As the editor of ShortList, I've watched the most emotional generation of men in history come to the fore

The Rock, our planet’s most masculine life form, specialises in ultra-positive, self-help tirades that reveal his biggest muscle to be not his bicep but his heart

Joe Mackertich
Monday 25 September 2017 15:32
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Touchy-feely: Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson and Barack Obama
Touchy-feely: Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson and Barack Obama

We live in the age of the Good Guys.

In the world of men, Good is great again. Never in our lifetimes have male role-models been so proud to march under the banner of positivity. It’s Anthony Joshua, looking at peace-with-himself in front of a game of chess, it’s Gary Lineker facing down tabloid indignation over the refugee crisis, it's The Rock opening up about his mental health issues.

It’s no longer about the race for success. We are, instead, on a journey towards fulfilment.

The fashion for goodness is, on some level, a reaction to the monstrous turd-lords that currently run our world. The nice-guy shtick of Blair, Clinton and Cameron is gone, in its place brazen wickedness. Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin have utilised their rank unlikability as a means to power and our heroes have adapted accordingly.

Male heads of industry are no longer keen to present themselves as the inhuman-and-proud-of-it ballbuster psychopaths of yesteryear. Don’t forget: during the first few seasons of The Apprentice, the candidates were considered fairly serviceable role-models for aspiring business people. Not anymore. In 2017 we want our power players to be TED-talking dreamer-philanthropists like Elon Musk and that guy who invented Moshi Monsters.

Young footballers, a group with unparalleled influence over mainstream British men, are at the dreamy vanguard. It’s a topless Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain riding a horse in the sea, it’s Theo Walcott’s back tattoo in tasteful black-and-white (“Open your heart, shed fear, hate or envy”), it’s Paul Pogba in his swim shorts, laughing while perched on the edge of an infinity pool.

Goodness is also reflected back at us by the brands we engage with. Forbes reported just this year that marketers have woken up to the fact that “snark” (the kind of knowing sarcasm that saturated advertising a decade ago) resonates extremely badly with today’s consumers. Touchy-feely branding is key for anyone looking to meaningfully connect to a large audience. It’s why KFC’s recent online marketing has focused almost exclusively on the concept of friendship, why Red Bull transitioned from adrenaline sports to empowering life experiences and why Jamie Oliver has the crypto-Maoist mantra “creating a healthier, happier world through food” daubed across the wall of his office.

Thanks to social media and the selfie, a new language has begun to take shape. A language rooted in honest and open expressions of emotion.

“Now, with people putting so much of their lives out there on social, it feels more natural to talk about how you're feeling,” says James Hacking, head of innovation at The Attention Agency. “People grow up putting everything on Facebook, Snapchat and Instagram. We didn't have that 10 years ago. It's acceptable to be more open now.”

The Rock, our planet’s most masculine lifeform, specialises in ultra-positive, self-help tirades that reveal his biggest muscle to be not his bicep but (pause for YouTube-friendly effect) his heart.

“Social media has helped make people a bit more insecure so they seek out help and inspiration from those people that influence them,” says Hacking. “And that’s true whether it’s their heroes or just their friends.”

Hook-up apps and, to a lesser extent, dating websites have also made us more progressive. A peek behind the kimono for you: men’s magazines have long been run by cringing, fun-phobic beta males, a freakish lineage that stretches back to Hugh Heffner and continues to this day with myself. Is it any wonder that, for five decades, their publications perpetuated the wretched lie that women had to be tricked and cajoled into bed? Masculine development has been aided massively by the fact that women now swipe right. The other gender wants to have sex too (as long as you’re not a sleazy loon). Icons of virility like James Bond and Don Draper, previously regarded as genius lotharios, now look like delusional, lonely sociopaths.

I asked legendary writer and world traveler Paul Theroux for his opinions on the matter.

"Go away and leave home,” he says when I ask him what advice he has for young men. “Especially get away from your family, from people who have expectations of you. Try to figure out who you are and what you want. The sanest thought any young man can have is: ‘I am outta here’.”

I like the idea that in the age of seamless, one-click consumerism the one thing we actually want isn’t a bigger TV or a gold-plated sex drone, it’s experience of the wider world.

“I tend not to judge a young man by the way he behaves towards me,” says Theroux. “I judge them by how he treats women, fellow workers, strangers, or people in the countries where he might be travelling. A young man seems truly attractive or good when he reveals himself to be kind.”

Joe Mackertich is editor of ShortList. The 10th Anniversary Collectors' Edition of ShortList is out Wednesday 27 September

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