Monday, August 22, 2005

Boy Bravado

It’s great to be closing in on 60 and to have a young son. How else could a guy in my demographic tune in so directly to the world of boys? For my son’s twelfth birthday, I drove him and seven other pre-adolescent fellows to a place out in the Mojave foothills called “Mountasia” (just a blistering hop-skip-and jump from Magic Mountain).

Mountasia is a very parent friendly little collection of amusements (go-carts, lasertag, bumper-boats and video games). The food was crap but so what? You didn’t have to shlep everywhere to keep track of scattered children, and the place is too tame to attract the gangs Magic Mountain features.

But back to my point. At the park I drifted away from the kids, so the real interaction was in my van, coming and going. I’m calling what I was subjected to “boy bravado,” and I’m sure you know what that is.

“Dude, did you see Undertaker do a crippler on Big Show last night?” (on WWE, World Wrestling Entertainment, that is).

“Man, he was so in submission!”

“Dude, check that Harley!”

“Cool!”

The Harley in question ripped past us, its purposely defeated muffler allowing an ungodly roar to shatter the surrounding atmosphere. The shaded, leathered and booted man who straddled this machine must have seemed iconic to the boys, a WWE demi-god sent down to redeem our sins. My faithful Ford Windstar, vintage 1995, bearing only the virtue of being paid for, seemed diminished then to my passengers. I was repeatedly urged to “book it!”, but, as I told them with attempted humor, you can only book my van when it’s going downhill.

The boy-bravado continued non-stop during every moment of the journey, both there and back. In addition to wrestling and motor-vehicles, it encompassed recollections from the last school year of various boys and girls who had been humiliated in a variety of ways, perhaps by doing something physically clumsy, or saying or doing something stupid that everyone could laugh at. The experience was almost like conducting a focus group on the elements of boy society. I could have written up my observations and sold them to video game producers, making sure they stocked their scenarios with ample mayhem- as if they don’t know about that already.

It brought me back to the cruelty of my middle-school years, both my own and others'.  Is it so different in the adult world?  News sources commonly express the doings of our culture in a male language of conquest and submission.  You can translate these expressions into imaginary boy-bravado conversations. Thus, from this morning’s L.A.Times Calendar section:

“Dude! Did you see that '40 Year Old Virgin’ kicked ‘Red Eye’ down to second place?”

“Shit, ‘Eye’ made a measely $16.5 million!”

“Wait, dudes! ‘Penguin’ is kicking ass for the long term box-office!”

From the Business section:

“Dude, Google is selling another 14 million shares!”

“Oh, dude, they’re going to take in about FOUR BILLION!”

“Shit, dude, they have a MASSIVE acquisition plan!”

“Oh yeah, dude! They’re going to wire up half the United States with Wi-Fi!”

It’s a bit obvious how boy-bravado infuses the front page, with its group upon group struggles, its crime and pain, but, and yes, here it comes, the obligatory gibe at President Bush, has not the President employed boy bravado as the primary vehicle in selling his foreign policies? We had our asses kicked on 9/11, so we have to KICK SOME ASS RIGHT NOW!  What choice does he have, though?  I get tired at my high school at the periodic exhortations to beat our rival school, because, you know, who cares?,  but I accept this adult inspired rivalry as one of the few ways to achieve adolescent solidarity: our group at war against that group over there!  I'm not in a position to criticize it, anyway.  As a debate coach I'm forever haranging my debaters about beating this or that team.   What are ya' gonna' do?  I guess I belong in the boy bravado arena.

As we approached Mountasia, the boys turned their focus to the attractions to come. Many had been to the park before, and they opined on which rides were the best. There was consensus that everything was good except the bumper-boats, which were “gay.” This I had to see- gay bumper-boats! It turned out that the best place to read my New Yorker was at a shaded table right next to the bumper-boats. These were large inner tubes seating two, equipped improbably with gasoline powered outboard motors which putt-putted the tubes lazily around a pond, so that every once in a while they bumped gently into another tube and its passengers. Gay, indeed! It was actually a perfect setting to finish my article, in which I learned that Billy Graham’s son kicked ass on the liberal wing of the Protestant Church.