Monday, May 27, 2013

Sorry, No Prince Charming Here, Just Move Along, Ma'am ...

If you remember your childhood fairy tales*, you will remember the story of Sleeping Beauty, who was saved from a curse by the kiss of Prince Charming. Well, it's a good thing she didn't live in 21st-century America, because we seem to have a serious shortage of charming princes. Or charming men in general, for that matter.

I ran across this very interesting article by Benjamin Schwartz in the Atlantic Monthly the other day: The Rise and Fall of Charm in American Men. Mr Schwartz maintains that modern America men lack the indefinable quality of charm that marked many great actors of the past like Cary Grant** and, more recently, James Garner and George Clooney. He writes,

"For nearly 20 years, any effort to link men and charm has inevitably led to [George] Clooney. Ask women or men to name a living, publicly recognized charming man, and 10 out of 10 will say Clooney. That there exists only one choice—and an aging one—proves that we live in a culture all but devoid of male charm."

What is charm, though? I think all women would recognize it, even if most men probably woudn't ... and wouldn't care. Mr Schwartz offers this partial analysis of charm ...

"It’s an attribute foreign to many [American] men because most are, for better and for worse, childlike. These days, it’s far more common among men over 70—probably owing to the era in which they reached maturity rather than to the mere fact of their advanced years. What used to be called good breeding is necessary (but not sufficient) for charm: no one can be charming who doesn’t draw out the overlooked, who doesn’t shift the spotlight onto others—who doesn’t, that is, possess those long-forgotten qualities of politesse and civilit√©. A great hostess perforce has charm ... but today this social virtue goes increasingly unrecognized. Still, charm is hardly selfless. All of these acts can be performed only by one at ease with himself yet also intensely conscious of himself and of his effect on others. And although it’s bound up with considerateness, it really has nothing to do with, and is in fact in some essential ways opposed to, goodness. Another word for the lightness of touch that charm requires in humor, conversation, and all other aspects of social relations is subtlety, which carries both admirable and dangerous connotations."

So why don't today's American men value the quality of charm?

I think it's probably because of the desire on the part of many men to return to a simpler, more basic America, to a time when "men were men and women were glad of it," a time before metrosexuals and thug culture, the imagined time of the rugged American individualism so beloved of the GOP. Modern American men are supposed to combine the best qualities of Paul Bunyan, John Wayne, and Sam Spade, and screw all this charm stuff. We live in a high-tech time when charm is an attribute of quarks, and not of men.

I like to think of myself as being charming, although I'm not sure everyone who knows me well would agree, at least all the time. As my Blogger profile says, I believe in courtesy (certainly an attribute of charm), common sense (very uncommon nowadays), and fair play (not always available in a country and a time when the degree of fairness available to one depends largely on the amount of money one can apply to its purchase). I try to apply the Golden Rule, to be polite (until given reason not to be), and to give people the benefit of the doubt before assuming guile or rank stupidity. Does this make me charming, or does it just reflect what I'd like to be able to experience from others? Who knows? Maybe a little of both.

I think we could use a little charm nowadays. Sadly, a little is all we're likely to get for the foreseeable future.

Have a good day. Try to be charming. It can't hurt.

More thoughts tomorrow.


* I mean, traditional fairy tales like "Cinderella," "Rumplestiltskin," and "Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs," not modern fairy tales like GOP economic theories and Democratic social idealism.

** When an interviewer once told him, "Everybody would like to be Cary Grant," Grant is said to have replied, "So would I!"  Another time, a reporter looking for accurate information for a story sent a telegram reading "How old Cary Grant?," to which Grant telegraphed back, "Old Cary Grant fine. How you?" I think I'd have liked this fellow.


Kristen Drittsekkdatter said...

Cary Grant exuded charm.

And we get Justin Bieber nowadays!

eViL pOp TaRt said...

On the contrary; some guys do learn some charm. The natural anththesis of charm nowadays is being "cool" or "hip."

My little essay today was in response to a sweet memory of an encounter that I had with a French boy while in Paris. Those moments are to be cherished.

Charm is a superior quality that should be directed to people of both sexes and all ages. It's a grace that smoothes the necessity of living in close proximity to each other. I fervently believe (with only an act of faith) that prehistoric people could be capable of charm.

Big Sky Heidi said...

Charm, in it's own form, is alive and well in the Mountain West. The guys in Montana and Wyoming have it, in their western way.

Mike said...

I don't think I would be offered a price charming role for the movies.

Margaret (Peggy or Peg too) said...

As I read this I thought, why I know a few men who are most certainly charming. then I realized they are all of a 'certain age" sad.

I may have found the last manly charming guy then....lucky me!