Category Archives: noble masculinity

Profiles In Noble Masculinity: Robocop

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Even in an era where masculinity has gained way too many negative connotations, there’s plenty of room for men who distinguish themselves in respectable, honorable ways. There are countless male characters in popular culture who attempt to set themselves apart. Sometimes, it brings out the worst in men. Sometimes, it brings out the best.

I’ve made a concerted effort to focus on the best aspects of masculinity. To date, I’ve profiled two characters, Joel from “The Last of Us” and Hank Hill from “King of the Hill.” I’ve cited both characters as examples of noble masculinity. It manifests in different forms, but it helps bring a unique strength to their characters.

They have a wide range of traits, some of which aren’t distinctly masculine. When those manly characteristics do emerge, though, they don’t just reveal the greater subtleties in who they are. They demonstrate just how powerful masculinity can be when it’s channeled. In that spirit, I’d like to highlight another character who channels that kind of masculinity in a way that’s compelling, memorable, and full of memorable one-liners.

That character’s name is Alex J. Murphy of the Detroit Police Department, but most know him as Robocop. He’s not just a cop who got caught up in a greedy corporation’s agenda. He’s not just a man in a machine carrying out the duties of a cop. When you take in the entirety of Robocop’s story, including the Jesus connotations, you find a character whose masculinity shines even in the R-rated violence that is Detroit.

Now, before I go any further, I want to establish that the version of “Robocop” I’m citing here is the original 1987 version played by Peter Weller. This profile will not draw from the 2014 “Robocop” played by Joel Kinnaman. I’m not saying that version of the character is without merit. I enjoyed that movie. However, it did not come close to demonstrating the level of noble masculinity that the original conveyed.

On the surface, the original “Robocop” wasn’t that groundbreaking for its time. Stories about urban decay and dystopian cities were already popular thanks to movies like “The Terminator” and “Blade Runner.” In terms of substance, though, “Robocop” achieved something profound in terms of crafting a memorable male character.

The core of Alex Murphy’s character, even before he became Robocop, is that he’s a good, honorable man in a city that doesn’t have many of them. This version of Detroit, which is sadly very similar to the real-world version, is full of deviant criminals and corrupt business types. The very company that creates Robocop, Omni Consumer Products, is full of ruthless individuals who see crime only as a hindrance to profits.

A man like Alex Murphy is a precious rarity in that world. As such, it doesn’t take long for it to get snuffed out. On Murphy’s first day on the job, he’s callously killed by a gang of sociopath criminals led by Clarence Boddicker. All that innate nobility and idealism Murphy had was literally shot to death within the first twenty minutes of the movie.

However, that was not the end of Alex Murphy’s story. It was only the beginning. When he’s turned into Robocop by OCP, who see him only as a means to further their business plan, the extent of the noble masculinity he portrays only grows. The fact it does so while he cleans up Detroit’s rampant crime is a nice bonus as well.

From the moment he awakens as Robocop, we see what looks to be only a shell of a man. In fact, OCP goes out of their way to remove as much of the man as possible, not bothering to salvage his hand or anything below the neck. The only part of Alex Murphy they keep is his brain and part of his face.

It’s a total deconstruction of a man, ripping away the very flesh that makes him masculine and yes, that includes his genitals. To OCP, he’s a machine who just happens to run on human parts. They try to filter out the humanity in hopes of creating an obedient commodity that they can then mass produce, market, and utilize for profit.

It’s dehumanization to an extreme, more so than what characters like Wolverine endured. For a brief while, it looks like OCP succeeds. Initially, Robocop carries himself like a machine, confronting Detroit’s worst criminals with an efficiency that wasn’t possible as Alex Murphy. He could’ve become a perfect example of reducing all men to machines, devoid of emotion and focused only on a task at hand.

Then, the story takes a more human turn and Robocop suddenly becomes more man than machine. Despite everything OCP took from him, including his body and his free will, Alex Murphy still emerged. Even after everything that made him a man was deconstructed, literally in some cases, he fought to regain control.

In the process, we get to see Robocop learn about the man he used to be. We see glimpses of his life as a father and a husband. We find out just how good a man he was to his wife and his son. It contrasts heavily to the ruthless criminals and callous business people that affect much of the story. That’s critical in terms of establishing Robocop as someone who conveys a heroic brand of masculinity.

From the outside perspective of the audience, Alex Murphy’s home life seems mundane and even a little corny. However, when put into the context of a crime-ridden urban dystopia, it becomes instrumental in elevating Robocop’s sense of duty. They make his prime directives more than just base programming. By adding Murphy’s humanity into the mix, they gain greater meaning.

