As with so many great moments in life, I have no idea how the conversation started. Several of the grad students, including your humble narrator, had gathered at the grad student and faculty watering hole (which served craft beer and real food). Dr. McD, a Canadian who specialized in British military and diplomatic history, and Dr. T, one of the Asianists, were talking with some of the guy students about being a guy, and what happens in times and places without women when you don’t have military discipline to keep the chaos somewhat in check. One of the guys, who came from a family of four large Midwestern farm boys, grinned and said, “The movie Dumb and Dumber? Yeah, that was us when our parents were out-of-town. We totally tried some stunts as crazy as those.”
Which led to the movie Animal House and the shenanigans that went on, which led to my chiming in with the story I’d heard about the Georgia Tech ROTC vs one of the fraternities and a raid-in-force one night that left the frat house . . . Well, everyone knew who had won, I’ll just stop there. The guys agreed that that was a very good example, and the conversation shifted to the best of when men get together. Someone suggested the film Zulu, the 1964 movie about Rourk’s Drift. “Oh yes,” Dr. T averred. “Precisely that.”
“So, if I, a female-type person, want to sum up the best and worst of undiluted guy-ness, Animal House and Zulu would be it?”
“Yes! Absolutely so,” Dr. McD exclaimed, pointing his cigarette and waving the other hand briefly before returning it to his beer stein. “Those two sum it up nicely. Because you can’t explain it, just watch it unfold.” The others at the table thought for a bit and agreed, and the topic drifted to other things, including a truly dreadful, tedious new book about the early national period in US history.
I’d seen Zulu several times by then. It happens to be one of my favorite movies for a number of reasons, a young Michael Caine among them. I’d seen bits of Animal House, and ended up renting it a few weeks later. Oy. But I could totally see that happening, based on glimpses of some guy friends and associates over the years.
I know very well that not all men are like those two films, either wild and immature or disciplined and deadly. And that men change over time just like women do. I’m not a guy. I will never think like a guy, or really understand in my bones why guys do guy stuff. And yes, there is guy stuff, just like there is girl stuff. It varies from culture to culture, but it exists. And young men, unsupervised, looking at a rope, a lake, and a cliff and saying “hey, let’s see what happens if . . ” or “I bet you can’t . . .” are probably near universal. There’s a lot of truth behind the line about “Hold my drink and watch this.” And young men do foolish things if they think it will impress a girl. (Girls do our own foolish things if we think it will impress a guy. Last week I saw a 9th grader wearing 4″ spike heeled booties for a school ceremony. Ay yai yai.)
But as an outsider, I think Dr. McD was right. From everything I’ve seen and heard, and hidden my eyes from, you had to sum up young men on their own, without the leavening (or encouraging) presence of ladies, those two films might make a good start.
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