Boys can be bimbos, too

June 10, 1994|By Susan Campbell | Susan Campbell,The Hartford Courant

Woody Harrelson almost licked the label off an empty wine bottle in "The Cowboy Way," and a new era was born.

Welcome to the Year of the Himbo, the male equivalent of a

bimbo. He walks, and he talks (though none too well), but mostly he looks like a million bucks. He is his pecs, his lats or his deep blue eyes. He is an object, ladies and gentlemen, meant only for decoration and sexual innuendoes.

We have, perhaps, come full circle. For years -- decades, even -- the American bimbo has been a time-honored character in literature and cinematography. See Daisy Mae.

And now boys can play, too. See Sylvester Stallone. See Grant Show on "Melrose Place," or David Hasselhoff on "Baywatch." See just about any underwear ad in which handsome and well-built men lounge around seductively in their drawers.

And see perhaps the prince of all himbos, the calendar-posing, rock-star/author Fabio, whose Italian accent and ready smile have launched an entire Fabio merchandising house, including, for a while, a 900-number by which you could call Fabio and listen to him speak.

And, finally, see Mr. Harrelson, who has made a career out of playing good-looking men who are two fries short of a Happy Meal in all kinds of media, including the Emmy-winning television series "Cheers" and such movies as "White Men Can't Jump" and his latest, "The Cowboy Way."

Are we to infer from this that men, then, are dumbing down?

"I think this has less to do with men being more jerks these days and more to do with the fact that women are now playing around with the fact that they can objectify men the same way men can objectify women," says Michael S. Kimmel, associate sociology professor at State University of New York, Stony Brook. "If women can be objectified for having large breasts and slim waists and large hips, then men can be objectified for having abnormally large shoulders and small waists.

"Sylvester Stallone has made that into an art form," Mr. Kimmel says.

Mr. Kimmel, whose latest book, "Manhood: The American Quest," will be published this winter by HarperCollins, divides himbos into two groups: those constructed for women, and those constructed for men. Fabio is for women. Arnold Schwarzenegger is for men.

"Fabio is more like a Chippendale guy who has more clothes on," Mr. Kimmel says. "He pretends to be the ultimate man's man, but he is ultimately the lady's man. Men find him kind of yucky."

Mr. Kimmel says that a man's man is usually known for possessing some kind of prowess: Charles Atlas, maybe, or Stallone. Fabio, on the other hand, is a male Zsa Zsa Gabor. Despite his attempts in the fields of music and literature, he's famous for doing very little.

"You could legitimately call it a victory for men, that we now have men famous for doing nothing," Mr. Kimmel says.

Mr. Harrelson is more of a woman's himbo, as he's a kinder, gentler version.

"Woody is doing it without resorting to techno-serial murder," Mr. Kimmel says. "He's doing it with a six-shooter and basic confusion and dumbness."

The himbo's way has been paved for some time through television shows that traditionally present Mother as the all-wise and Father as a bit of a bumbling idiot.

"There have always been men on TV who have been foils, in a way, partly because men weren't the idealized TV watcher," Mr. Kimmel says. "What's the difference between Dick Van Dyke or William Bendix or Sergeant Bilko?"

Of course, the himbo usually has at least one redeeming quality. "Even his stupidity has a wisdom to it," says Thomas DiPiero, associate professor of French and visual and cultural studies at the University of Rochester. "He's folksy and common-sensical, things a bimbo normally isn't. There's still some anxiety about men who are nothing but physically attractive.

"Woody was always the one who, even in his naivete, told the truth," Mr. DiPiero says. "He managed to parlay that character into all the rest of it."

Himbo Speaks True is also a tradition that stretches back to early TV. Max Baer Jr., as hunky Jethro on "The Beverly Hillbillies," consistently sidestepped the machinations of both Miss Jane and Mr. Drysdale, the unscrupulous banker, with his sweet naivete. Tony Danza on "Taxi" and "Who's the Boss?" did the same.

But does this stuff ever end?

"I don't think this indicates a new sexism, or that men are victims," Mr. Kimmel says. "This illustrates that there are very few arenas in which people who don't have privilege get to act out some of their anger and frustration."

Still, men and women tend to like himbos just a little bit, just as we tend to like bimbos. They are nice to look at, and they are generally harmless. They will strut and puff up their chests, and in the end we will still be smarter than they.

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