It’s an inherently masculine trait, protecting those who cannot otherwise protect themselves. Murphy already embodied that trait because he was a cop and a family man. However, he could only accomplish so much on his own, as his fatal encounter with Boddicker proved.

By becoming Robocop, that role is elevated because technically speaking, he’s better equipped than any man has ever been. He’s got a human mind, but he has a robot body, complete with bullet-proof skin and the ability to shoot with inhuman accuracy. Instead of stripping him of his masculinity and his humanity, becoming a robot actually enhanced it.

That, more than anything, is what elevates Robocop’s noble masculinity to another level. An act that should’ve utterly dehumanized him ended up making his humanity even stronger. It had to be in order to overcome OCP’s control and uncover the plot to exploit him as just another product. The fact that OCP tries and fails in the sequel to recreate him further reinforces just how unique Robocop is.

Through that journey from utter masculine deconstruction to total reaffirmation of his identity, the line between Robocop and Alex Murphy blurs. The line between carrying out noble acts and following basic programming blurs as well. In the end, Robocop isn’t just a machine following a program. He’s a man inside a machine, doing the same job he did as a man, but with much better weapons and more memorable catch phrases.

Robocop” is hailed as a classic for many reasons. Robocop, as a character, continues to be an icon, despite sub-par sequels and a failed reboot. I think a big part of that appeal comes directly from how the first movie managed to portray the best traits of masculinity within a setting where the worst often thrived.

Even in a contemporary context, beyond the current state of Detroit, Robocop conveys a powerful message that men and women alike can appreciate. You can put a good man in the worst situation, destroying and deconstructing him at every level. That same man will find a way to re-emerge and do what needs to be done.

It’s a testament to the strength of manhood and our willingness to protect innocents in an unjust world. Robocop combines the spirit of a man with the power of a machine. One need not subvert the other. In fact, one can supplement the other and, dead or alive, the criminal element of any gender doesn’t stand a chance.

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Becoming A Better Man: A Lesson From My Father

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As kids, we rarely appreciate the lessons and insights our parents give us. For the most part, we see their efforts as an obstacle to our daily goal of having candy for every meal and staying up as late as we want. It’s only after we grow into adults and learn much harsher lessons from the world around us that we truly appreciate our parents.

That has certainly been my case. I’m very fortunate and very grateful because I have the best parents I ever could’ve hoped for. My mother and father did everything a kid could ask for in a parent and then some. I try to thank them every chance I get and I’m not just saying that because I know they regularly read this site. I genuinely mean it.

Earlier this year, I shared a special personal story about me and my mother to help celebrate Mother’s Day. Rest assured, I have just as many special stories about my father. I’ve mentioned before how his parenting style is distinct from my mother’s. He’s a lot more direct in how he establishes how a good, honorable man should behave. It’s because of him that I have a healthy appreciation for noble masculinity.

There are so many stories I could tell that demonstrate why my dad is so special and how he helped me appreciate the importance of becoming a better man. On the eve of Father’s Day, I’d like to share one of those stories. It’s one I’m sure I remember more vividly than my dad because while it was a defining moment for me, he probably sees it as just another day of being a great father.

This particular story takes place when I was about nine years old. I was a kid, but a growing kid. It was an age where you start to understand what it means to mature. I bring that up because it ended up being a critical component of this particular story.

My family was visiting one of my many aunts and uncles. I don’t remember the occasion, but my family has never needed much excuse to get together and party. For me, I just loved going there to hang out with my cousins. Growing or not, though, I was a kid and kid get rowdy after a certain period of time and sugar intake. It might as well be a law of physics.

The most memorable part of the visit, however, came towards the end when it was getting late and my parents needed the kids to settle down. In a confined space full of kids no older than 10, they might as well ask gravity to reverse itself on top of that. It just wasn’t going to happen without some sort of parenting wizardry.

That’s where my father comes in. It’s right around nine o’clock and my parents, along with every other adult in that house, were low on patience. My siblings and cousins had crowded in a bedroom where I was sort of leading the rowdiness, listening to music and yelling at the TV. My father might as well have walked into an insane asylum and I was the one handing out the tainted meds.

The first thing he did was turn off the TV, which for a kid my age was like slap in the face coupled with a kick to the shin. He didn’t raise his voice or yell. He just walked in there, carrying himself like a Navy Seal, and let his presence do the talking. Most of the younger kids in the room listened, but I didn’t. I still insisted on being difficult.

I ended up making a scene, saying I didn’t want to go and I wasn’t tired. I wasn’t even cute about it either. I admit I was an outright brat. If my father’s reading this, I think he remembers this better than I do. He’d probably use much stronger words, but in my defense, I was an immature kid surrounded by other immature kids.

