Reverse Culture Shock 101: VIOLENCE

Yeah, I know that technically, if this was really a 101 course, we’d be on winter break at this point, but why don’t you go piss up a rope if that’s your attitude? And don’t get too excited by that question mark; there is no answer.

Now then, let’s talk about how exceedingly ultra-violent all aspects of American culture are, at least insofar as males are concerned. For the American male, be he small or large, young or old, fledgling or well-established, the notion that an outburst of violence might be one wrong choice of syntax or poorly selected article of clothing away is to be born in mind constantly. We idealize muscle to the point of impracticality, to where we’re planning our weeks and diets around some perceived need to be enormous, so that when Bluto saunters in to shoulder-handle our sinewy girlfriends, we’ll be ready to cramalam a fist into his craw and feel proud about something. And if we’re not putting in the effort to do this, we’re feeling bad about it.

It’s improper to show warmth or friendliness to an unfamiliar male peer, as this might be mistaken for weakness or submission. If you feel some implacable urge to reach out and gesture to a fellow American male, you are to twitch your chin upwardly at him, the same gesture you might make when attempting to initiate a fistfight. Still, it is better to be mistaken for an assailant than for someone who is nice, and it’ll get you more women too. Because no woman wants a guy who comes off as unprepared to explode into violence at any given time.

Violence governs our decisions. “Don’t name your son ‘Dagwood,'” your friends tell you. “Unless you don’t mind him getting the shit beaten out of him everyday at school.” And even though it’s hard to imagine a scenario where someone would feel the need to destroy another human being simply because of his name, you do mind. And so you name him “John” and instill in him the contradictory values of self-sufficiency and fear of the crowd. “Stand tall and proud, John,” you say, “Otherwise you’ll stand out.” And of course, get the shit beaten out of him.

To be sure, most of the world seems to work just like this. But it works a lot less like this in Japan. In fact, a lot of things seemed to be perfectly backwards over there. The thriving “women are men’s pedestal” point of view in Japan seems to have birthed a breed of woman who actually appreciate nice men. Meanwhile, the bulging muscle aesthetic leaves most people laughing and bewildered: “Why is this grumpy-looking ogre man so proud of himself?” The body-building heroes of our youth seem largely viewed as a ridiculous novelty in Japan. Instead, they idolize men who pride themselves on looking like women. You walk around and chuckle for awhile at all the boys tweezing their eyebrows on the train, but then a new thought dawns on you–Why is America so enamored with the lumbering galoot?

Why indeed. When I moved back here and walked around town, it occurred to me that most men are just afraid of everything, including appearing afraid. At least, in these upper-middle class suburbs they are. The only thing we know about survival of the fittest is that it exists somewhere else, but it’s waiting right at our doorstep in the form of a posse of gangsta rappers, and if we don’t at least seem like men, we’ll be the first ones whose wives they’ll rape.

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