Amusement Parks and Masculinity

 

We talked about Lena Dunham wanting to be loved not for her writing but for her half-naked figure in grungy underwear as we sat by the lake watching boys split into rival teams; ISIS vs.soldiers and super heroes.

One hundred and fifty years ago both Union and Confederate soldiers “spoke routinely of deluded people, dupes of the politicians, and ignorant masses. Both  Northerners and Southerners feared that democratic institutions were not adequate to deal with the realities of nineteenth-century America–they relied too heavily on the existence of a virtuous and intelligent citizenry.” Civil War Soldiers by Reid Mitchell

After the Civil War there lived some men and women who imagined high art and expositions like  the World’s Columbian Exposition of 1893 could pull the native and immigrant masses from their ignorance and childishness. For these men and women believed that real manhood and womanhood were attained when one practiced thrift, sobriety and volunteerism. This Yankee discipline and religiosity had served the North well. The aristocratic South lay in ruins and many veterans of the war remembered the South as a bizarre, other-worldly place of sloth and heat.

The Metropolitan Museum of Art is never an empty place, thank goodness. On most weekends the front stairs are crammed with students, tourists and people needing a seat to eat their hot dog lunches, but many, many more people have rejected this “high” art as bizarre and other-worldly.

As much as we hate to admit this about humanity, there are many people who would rather not work at liking something. They’d rather go with their feelings and fuss over strained muscles (brains and brawn). Informational booths at a fair do only scant business compared to the corn dog stand (I like corn dogs–do you?).

Man/boys may have always existed in Western civilization, but for a good, long while in Yankee American culture they were looked down upon, seen as missing a key element of manhood and suspected of deviant behaviors. There is a certain sad and pathetic element to men who play too many games and wear funny pajamas. Women/girls who do photo shoots in bathrooms, give lip service to an ever changing feminism and then complain when young, handsome athletes don’t fawn over them are pathetic as well.

The once famous man/boy Fred Thompson who created Luna Park on Coney Island in the early 20th century had an epiphany at the Buffalo Exposition when the high-minded men of learning nearly bankrupted the endeavor for failing to realize the simple fact that most people didn’t want to be uplifted. They didn’t want to know about lost civilizations and proper canning methods. What they wanted was to be carried along the Midway where amusements abounded. Exotic dancing girls, loud music and incandescent lighting mesmerized and excited the people who already felt too old. Peter Pan was (and is) the hero of the day.

Even among the boys at the lake  some  created strategies and lofty goals. Some boys interrupted with random thoughts about nothing. Some led and some followed. The less ambitious waited to be picked on a team but offered nothing more than their feelings and soon wandered off to cool themselves in the lake before getting a snack from their mothers who probably like us were talking about inane controversies involving childish women we would never actually meet.

Sometimes, even beside a beautiful lake, it’s difficult to stay in an elevated frame of mind.

013

It is the mystery of the unknown
That fascinates us; we are children still,
Wayward and wistful; with one hand we cling
To the familiar things we call our own,
And with the other, resolute of will,
Grope in the dark for what the day will bring.–Henry W. Longfellow.

 

 

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