Archive for the ‘emotions’ Category


Manning up with Casting Crowns

28 March 2014

Casting Crowns arrived on the music scene in 1999. By a long but steady ascent, they have become one of the few Evangelical bands to move between Christian and secular radio, touting positive messages for general audiences. As such, their lyrics hold special insight into values popular among conservative American believers. Among the consolidation of virtues Casting Crowns is responsible for is a set of gender expectations for men. In particular, their code turns on concepts of moral integrity, inner piety, protection of women and children, and evangelism.

In 2011 Casting Crowns released the single “Courageous,” which accompanied the film by the same name. With a story about a police officer in the background, the song laments the loss of traditional manliness, when men “were warriors on the front lines, standing unafraid.” Now, men are “watchers on the sidelines while our families slip away.” The golden days of patriarchy have waned into the dark days of men without backbone and purpose. The refrain that Christian men are “taking back the fight” does not refer to a program to subject women. Rather, the fight is directed at the heart, turning to a life of prayer. This battle to regain the authoritative self starts with the regaining of the authentic self, “on our knees with lifted hands.” Those who “reignite the passion,” the song goes on to say, “become warriors.” Accordingly, the battle for one’s place in the family has been internalized to take place on the war-field of the heart, in which lethargy and cowardice are put to death via prayer. The song ends with the promise, “In the war of the mind I will make my stand.”

Casting Crown’s inner masculinity continues to the be the basis for external masculine honor in 2014’s “Heroes.” The woman of the song expresses her valor in financial ways, supporting her two children (notably after her breadwinning husband abandons her). The high school boy in the second verse “walks against the flow” in fairly nebulous moral ways, not following “the hopeless road” but “willing to stand alone.” His manhood comes through principally in a moralistic separation from the world (though this is somehow equated with seeing the school as “his mission field”). Again, the battle is fought in internal terms, battling for moral integrity through self-discipline and prayer.

Through both songs one hears the moralistic theme of Promise Keepers set in the militaristic language of John Eldredge’s Wild at Heart. Thus lead vocalist Mark Hall confesses his penchant for uber-manly movies like Braveheart, saying, “I think that’s my spirit in me longing to be the warrior that God created me to be.” Yet his battle-loving language is simply the key through which he sings of a longing to return to traditional values beginning with the conquest of self. Notably, this sort of Evangelicalism is still psychological and inward-facing while much of the rest of Christianity is turning toward the social sciences and political action.


Men Losing It: Five Cult Albums

10 August 2012

Occasionally men lose it. They flip. They get their heart smashed and then plummet, or absolutely erupt, or both. That makes for a dangerous situation, resulting in some really unsavory headlines. It also produces some of the most fabulous, gut-wrenching cult albums of all time. Here are five of them from men at their best, worst moments. I highly encourage you to listen to these albums. I also strongly suggest you don’t, if you enjoy being happy.

1. Sugar – Beaster (1993). As the B-side EP to Copper Blue, these tracks should have been the scraps. Au contraire. These are the juiciest cuts. Together, it makes up the  feistiest, most explosive material from Bob Mould, who rails about betrayal and angst. Sugar’s punk past festers wonderfully at this juncture.

2. Weezer – Pinkerton (1996). After the eminently likeable blue album, Weezer did an about-face and released a most unpopable sound. A rock opera gone bad, Pinkerton features Rivers Cuomo’s terrifying descent in self-pitying loneliness after a series of obliterated relationships, including a misguided crush on a lesbian.

3. Chris Whitley – Din of Ecstasy (1995). Many artists, especially after receiving popular acclaim on their first album, take a new turn. Whitley jumps off the rails. His American steel bluegrass is replaced by soaring electric guitars and soulful noise rock. Drugs and anger play out more strongly here than on any of his other work. Underneath the abrasive presentation is sheer genius at work.  Was the album was released twenty years too soon – or too late?

4. Damian Rice – O (2002). This very well may be the most self-loathing, girl-loathing, life-loathing album ever made. Yet just when you think Rice’s dysfunctional libido has consumed him, he bounces back with an inscrutable sweetness.  Watch the movie Closer to maximize the psychological pain.

5. The Afghan Whigs – Gentlemen (1993). Greg Dulli lives in hell most of the week, with breaks to go to the bar. It’s unclear what sent him into his emotional spiral, but the grunge rocker knows all too intimately the terrors of his self-destructive eros in “Gentlemen” and “What Jail Is Really Like.”  This is one of the unsung albums of that strange foray Americans took into alternative rock.


Whose Depression?

20 December 2009

On American television this month has been targeting depression sufferers.  Their commercial features a middle-aged woman who describes a difficult situation: her marriage had been struggling, her husband wasn’t communicating with her, he threatened to leave, she begged him to stay, that she would do anything; he left anyway.  The commercial then switches to the WebMD web site, which features a quiz to see whether you are depressed.  The person (not pictured) clicks on “excessive crying.”  The narrator encourages viewers to log on in order to determine whether one is suffering from depression.

The interesting thing about this commercial is that it is unclear all along exactly who they are describing and who they are targeting.  In this unfortunate situation, is it the woman who is depressed?  Or is the commercial saying that her husband, acting wholly irrational, is the one depressed?  After watching it several times, it seems the commercial is targeting the former, viz., the unfortunate woman who is left to fend for herself after being abandoned by a man.  She is sad, no doubt, but he manifests the more acute signs of emotional distress and perhaps mental illness.  Yet the clicking of the “excessive crying” box in the commercial seems to have reference to her, not her despondent husband. 

