White men burdened by the stress of a changing nation

April 12, 1993|By Wayne Hardin | Wayne Hardin,Staff Writer

For almost two hours, Michael Douglas' character in the movie "Falling Down" screams his rage and fury. His attitude of "I don't give a damn anymore" sums up the growing frustration among a segment of society that feels it is losing power. White males in America.

"There are a number of issues that men today, especially young men, are angry about," says Dr. Charles T. Lo Presto, 46, a clinical psychologist and assistant professor at Loyola College in Baltimore.

By the year 2010, for example, white men "will be a distinct minority in the work force to people of color and women," says Dr. Lo Presto, quoting recent studies.

"They grew up with the idea that if you're a white male, the world is your oyster," he says. "That idea is now being challenged. I'm glad to see it happening."

Most white men aren't glad, and "that makes them mad," he says. "They know things are changing, but they don't know how to deal with it."

Although white men still hold most of the power positions throughout American society, they now make up only 39.2 percent of the U.S. population, census figures show. Females and minority males together outnumber white males by about 54 million.

In the movie "Falling Down," the angry white man has lost his job and been divorced by his wife who has a court order keeping him away from their daughter.

After being caught in a traffic jam on a Los Angeles freeway, he abandons his car and sets off on a spree of violence. Just your basic angry middle-class white male going over the top in this cinematic ode to the pale male backlash.

In Mr. Douglas' character, psychologist Larry Iacarino says he saw a man who "all of a sudden was not guaranteed anything," a man with "no survival skills," a man who "felt all alone.

"I deal a lot with guys who feel alone," says Mr. Iacarino, who practices in Millersville, works as a school psychologist in Anne Arundel County and teaches at Loyola College. "Women have support groups, minorities have support groups, but most middle-class white males have none. They've always been in charge. Things came easier for them."

Area psychologists and those in the men's movement say they see more cases of anger and frustration these days, especially among white men, but hardly to the extreme depicted in "Falling Down."

"No doubt, there are some people who feel that way," says Dr. Roger W. Fink, assistant professor of psychology at Towson State University. "You just hope it's not indicative of a whole segment of society."

"The oppressor throughout history is starting to feel oppressed," Mr. Iacarino says. "They [white men] are afraid that the same ways that held down women and minorities will be used against them. There's no scientific evidence to prove it, but they hypothesize it that way."

The men's movement, popularized in best-selling books like Robert Bly's "Iron John" and Sam Keen's "Fire in the Belly," offers a way of dealing with the changing roles of men, says Dr. Mark Komrad, a psychiatrist who is assistant medical director of the schizophrenic unit at Sheppard and Enoch Pratt Hospital and in private practice.

In a lecture entitled "The Ways Men Suffer" that Dr. Komrad gives to area groups, he addresses the teachings of Mr. Bly, the white-haired poet and "spiritual father" of the men's movement.

To Dr. Komrad, men are suffering because of a failure of the father-son relationship and the "deep wounds" fathers place on sons expecting them to be strong, in control and macho, "a parody of what it really means to be a man."

The result is why men have more heart attacks, experience more stress, die younger and are often isolated and friendless, he suggests.

If a man is in touch with his "deep masculine," he is not afraid of showing vulnerability, of showing sadness, of being nurturing, of having a "face to face," non-erotic relationship with another man, Dr. Komrad says.

"Backlash is a way of not experiencing your pain," he says.

"Women outnumber men in coming for psychiatric help 6-to-1," he notes. "Does that mean women are not as healthy?

To the contrary. Men have a capability of distancing themselves from inner pain."

He says going drumming in the woods, as Bly men do, and relating to other men and sharing experiences help men learn to "do other things.

"We do certain things very well," Dr. Komrad says. "We do anger, we do frustration, we do aspiration. But we don't do sadness very well, we don't do grief very well, we don't do fear very well."

Charles Calvert, a former Marine and now a management consultant, attended one of Dr. Komrad's recent lectures on men suffering.

"I sense there is anger among some white males," says Mr. Calvert. "We've got to get the violence out of there. If you're a warrior and there's nothing left to conquer, what do you do? But do we need a movie to tell us that? It happens every day."

George "Geo" Kendall, director of the Baltimore Men's Resource Center, runs a men's support group in Baltimore and Annapolis called the Return of the Hero.

Mr. Kendall saw "Falling Down" and hated it because of the violence and the way it played on "every one of the fears we have." However, he thought it "defined a kind of rage in many men" that exists under the surface even when being controlled. He says characters in the film filled "old roles" that "hopefully men are trying to change."

Mr. Iacarino, the Millersville psychologist, says he is looking forward to "Falling Down" coming out in video. He says it will be a great tool for therapy and plans to show it to groups of men and have them decide at what points key decisions of the angry man might have been different.

"I'd like to change the last 15 minutes of the movie and have this guy get some therapy and be all right," he says. "Up until then, he could have been saved. But, of course," he adds, "that wouldn't sell as many movie tickets."

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