I'm sure you probably already know this, but it's a really tough time to be a white guy of a certain age right now. Everything's just so upside-down and nothing's how it used to be, with white guys of a certain age lumbering across the face of the earth like mighty dinosaurs, perfectly, languorously content in their dominion over all creatures. There was the re-election of the weirdly named multi-cultural black man Barack Obama -- along with the denial of the whitest, most of-a-certain-age man alive, Mitt Romney -- and its heralding of the demographic shift that's wresting power from their hands and giving to welfare queens and leaf-blowers. At the same time, there was the backlash against the attempt by a popular and official collective of über-white men -- the GOP -- to restrict the reproductive freedom of women on the grounds that not having proper babies from white guys of a certain age constitutes indefensible promiscuity anyway.
But that's politics. The real battlefield for white guys of a certain age these days seems to be pop culture, which is telling them that they can't just "show up" and still be the subject of adoration, as they once were, while simultaneously reminding them at every turn that the various peoples of the globe have other interests besides their lengthy, fascinating tales of their own heroic exploits that involve the experience of just being white guys of a certain age.
Over the past few days, we've been treated to two comically embarrassing screeds lamenting the changing face of American and world culture into one that devalues the traditional merits and interests of the white guy of a certain age. One is self-pitying and personally revelatory in ways I'm not sure the author fully intended; the other is bitter, pissy and amusingly detached from the times in a way that only a man who shouts at kids to get off his lawn can find civil.
The latter, of course, comes to us courtesy of Bill O'Reilly, the recently self-knighted harbinger of doom for white-guys-of-a-certain-age culture and the official miserable, racist uncle to all of America. Two nights ago, on his regular prime-time complaint box on Fox News, O'Reilly and As-Seen-on-TV shrink Keith Ablow attempted to dissect the immense popularity of Psy's Gangnam Style, which recently surpassed Baby, from the harmless and infinitely less confusing Justin Bieber, as YouTube's most-watched video ever and is on track to having over a billion hits. O'Reilly, as you might imagine, can't fathom the popularity of Gangnam Style, which he describes as "a little fat guy from Pyongyang or someplace... doing the pony."
His and Ablow's debate over the clip and desperate attempt to understand the viral phenomenon that's sprung from it -- which lasted more than five minutes -- truly has to be seen to be fully appreciated. Ablow decides to go all Kierkegaardian nihilism, saying that the song literally means and affirms nothing, which is why it's the perfect mirror for our current culture; he even argues that Psy is uttering gibberish instead of "intelligible words," which he believes confirms his theory. That the lyrics of the song are in Korean never even comes close to popping the provincial bubble Ablow, O'Reilly and Fox News's audience exist inside of; I guess they figure that if something is huge internationally it has to have come from America. Haven't those Asians heard how exceptional we are? Don't they watch The O'Reilly Factor? For his part, O'Reilly simply dismisses the whole thing as madness.
For the record, I couldn't care less about Psy or Gangnam Style -- like most internet fads, it's annoying as hell -- but I can appreciate that it was written by someone whose experience isn't mine and who was attempting to satirize a place I didn't even know existed and a lifestyle I've never seen for myself. K-Pop isn't my thing and neither is the often peculiar Asian appropriation of hip-hop, but I'd never argue that the song is about nothing just because I don't understand it. I'm also not an asshole to the nearly unsurpassable extent that O'Reilly and Ablow seem to be.
But if you thought those two could turn a pop culture curiosity into a full-on existential crisis, you haven't read Richard Cohen's recent and instantly legendary elegy to his fading place as an object of feminine desire. I wouldn't be surprised if Cohen really believed he was simply examining the changing face of masculinity during his write-up of the new James Bond movie in Monday's Washington Post, but let's be honest: He was lamenting the fact that he, 71-year-old Richard Cohen, can't score 20-something chicks anymore. In the column, Cohen mourns the death of what he calls the "sexual meritocracy" of years past, when guys like Cary Grant and Humphrey Bogart could nail women much younger than themselves by virtue of little more than their "experience and savoir-faire" and their ability to, preposterously, "send out a suit for swift hotel cleaning." He compares these qualities, ones you can easily imagine him ascribing to himself, to those Daniel Craig displays in Skyfall. The result is a piece of intellectual resentment almost impossible to truly describe without hearing the voice of Family Guy's "Buzz Killington" in your head.
"Nothing about him looks natural, relaxed -- a man in the prime of his life and enjoying it. Instead, I see a man chasing youth on a treadmill, performing sets and reps, a clean and press, a weighted knee raise, an incline pushup and, finally, something called an incline pec fly (don't ask) ... Every rippling muscle is a book not read, a movie not seen or a conversation not held."
While I'm sure you can sympathize with the ways in which Daniel Craig is crushing Richard Cohen's self-esteem and taking all the women who would otherwise be gushing over his droll tales of hours spent painstakingly crafting didactic, faux-erudite columns for The Washington Post, it's ludicrous to make the assumption that because someone is physically fit, that person must be neglecting other parts of him or herself -- as if bettering your mind and body is a zero-sum game. It's basically Cohen bemoaning his loss of entitlement and being petty, jealous and essentially the real-life equivalent of William H. Macy's Quiz Kid Donnie character in Magnolia, sitting at the end of the bar pondering aloud why nobody wants to be with him anymore. On the plus side, he couldn't have written a column that's stronger catnip for the ladies over at Jezebel if he'd tried.
Years ago, the late William F. Buckley wrote a series of novels about a character with the hilariously improbable name Blackford Oakes. Oakes is a rakish CIA agent and man of mystery who travels the globe foiling cold war-era plots and sleeping with beautiful women, despite having a pretty little liberal-arts lady back home in the land of the free who cares for him dearly but whom he must constantly condescend to lovingly and lecture about the true nature of the world. He's sexy, lethal, Ivy League-educated, and always a gentleman. In other words, he's exactly how a pompous bore like William F. Buckley imagined himself; he's Buckley's alter-egomaniac. Buckley's bombastically high opinion of himself didn't manifest in self-pitying public requiems, as Cohen's did -- it was turned into really crappy dime-store spy novels. Cohen should take up fiction. It would be less humiliating to him.
It's worth mentioning that both O'Reilly and Cohen have been accused in the past of inappropriate sexual conduct with women much younger than them. O'Reilly's target, infamously, was producer Andrea Mackris, whom he offered to "falafel" in the shower; Cohen's was a 23-year-old editorial aide named Devon Spurgeon. (He also had an affair with Peter Jennings's wife back in the late 80s.) See, there was a time when white guys of a certain age like them, as lords of the sexual meritocracy, could expect to exert their privilege and not only get away with it but have women fall willingly and effortlessly into their powerful, interesting arms. All they had to do was show up. They were the kings of all they surveyed and everything went their way and made complete sense to them at all times.
Those days, though, may be coming to an end.
We now live in a changing world, one where a pudgy Korean guy can be an American and global phenomenon and James Bond isn't just the coolest man in the world, he's also one of the hottest.
Yes, it's a tough time for white guys of a certain age. The good news is that they'll grow out of it. And besides, white guys still have it pretty great all the way around. Just ask anyone else.