As someone who has been in men’s support groups for over a decade, I have had exposure to numerous cases of male depression.  It isn’t nearly so obvious as one would hope.  Men tend to be less willing to describe themselves at being depressed, and tend to attach it less to communal stresses, a recent study by Stacy De Coster found (“Depression and Law Violation: Gendered Responses to Gendered Stresses,” Sociological Perspectives [summer 2005]).  Men will, however, attend more to “agentic stresses,” that is, stresses caused by others calling into question their own personal competency.  Men respond not through overt depression; they break the law. 

If WebMD really wanted to help people who are unaware of their condition, they would have made some kind of effort to underscore the fact that it is the husband who is probably suffering from chronic depression.   As it is, this commercial (like most advertisements advertising for depression through stereotypical displays of sadness) will find themselves reaching women far more than men.


Adultery as Religion

1 June 2009

The most disturbing religious song I have ever heard comes from the despondent singer-songwriter David Bazan, a.k.a. Pedro the Lion.  Entitled “Rapture,” it describes an adulterous sex scene of the album’s tragic character, a man plummeting into a whirling pool of self-destruction.

     This is how we multiply
     Pity that it’s not my wife
     The friction and skin
     The trembling sigh
     This is how bodies move
     With everything we could lose
     Pushing us deeper still
     The sheets and the sweat
     The seed and the spill
     The bitter pill yet undiscovered

The raunchiness of the scene can’t be stopped, however.  The dissonant chords drive on, paving over any possible voice of conscience along the way.

     Gideon is in the drawer
     Clothes scattered on the floor
     She’s arching her back
     She screams for more

The Bible left by the Gideons remains untouched.  In its place is the illicit affair, raised to the level of religion.  The throes of orgasmic passion are not unlike that of an ancient sex cult:

     Oh, my sweet rapture
     I hear Jesus
     Calling me home

Even after the song rises into a climax and collapses, the whole thing begins again, as if to emphasize the wallowing in depravity. 

darkbedA digression: I remember hearing a presenter at the Men & Masculinity Conference from over a decade ago, claiming that men, having been told to restrain emotional expression in so many areas of their lives, turn to sex as the sole outlet for their passion.  Making love – nay, fucking – for men has been baptized as the emotional activity par excellence.  Sigmund Freud came a similar conclusion a century before, that the anxiety of men built up by self-suppression needs a release, and in that release one experiences the (feminine) religious sensation of oneness with the universe.  I wonder if there isn’t an analogue to the male experience in Christianity, that with a subtle prohibition against forms of religious intimacy with God or anyone else, Christian men go looking for release elsewhere.  Whole new bastard religions get born.  Remember how Bishop J.A.T. Robinson testified at the “Lady Chatterley trial” in 1960, claiming that Christians should be able to appreciate the sacredness of sex, even if that erotic awareness is found outside marriage? 

For Pedro the Lion’s adulterer, the voice of Christ is lost in the demonic act.  The thrill of Christian marital fidelity has been supplanted by the idolatrous drama.  Or has it?  Bazan concludes the song with a final, surging refrain:

     Oh, my sweet rapture
     I hear Jesus and the angels singing
     Calling me to enter the promised land


“If You Leave Me, I’ll Die”: Emotional Dependence on Women

10 March 2009

I find it strange that our society perpetuates the myth that men aren’t emotionally attached.  It seems to go hand in hand with the way we find it permissible for a girl to be “boy-crazy,” but for boys, only “sex-crazed.” 

In reality, boys and men have intense feelings of emotional dependence on women.  Consider that a recent study (Peggy C. Giordano et al., “Gender and the Meanings of Adolescent Romantic Relationships: A Focus on Boys,” American Sociological Review 71 [Apr 2006]: 260-87) found that male adolescents reported similar levels of commitment to their girlfriends and substantially less confidence in navigating and controlling aspects of the relationship.  I do not know of a study of boy suicides related to this, but I find it frightening that husbands commit suicide ten times more often when their wives die than when the converse occurs (see Warren Farrell, The Myth of Male Power, 169).  Should we be surprised that widowers and male divorcees remarry at a much faster rate than women?  For all their ascribed independence, men are literally dying to be in a relationship.

couple_needsThe primary reason for this, I believe, is that men have not been given the resources to establish, maintain and express intimacy.  They are taught from a young age that emotional intimacy is inappropriate for a man unless it is directed towards a woman (mothers and wives especially).  Even a man’s “best friend” may only provide a few minutes of deeply emotional conversation – and maybe a hug if they’re both drunk.  Women, in contrast, have practiced their emotions much more openly, and often have an established circle of friends with whom to process their feelings.  But men too often have only one emotional confidant: their wives.  Their wives are the only outlet for emotional release and coitus is the centerpiece of this catharsis. 

A final comment, about wives’/girlfriends’ mixed responses to men’s support groups.  Sometimes women feel threatened by these group affiliations, whether they be AA-style recovery meetings, ManKind Project I-Groups, or church sponsored studies.  The fear is that these groups are being used to foster antipathy toward women, or detracting from personal or family time.  In a few cases this may be the case.  But I would challenge a woman to ask herself if she feels threatened in large part because her man is acquiring emotional resources from a venue outside herself.  More than that, I can say from personal experience that I come home much happier and more in love with my wife after a men’s group meeting.  Breaking the cycle of desperate compulsion for catharsis, a support group can provide skills and generative energy for a man to bring home with him.