Despite that attitude, my father didn’t flinch for a nanosecond. He just stood there, looked down at me with a glare that could’ve melted steel, and just kept repeating my name in this stern, stoic mantra. Again, he didn’t yell. He didn’t demand my obedience. He didn’t lay a hand on me. He just stood there like a titan.

At first, it annoyed the hell out of me and that just made me more restless. I kept making a racket that I’m sure the other adults in the house heard. My dad was well within his right to grab me by the shirt and put the fear of God in me. He still didn’t do it. He just kept repeating my name, as if to wear me down.

On paper, it shouldn’t have worked. It shouldn’t have gotten an immature kid my age to shut up. I don’t even remember how long I kept it up. After repeating my name in that tough, but authoritative voice for who knows how long, I finally broke. I just fell silent. Every kid in the room fell silent as well. It was downright eerie, but it worked. My father had silenced a room full of kids without breaking a sweat.

If that doesn’t demonstrate how awesome my dad is, I don’t know what will. He still wasn’t done, though. After the room fell silent, he told me we were leaving in a half-hour. I just nodded. I then asked if we could play one more game before that. I didn’t ask in a whiny, childish tone, though. I asked in the same serious tone he’d used. My dad, being as loving as he was tough, just smiled and nodded.

As the years have gone by, that moment has gained greater and greater meaning. It was at that moment that I realized what it meant to be mature. Just whining and begging wasn’t going to get me what I wanted anymore. If I wanted something from someone, I had to show respect and humility when I asked.

My father didn’t spell that out for me. Instead, he demonstrated it in a way I would never forget. He didn’t try to explain, word for word, the merits of being mature around other adults and why I should do it. He showed me. He made it so that what I’d been doing before as a kid no longer worked. If I wanted to get my way, I had to do something different. I had to be more mature about it.

That kind of lesson is a lot to process for a nine-year-old. I don’t think I began to appreciate it until a few years later when I noticed other kids around me trying to avoid that kind of maturation. When they wanted something, they still whined and complained. I didn’t do that and I’m a better man because of that.

It made me better through the rest of my youth. Talk to any of my relatives who knew me during that time and they’ll probably say the same thing. I was a lot more mature than most kids my age. Some even said that talking to me was like talking to a young adult. That earned me more respect than most kids my age and that helped a great deal, especially as I struggled through my teenage years.

It ended up being one of the most important lessons I ever learned as a kid. It might have been the most valuable lesson that my father ever taught me. To get what you want and to get along with people, you can’t beg for it. You can’t force it, either. You have to show respect and respect begins by showing it to others. It doesn’t matter if your a kid or adult. There’s value in being mature, respectful, and kind.

There are so many great memories I have of me and my dad, from trips to the beach to just paying catch in the back yard. However, that fateful day when he taught me that important lesson in maturity still stands out, especially on the eve of Father’s Day. It’s a moment that I treasure to this day and one that has helped shaped me into the man I am today.

I hope that story resonates with fathers and their children. To my own dad, if you’re reading this, thank you from the bottom of my heart. Thank you for being such an awesome father and for showing me how to be a better man.

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Profiles In Noble Masculinity: Hank Hill

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When it comes to paragons of masculinity, the standards tend to skew towards characters who crank the testosterone levels up to the maximum and even go a little bit beyond. From mythical figures like Hercules to modern icons like James Bond, it often seems as though that a truly masculine man has to exceed some lofty standards.

While there’s certainly a place for that kind of masculinity, I don’t think that has to be the only criteria. I believe there’s room for a more subtle, yet equally strong manifestation of manliness. They don’t have to be the kind of men who sweat raw testosterone and shave with shards of broken glass. They can be their own man and still embody respectable masculinity.

I chose Joel from “The Last Of Us” for my first profile in noble masculinity primarily because his example was not very subtle. He embodied the masculine values of strength, survival, fatherhood, and compassion in ways that are easy to highlight within a larger narrative. It didn’t take much work to make my case for Joel’s noble traits.

For my next profile, though, I’ve chosen a character who presents a tougher challenge. He comes from a narrative that’s very different from Joel’s. Instead of a post-apocalyptic world where everything comes back to survival, his is a more contemporary story from the far less dire setting of suburban Texas.

His name is Hank Hill. He sells propane and propane accessories. He’s a proud American, a hard worker, a die-hard football fan, and the star of “King of the Hill.” In the pantheon of modern-era animation, it’s a show that doesn’t usually rank near the top for most people, but the fact it lasted 13 years proves it did something right and Hank his is one of those things.

