- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 3, 2000

Beer. Women. Football. Wrestling. More beer.
It's a man's world again if the pop-culture powers that be have anything to say about it.
Not just any man. We're talking about the kind who can set his flatulence aflame and identify Playboy Playmates by their month and year. Media outlets have been cranking out with increasing regularity rogue content aimed at the young male in all men.
Punch the TV remote and watch "Ally McBeal's" once sensitive Billy transform into a stogie-chomping lug who travels with a flock of supermodels.
Stop by the box office and see Tom Cruise generating Oscar heat for his turn in "Magnolia" as a self-help guru who advises men to "seduce and destroy" women.
Peruse the newsstand and read in the January issues of the popular men's magazine Maxim how to detect when a woman is going through a promiscuous spell.
Alvin Baraff, clinical psychologist and director of MenCenter Counseling in the District of Columbia, sees these media manifestations as releases for long-dormant emotions.
"Men have always held in a lot of their feelings." says Mr. Baraff, who founded MenCenter in 1984 in part to help men communicate better. "Men typically don't bond together like women do," he says, save for sporting events, and then the subject matter is blown calls, not mislabeled emotions.
Changing social mores also are partly to blame.
"Men, younger and older … are having to be very careful about what they say, how they're saying it and what their behavior is like," he explains. "They're operating out of confusion … not knowing where the line of acceptable behavior is."
Such material isn't entirely new witness Arnold Schwarzenegger's muscular film resume but the examples of Neanderthal-friendly fare are mounting.
Chest-thumping professional wrestling. The misogynistic stylings of rocker Limp Bizkit and rapper Eminem. The FX channel's "The X Show."
Comedy Central perhaps put the exclamation point on the craze with "The Man Show." The weekly guy-fest showcases girls jumping on trampolines and a music director who can down two frosty beers faster than you can belch "Budweiser."
Mark Golin, editor in chief of the men's magazine Details, blames the trend in part on a backlash against all things politically correct.
But the fad, Mr. Golin suggests, may be peaking.
"The point has been made," says Mr. Golin, who joined Details last summer after a stint in the same capacity with Maxim. "When I got here, it was starting to follow the Maxim lead."
Though his magazine still traffics in the occasional lipstick lesbian primer, Mr. Golin insists he is steering Details in more thought-provoking directions.
"You can't have dessert all the time. You have to have something you can sink your teeth into," he says.
Apparently, many readers don't mind gorging themselves on sinfully decadent verbiage. According to the Audit Bureau of Circulations, Maxim's paid circulation for the six-month period ending June 20 was more than 1.15 million while Details' circulation during that same period was 558,683.
One thoughtful voice amid the baying comes from an unlikely source: the metaphorical womb of Penthouse magazine.
Bob Guccione Jr., editor and publisher of Gear magazine for men and son of Penthouse founder Bob Guccione, says such media products represent a shortsighted business model, "like a high-yield, short-term bond."
Gear, which debuted as a bimonthly in September 1998 and went monthly one year later, doesn't shy away from provocative content. But Mr. Guccione says he holds his male readers to loftier standards.
"I don't believe men are single-celled amoebas," he says. "We respond to storytelling."
As more Maxim-style entries flood the market, "it's going to hasten the time when the novelty wears off," he predicts, adding that he feels no pressure to inject ribald content into Gear to strike while the testosterone is hot.
The playfully macho trend typified by Maxim and its ilk may be society's way of dealing with changing gender roles, suggests Kerric Harvey, associate professor of media and public affairs at George Washington University.
The media products are helpful, in a way, because they "identify the range of debate, giving extremes to measure with," Ms. Harvey says. "People get to window-shop different kinds of identities, then they bundle it together in a way that suits them."
Though these trends have swung back and forth, she suggests it might not be time yet for the pendulum to reverse course.
"We haven't found any long-term universal solutions to changing gender roles," she says.
More than a few fans of this milieu will wrinkle their noses at such highfalutin analysis but humor rarely is as simple as it appears on the surface, Ms. Harvey contends.
"No one piece of human communication, especially a joke, works on only one level," she says.
Los Angeles-based social psychologist Debbie Then says the trend speaks to a fluctuation in the gender wars.
"I think it's a way of men reasserting their power, and the media's playing it up," Ms. Then says. Today's woman has a stronger foothold in both the financial world and the work force, and she can have children outside the bounds of matrimony without dealing with the social fallout her mother or grandmother might have faced. The modern man, Ms. Then explains, is left to wonder what happened to his stockpile of cultural influence.
Women, in turn, are befuddled by the violent mood swing of men. "It's confusing and frustrating for women. They never wanted to supplant men," she says.
Ms. Then likens programs such as "The Man Show" to a cultural pressure valve, but she says the people letting off steam probably aren't as stereotypically "male" as one might imagine.
All this talk of beer, bachelor parties and bohemian behavior could tarnish the trend's silver lining.
"It's such an obvious shift that people can't help but pay attention to it," Ms. Then says, and highly publicized movements often spark the kind of honest dialogue that could mean genuine improvement in the relationship between the sexes.
Or at least, men might start thinking twice before leaving the toilet seat up.

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