It was the year 2011.
I was working part time at an independent cinema, and the entire saga of Star Wars had just come out on Blu-ray. My colleague and I decided that we’d host special private screening for ourselves to celebrate this momentous occasion. We both loved Star Wars. We both loved the big screen. This would be the greatest gift ever, right?
So one night, after the last of the patrons had left and the cinema was officially closed, we brought out my Playstation and hooked it up to the cinema’s digital projector. With absolute reverence – like a holy relic of a pop cultural religion – we inserted the ‘A New Hope’ disc into its receptive disc slot. A buzz and a whirl later, the cinema was flooded with iconic images and the famous John Williams score. I was utterly excited. I hadn’t seen Star Wars since I was a youngling, and before we hit play, I made sure that I had my popcorn, my icecream, and my sugary sweet drink. I was going to watch Star Wars as it was intended, and rekindle my excitement with the millions of other grown men my age.
My reaction to what was happening onscreen wasn’t what I expected: instead of believing in the terrifying might of the Empire, I watched plastic soldiers waltz around a screen with no menace. Instead of joining in the amazement of the fight between Obi-Wan and Darth Vader, I cringed as Alec Guiness was forced to wave around a stupid laser sword with a guy clad in black. Instead of bathing myself in the breadth and imagination of the universe, I was falling asleep from the lack of plot and paper-thin characters.
The revelation that Star Wars just wasn’t that good was quite possibly the biggest turning point in my formation into adulthood. I had turned 21 only recently, so I felt like a lot of lifetime habits were slowly starting to ingrain themselves into my being. While the first Spider-Man film in 2002 convinced me to become a writer/director as a pre-teen, even up until my second year at university I was bursting with anticipation for the new Iron Man and Incredible Hulk movies like they were the zenith of my existence.
I also had an obsession with video games, in particular the Halo video game franchise. I spent too much time, money, and mental effort between 2001 and 2010 playing the entire series, reading the awful extended universe books, and purchasing the Master Chief action figurines (at twenty years old). Furthermore, I probably spent up to fifty thousand words over the years arguing with other people on the internet about how awesome my video game was compared to their video game.
I was well on my way to becoming a manchild.
What Is A Manchild?
A manchild is a grown male (average height of 5’10-6’0 ft, usually bearded, tertiary student or employed, has a license to drive and drink) that acts like a small kid, unable and unwilling to take responsibility for his own cultivation of virtue. When it comes to religion, politics, and finance, the manchild twiddles his thumbs and gets bored by such talk, but when he sees the bright colours of his favourite cartoon hero, he gets really, really excited and jumps for joy. And while he can’t speak properly in a group of people or towards women, he certainly can unleash all sorts of hell on Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, and other forums on the internet.
A significant part of the propagation of the manchild is the acceptance of ‘pop culture’. It’s accessibility has turned us into a merry band of meatbags that consume products for the unthinking citizen. The films, television and video games we consume do little to inform us except to portray steroid-abusing actors in tight-fitting costumes punch each other to death (or if not to death, at least to the next money-spinning film). ‘Mature entertainment’ nowadays means childish acts of violence, sex, and skulduggery to keep audiences glued onto the screen hour after precious hour.
And what does the manchild’s life look like? He’s the guy who slaves away five to six days a week at a job he really, truly despises (if he’s doesn’t have a job, he’s usually taking out a loan to stay at university). When he gets home, he jumps on the computer to read about nerdy and geeky news of little worth to him, while heating up his microwave dinner, before lounging in front of a screen for several hours of catching up on movies, television, and video games with similar story lines and similar explosions. He spends little time cultivating a life of authentic masculinity, of self-improvement, or of the pursuit of knowledge. He is truly slothful, lustful, and gluttonous, and lives his life through make-believe characters who do all the physical, mental, and spiritual sacrifice for him.
This is not the life of an authentic man.
From Manchild to Authentic Man
Does the manchild sound a lot like you?
Six years ago, I was morphing into a manchild. I was the unthinking, lazy, irresponsible citizen. When girls that liked me talked my ear off on politics, I could only ever grunt and nod. When the prospect of religion came up, I kept mum about my faith. When life called me to take on bigger and better job opportunities, I retreated to relative safety of my part-time minimum wage job. My bedroom, however, was filled with countless pop culture crap which I dedicated a lot of money purchasing and a lot of time consuming. Instead of enriching my own life, I was enriching the coffers of Disney, Warner Bros and Sony.
But ever since that fateful night of watching Star Wars at 21, the entire pop culture movement and the franchises it sells to the masses has had little effect on me. Instead of watching simple blockbusters like The Avengers, I began to watch classic films like Seven Samurai. Instead of playing video games and suffering bad stories, I started to build future businesses by creating stories as my assets. Instead of subscribing to Netflix and digesting too much television, I signed up to a theology school (Taylor Marshall’s one, in fact!) and digested the knowledge of my Catholic faith. Would you know it, my joy multiplied simply because I knew I was improving myself instead of being enslaved by the next slew of pop cultural mega-brand.
Authentic masculinity requires that men must strive to improve their worth in the world, and it’s not simply about earning wages or getting bigger muscles. Perhaps the highest form of masculine cultivation is the intellectual life, and within the intellectual life is the appreciation for good art and entertainment. You may know the names of Jon Favreau or Christopher Nolan and what they have done, and that’s totally fine. But do you also know intimately the works of Ingmar Bergman or Andrei Tarkovsky, perhaps the two greatest filmmakers of all time? They’re great because they speak to us of the human condition, and allow us to reflect on our past, present and future.
Away from film, would you know the works of Gian Lorenzo Bernini? Can you name this sculpture of his?
“I understand the reason for arthouse movies/classical music/classic literature, but I just like fun stuff, y’know?” is the initial reaction I hear from many friends and associates. If you were to watch The Seventh Seal or Andrei Rublev from the two aforementioned great directors, or stand and stare at the Bernini sculpture, maybe you wouldn’t find it fun. The problem however, isn’t in the art itself, but in the fact that you’re artistically out of shape. I know, because I’ve been there. Like increasing the weights of a bench press, deadlift, or squat, you must continue to cultivate yourself, and push yourself to experience bigger and better things. Sooner or later, you’ll realize that Mozart is a delight to listen to, and that reading The Lord of the Rings (which is merely a step-up from a children’s book) wasn’t actually too hard to read at all!
There’s only one problem in growing from a manchild of pop culture to a man of art: you won’t be able to enjoy your superhero films and blockbuster movies as much, and you’ll constantly wonder if your Netflix subscription is worth keeping. And if you think you’re jaded choice of popular music today, you’re going to run into problems when you attempt to tell your friends you’ve been putting Tchaikovsky on repeat because his stuff is so moving.
I implore my fellow men, then, to give up a life dictated by the consumption of pop culture, and enter completely into authentic, resilient masculinity. Over the years you will find your financial life not tied to any one employer, your expenses not wasted on takeout food, subscription television, and meaningless video games, and your wisdom increasing as you finally take control of your life and direct it towards Truth.
In the words of St. Paul:
When I was a child, I spoke as a child, I understood as a child, I thought as a child: but when I became a man, I put away childish things.