Continued from page 1

A square is traditional. Stodgy. Out of touch. Unmoved by the now, oblivious to the new.

Think Archie Andrews.

Once upon a time, Archie mattered. The venerable comic book character was a freckle-faced Everyboy, clumsy but generous, conventional in his tastes (girls, cars, sports), untouched by acne and teenage angst, a kindred spirit to the Hardy Boys — content to paint his life within a narrow set of cultural lines. He was a square, terminally so, and even when he flirted with ersatz-hipness by fronting his own garage band, they were squares, too.

And that was OK.

That was OK because squares were OK. Esteemed, actually. Ike? A Square. Truman? Ditto. Basketball superstar George Mikan was a gentle, bespectacled giant. Joe DiMaggio had yet to go anywhere. Father Knew Best — and he was a total square. Sure, squareness was in some ways a myth — real people seldom fit into neat little boxes — but it was a myth we wanted, maybe even needed.

Then — like a lot of things post-World War II — the two-martini lunch, women as second-class citizens, American Apartheid — squareness went belly up. Enter the age of antiheroes. The birth of the cool. The triumph of the hip. The rise of beloved — and oft-polarizing — iconoclasts who neither played by the traditional rules nor followed the established script.

Our athletic heroes became rebels, against the Man and contra the establishment, from Muhammad Ali to Brian Bosworth to Allen Iverson. They became glamorous, too, flashy and sexy and special, every man his own brand, from Joe Namath to Michael Jordan.

Shelves of books have been devoted to the shift in the ‘60s from traditionalism to counter-culture, an upheaval that would leave few of the time-honored cultural ideals standing. The manly heroes of Hollywood’s Golden Age — the strong, silent screen paragons who stoically waged our wars, made sure crime didn’t pay and won the West — gave way to new cultural archetypes for an age of self-styled rebels — outlaw chic (“Bonnie and Clyde,” “The Godfather” saga); wounded and disillusioned warriors (“Coming Home,” Apocalyspe Now,” “Born on the Fourth of July”); rugged frontiersmen gone Native American (“Dances with Wolves”). From rock to rap, post-war popular music was conquered by genres defined by youth and racial rebellion, dominated by pop idols worshipped for — not in spite of — their indulgence in self-destructive extremes of hedonistic abandon.

Oh, sure: The squarish likes of John Stockton, Tim Duncan and Sen. Orrin G. Hatch still roamed the Earth. Thing is, they were seldom celebrated — unless, as in the case of uberdork Kurt Rambis of the Los Angeles Lakers and his Rambis Youth cult fan following, said celebration was laced with hipster irony.

Return of the squares

Of course, that was then. So six months ago. In Mr. Santorum, Lin and Tebow, the squares have returned, somehow chic yet still out of touch.

Tebow calls reporters “Sir.” He says he’s a virgin — where have you gone, Broadway Joe? — and appears in an ad campaign for Jockey underwear throwing a football shirtless, yet still wearing his pants.

Supermodel Gisele Bundchen, after her husband, New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady, saw his receivers drop key passes in a Super Bowl loss: “My husband cannot [expletive] throw the ball and catch the ball at the same time.”

Tebow, after his receivers dropped a number of passes against the Chicago Bears: “I’ve just got to do a better job and just improve with accuracy and put it on my receivers more. They come up with a bunch of big plays, so I was just proud of their effort.”

When a reporter asked Tebow about “Tebow Time” — referring to his penchant for fourth-quarter heroics — the Denver quarterback asked that it be called “Bronco Time.” Similarly, Lin deflects individual praise as if a cobra has bitten him and the only antivenom is praising his teammates.

Story Continues →