movie star look like in a post #MeToo world, where you can’t get away with all the things the alpha guys used to crush it at?”

Never mind the creepiness around “get away with,” which seems to imply the main thing stopping men from rape-y behaviors is fear of reprisal—not acquiring insight to the female experience and awakening to genuine empathy. Let’s address the myth that #MeToo is somehow anathema to “alpha guys.” 

Isn’t the whole deal with alpha men that they (very easily) attract women? That women want (and willingly consent) to be with them? Alpha guys don’t accost teenage waitresses in parking lots and beat off into potted plants. They don’t desperately plead for 22-year-old models to come into their hotel rooms lest they “ruin their friendship,” or brag to tittering sycophants about grabbing women by the pussy. #MeToo is only anti-alpha guy in a world in which rape, assault, harassment, and general slithery-ness is considered alpha behavior. But it’s not. In no reality is Harvey Weinstein, “the guy every guy wants to be, and every girl wants to be with.” So stop perpetuating the myth, anonymous hit-making producers, that #MeToo is anti-alpha guy. It’s hostile to creeps. It’s hostile to criminals. 

“The way I define and break down my male actors is very specific,” the producer continues. 

“I determine whether they’re alpha or beta — I need to know which side of the ledger they come up on. Leonardo DiCaprio is alpha. He’s alpha in the way he runs his life, in the performances he gives; he’s alpha in the choices he makes. When Timothée walked out of the room, he was beta for me. Maybe in this era, the male movie star that is a little more compassionate, that has that softness, will be rewarded. We’re seeing a complete course-shift around the alpha males in Hollywood. We’re redefining what it means to be a man.”


Timothée Chalamet is 22. When Leonardo DiCaprio was his age, he too was considered “soft.” I remember when some critics didn’t buy him opposite Kate Winslet because while she was a “full-grown woman,” he was a feckless boy—a squirt. But he grew up and out of his pretty-boy mold, and so too will Chalamet. Like DiCaprio, he will take roles commensurate to his newly won bulk and facial hair-growing capacities. He will fight bears and punch bad guys and woo women. He will maybe date a steady stream of Victoria’s Secret models and take his mom to the Oscars. He will become—by virtue of time, not effort—a typical leading man. 

So, when this producer talks about “redefining what it means to be a man” to meet the alleged demands of “this new era” (i.e. empowered women) what is he really saying? 

The “new man” women want? He isn’t a man. He’s a boy. 

To him (or what he represents), our desires are unrealistic—a three-panel cartoon in which a woman wishes for a loyal boyfriend—and ends up on a date with a dog. “You want sensitive?” Hollywood snickers. “Here. Date a guy whose balls haven’t dropped.”

And if there’s any doubt to this interpretation, please note Vulture’s caption for Chalamet’s photograph:


But that’s hardly the main issue, here. The most troubling aspect of the producer’s thinking is that it reinforces the myth of binary masculine traits—you are either sensitive or strong, thoughtful or physical, emotional or resilient, beta or alpha—rather than give men the freedom to be all things at once. Either/or notions of gender create false stakes. Men grow up thinking if they cultivate sensitivity, they sacrifice toughness. If they are thoughtful, then they are weak.

But this choice is—and always has been—fallacious. Take quintessential “brooding tough-guy” Marlon Brando. It’s tempting to think his appeal has to do with overt “masculine” traits. But that’s not true. His appeal lies in his ability to combine masculine and feminine traits—to simultaneously express brute physicality and softness, sensitivity, and fragility. Contrary to what this article wants us to believe, maleness and sensitivity aren’t mutually exclusive. Maleness and femaleness aren’t even mutually exclusive. We’ve arbitrarily assigned traits to each gender, when in fact they belong to all of us—every human being. 

Marlon Brando tries on Eva Marie-Saint’s feminine white glove in On The Waterfront—shortly after confessing “crickets make him nervous.”

According to a 1998 article in the New York Times (inspired by none other than pretty boy Leonardo): “Far from putting a man at a competitive disadvantage, it seems, femininity may be a source of sexual and social strength.”

There you have it: femininity—a source of sexual and social strength. A competitive advantage. Hit-making producers may temper their insecurity by framing Chalamet’s appeal as a deviation from the norm—by fantasizing his “softness” makes him “beta.” But the rest of us know the truth. 

Timothée Chalamet is alpha AF.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Hollywood is selling a ‘new man’ for the #MeToo era but still misses the point.