White men can't dance - but they can still get angry
Thursday 25 March 1993
White Male Paranoia is the subject of this week's Newsweek cover story and, according to the magazine, while the white man still owns most of the money, the politics and the business, no one loves him. Artistically speaking, he is finished - a cultural joke, a stereotype. He is the Ice Person. He 'can't jump, can't dance, can't feel'. If you add 'can't move upper lip', this guy could be played by John Major. And when it comes to social trends, in this case to beleaguered white maleness, where America leads, can Britain be far behind?
The trigger for all this sociological discussion is Falling Down, a new hit film. In it, Michael Douglas plays a disaffected former missile-plant worker who goes on a rampage because he is fed up. With immigrants who can't speak English. With his ex-wife. With muggers. Wielding knives, he beats up phone booths.
In the past half-dozen years, moviegoers have learnt to invest their revenge fantasies in Michael Douglas in the same way they once put their good guy hopes on Jimmy Stewart. In Wall Street, as Gordon 'Greed is Good' Gekko, and as the sex-crazed cop in Basic Instinct, Douglas, this plain, pale, bug-eyed somewhat dorky actor, seems to embody what white men really want, and maybe that's the point. Audiences who once urged him to 'kill the bitch' in Fatal Attraction can now shout encouragement to kill just about anybody who isn't white and male. Like Fatal Attraction, Falling Down has become emblematic. This is a film in which the white guy whines about how put-upon he is.
We've had a fair sampling of White Male Paranoia during the past couple of years on both sides of the Atlantic - the whimperings of the likes of Neil Lyndon who equate the odd feminist endeavour with some kind of femi-fascism. But in this instance, we are talking White Male Paranoia enshrined: it's a trend] It's a phenomenon] It's a news magazine cover story] That is part of the trend itself: a blip on the behavioural screen becomes freeze-dried myth. Add water and pour. Caveat lector.
So what's eating these guys? So what if they are portrayed as cold and stolid? So what if white males are artistically marginal? So what if they are portrayed in sitcoms as stupidos and wussies? They've been handing it out for years, haven't they? Can't they take little of their own back? They still own the franchise, don't they? Yes, but for how long?
White Male Paranoia looks at the future of America, and the future does not look so white. It looks at the future of Europe, sees refugees, and wishes the Berlin Wall would go back up.
Also inducing paranoia - again on both sides of the Atlantic - is the spectre of the Clinton administration and the example it is expected to set in appointing, God help us, minorities and women. White Male Paranoia shudders at Hillary and her headband. It opposes affirmative action with a whimper, but wishes it had a gun.
White Male Paranoia makes a big, dumb show over sexual harassment. In America, companies are taking out insurance policies against sexual harassment suits. In Britain, talk of feminist PC police is cheap currency among the chattering classes. What we are really talking about, of course, is guys indulging in the rhetoric of hard times. But what's a fella to do? There's no Empire, no Cold War, no row of bristling missiles, not even an E-type Jag.
What he does is assume the usual position, or, as one African-American puts it: 'European males have always had the propensity to say, 'I feel threatened' while holding a gun to somebody's head.' Now, in America, some men retreat to 'Rush rooms', bars where white males gather for communal celebrations of Rush Limbaugh, the raging right- wing radio talk-show host whose drool includes attacks on 'femi-Nazis'. A night out in a Rush room has the feelgood buzz of a songfest in a Munich beer hall.
Who loves ya, baby? No one much if you carry on like this, but then maybe there's nothing to worry about anyway. Next Monday is Oscar night, and guess who the favourite is? It's Clint, the leanest, meanest White Male of them all.
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