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Day of the lout

Unsophisticated, lazy, misogynist males may be the primary model for today's young American men. Ugh.

February 13, 2011|By Neal Gabler
  • Louts luxuriate in their lack of sophistication. Louts travel in packs or just hang out with one another. Louts dress in T-shirts and jeans and eschew fashion. Louts guzzle beer rather than sip wine, and they are most likely to be spotted in bars or lounging on living room couches watching football.
Louts luxuriate in their lack of sophistication. Louts travel in packs… (Joseph Daniel Fiedler /…)

If you've seen a beer commercial in the last two years — and how can you avoid them? — you know the type. He's a twenty- or thirtysomething, sort of a slacker, with a beautiful and adoring girlfriend who just can't seem to pry his attention away from his suds. She expresses ardor, he looks ardently at his mug or can of beer. She wants to talk romance, he wants to talk anything but. She gets exasperated, he snuggles obliviously with his beer as she departs in a huff.

Most modern takes on manhood say that guys will do anything to bed a woman, but this is a new kind of man, and he seems to be everywhere these days, not just on beer commercials but in movies, on TV, on hundreds of morning radio shows and in bestselling books, to the point where he is generating a culture of new masculinity. He may even be the primary model for young manhood in America today.

He's a lout, from the English word for "an ill-mannered fellow," which was itself derived from a verb "to stoop," and his emergence says something important about men today.

The male image has gone through all sorts of transformations, especially over the last 50 years when feminism evolved and obligated men to adjust to the new circumstances of coequal women. The old strong, silent type, essentially a breadwinner and breeding stud, gradually gave way to the sensitive male, the engaged male, the homebody male who shared child-rearing and household duties with his wife.

Of course, some men found this emasculating and actively resisted the process. Some tried to laugh it off. But culturally speaking, there may have been a less overt resentment that has been simmering for a long time and that may account for the recent eruption of the lout. He seems to be a form of passive-aggressive revenge against what some men see as the indignities feminism has forced upon them — indignities that have been exacerbated by economic hardship.

The lout is not exactly a reversion to the old macho stereotype. He isn't tough, muscular, steely, monosyllabic, able to build a car engine or a house singlehandedly or sail around the world solo. He's not a sophisticate either, a Dos Equis most-interesting-man-the-world type. He doesn't dress to the nines or know his wines or drive a Porsche, and he isn't able to make witty cocktail party repartee. A lout is someone who is proudly stuck in a kind of adolescent parody of manhood that conflates insensitivity and machismo.

Louts luxuriate in their lack of sophistication. Louts travel in packs or just hang out with one another. Louts dress in T-shirts and jeans and eschew fashion. Louts guzzle beer rather than sip wine, and they are most likely to be spotted in bars or lounging on living room couches watching football. Louts don't talk feelings; they talk sports and beer. Louts have few needs and no shackles. Above all, louts may ogle women and snicker about them, but women are pointedly never their top priority. At most, women are objects, just like in the old days. That's the revenge part. Louts don't have to make any concessions to women. Louts barely need women. Just give a lout a Bud and his buds and he's happy.

Of course, embedded in loutishness is the idea that the lout is irresistible to women even as he disdains them — in fact, because he disdains them. In this view, women, who have allegedly been overpampered for the last few decades, just love louts, even when they pretend they don't. As this male fantasy goes, men are so cute when they act like galoots. So not only does he not have to make concessions to women, he can do or say whatever he wants without any consequences because in lout culture insensitivity is the new sensitivity.

Since the lout has been with us for eons, from Shakespeare to booze-addled rockers, it is hard to determine exactly when this new lout gained acceptability. Producer-director Judd Apatow, whose movies include "The 40-Year-Old Virgin" and "Knocked Up," deserves some small credit for the incipient development. Apatow's films have featured nerds and slackers who just hung out and indulged themselves, drinking, smoking dope and ruminating about guy things, but there's a catch: Apatow portrayed them this way not to celebrate loutishness but to emphasize that loutishness had to be abandoned if one was to embrace adulthood with all its benefits.

The real personification of movie loutishness is not those slackers but beefy Scottish actor Gerard Butler. He typically plays a smug, self-satisfied male chauvinist beaming at his ability to irritate women with his caddishness and to attract them with it. He used this exact shtick in "The Ugly Truth" with Katherine Heigl and "The Bounty Hunter" with Jennifer Aniston and to the same effect. He's a blunt instrument who wears down his prey, but movies being movies, there is a cop-out here too. In the end, this lout finally evinces some real feeling, which is what closes the deal with the girl. In short, the lout turns out not entirely to be one.

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