I consider him another example of noble masculinity. He’s one that differs considerably from Joel in “The Last Of Us,” but I consider him an example none-the-less. Over the course of 258 episodes and 13 seasons, Hank establishes himself as one of those rare characters who manages to be compelling and respectable without being too flawed.

He’s not a bumbling dad, nor is he self-absorbed narcissist always looking to get ahead. Hank Hill, at is core, is blue collar family man who loves his job, loves his wife, and tries to make the most of his situation. He’s not a whiner. When he sees a problem, he tries to fix it. When he makes a mistake, he owns up to it, even if he stumbles along the way.

He tries to do all of this while surrounded by characters who have a wide range of issues, flaws, and eccentricities. One of his neighbors is a self-loathing loser obsessed with his wife. Another is a chain-smoking paranoid idiot who doesn’t know his wife cheats on him. The other is Boomhaur. Actually, Boomhaur is awesome.

Beyond his idiot friends, Hank also deals with a know-it-all wife with an inflated ego, a lazy son who goes out of his way to under-achieve, a bimbo niece who attracts all the wrong people, and an eccentric, misogynistic father who hates his guts. The fact that Hank manages to maintain such a calm, collected demeanor most of the time is a testament to his strength.

That strength, however, isn’t exactly obvious if you just look at his persona on paper. In fact, if you just skim the basics, Hank doesn’t come off as a very interesting character, let alone one who fits the criteria for noble masculinity. He’s conservative, he’s frugal, he doesn’t exude charisma, and he’s a staunch defender of law, order, and the status quo.

Hank isn’t the kind of man who willingly goes on adventures, acts on an impulse, or seeks to radically change the world around him. He actually likes his world, for the most part, and actively defends it from those who try to upset it. This has led to more than a few conflicts throughout the show, but Hank’s ability to resolve those conflicts reveals that there’s much more to his character.

It’s in those efforts where Hank’s nobility, as both a man and a character, really shows. While he is a staunch traditionalist who goes to church, votes Republican, and is extremely uncomfortable with sex, he’s also remarkably tolerant of those who don’t share his views.

Throughout the show, he encounters people who are overtly promiscuous, exceedingly liberal, and don’t care much for football. At no point, though, does he try to change those people or convince them that they’re flawed. Sure, he’ll threaten to kick an ass every now and then, but he usually reserves that recourse for those who most deserve it.

When he’s not kicking asses that deserve to be kicked, Hank is also demonstrates an ability to reserve judgment and not make anything too personal. Throughout the show, he’s encountered crazy right-wing religious types, flamboyant homosexuals, and unapologetic womanizers. By nearly every measure, he deals with them in a way that’s respectable and fair for the most part.

For the most part, indeed.

Hank doesn’t condone or condemn their behavior. He’s more concerned with the consequences they have on others. In his view as a freedom-loving American, what people choose to do is their business, provided they understand and accept responsibility for the consequences.

Throughout the course of the show, he’ll point out or remind others of those consequences. He’ll even help some confront it. However, he doesn’t make it personal. He doesn’t whine about it. He doesn’t try to get everyone to embrace his way of doing things. Hank basically lets other people be free and live their lives.

It’s not the same as slaying giant monsters or rescuing princesses from towers, but it’s noble in its own right. In the context of masculinity, Hank Hill’s ability to remain strong, stern, and confident in the face of so much chaos from so many characters, each with plenty of quirks and eccentricities, is a testament to the kind of man he is.

He’s a man who takes pride in his work, leads by example, and tries to be the voice of reason in a world full of unreasonable people. He’s willing to be brave and bold when he has to be. He’s also willing to take responsibility when others won’t or refuse to. As a man, he’s someone who earns the respect of others and does plenty to maintain it.

That’s not to say that Hank is without his flaws. Sometimes, he is traditional to the point of being petty. In one episode, the entire plot was driven by his dismay at another family sitting in his non-assigned seat at church. He can also be controlling, especially with how he raises his son, Bobby.

On more than one occasion, he’s been an obstacle for Bobby’s endeavors. His famous refrain, “That boy ain’t right,” is often said in the context of him wanting to guide Bobby down a certain path. Most of the time, though, he does so in a way that’s appropriate for a caring father. Other times, though, he gives the impression that he wants Bobby to be just like him.

Even with these flaws, Hank Hill still commands and earns respect. As a man, a father, and an American, he checks most of the boxes in terms of noble masculinity. He’s strong, responsible, hard-working, and accepting of other peoples’ strengths and flaws. He’s a man worthy of admiration and the fact he knows propane is a nice bonus.

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