I have an inability to feel validated."
A quote from Cosmopolitan's letters to the editor? No, a confession by Sylvester Stallone in Time magazine about his acting anxieties. The man who stitched his own wounds in "Rambo" and was all guts and glory in "Rocky" is sounding like he just emerged from sensitivity training: "There's a persistent hunger, which is disconcerting and sometimes debilitating," Stallone opined. And what about the hunger of those of us who want Hollywood's leading men to act like men?
Some of our most revered action/adventure stars are giving in to creeping political correctness. Enter Harrison Ford. In the blockbuster movie "Air Force One," he delivers a rock-'em-sock-'em performance as President James Marshall. He sees evil and punches it in the face. But now we see, on the cover of People magazine, Ford wearing an earring because he "always wanted one." It also turns out that he and his wife are pals of the president and first lady.
Has America been hoodwinked? After years of Harrison Ford playing kick-butt characters (Han Solo in "Star Wars," Indiana Jones in "Raiders of the Lost Ark"), we find out that he is just another trendy, politically correct Hollywood megastar. Not only does he wear jewelry, but he also meditates and makes pilgrimages to see the Dalai Lama. What next? A line of unisex cologne not tested on animals?
But there's still Mel Gibson, right? Wrong. He, too, is testing the waters of Hollywood's sensitivity hot tub. Like Ford, Gibson has had a reputation for being un-Hollywood. He has been married to the same woman all his adult life, and he even was thought to be - shhhh! - a closet conservative. Then he appeared in major magazines in a full-page advertisement under the headline "Conspiracy" - not promoting his new film with Julia Roberts but the EarthJustice Legal Defense Fund, which boasts it beat back a "giant multinational corporation" that tried to build nuclear waste sites in a poor Southern neighborhood.
So what gives? Were these guys simply playing to their image as meat-eating he-men while secretly munching on carrot sticks and tofu? Sure, they're actors, and no one expects them to assume the identities of their characters. But the image of the swashbuckling, dignified hero who gets the girl made these guys rich and famous. And conservatives thought they were a small but sturdy ballast against Hollywood's politically fashionable set - actors such as Tim Robbins, Barbra Streisand and Woody Harrelson.
It is not easy being a guy's guy in today's culture. Traditional notions of masculinity are under attack. The military sex scandals are said to be the product of a flawed, macho culture that breeds anti-female attitudes, so boot camp is becoming more like summer camp. Corporations scramble to promote and recruit female executives to avoid the "glass ceiling"/"boys' club" charge. The message is clear: Traditional masculinity is destructive.
Nowhere is this phenomenon more obvious than in Hollywood. With young producers and directors looking for a few good villains in the post-Cold War era, the traditional man becomes the easy target. The new independent film "In the Company of Men" details how two male executives carry out an elaborate plan of emotional abuse against a deaf young woman (one of the guys pretends to fall in love with her). The new release "G.I. Jane" chronicles how the meanies in the elite Navy Seals actually hold a female recruit to the same standards as her male counterparts (which, by the way, is inaccurate; training standards have been lowered to accommodate women.) In the ABC-TV movie "One of Our Own," a policewoman raped by a fellow officer was harassed and fired for reporting it. Before the closing credits - as if the story line didn't sufficiently feed anti-male hysteria - these somber words scrolled across the screen: "Hundreds of thousands of women in America are frightened by their husbands and boyfriends and by their communities."
So maybe some of these recent demonstrations of hip, political sensitivity by otherwise manly actors is their way of surviving in a hostile work environment. With so much male-bashing going on, they might be hedging their bets. The action hero of the future could believe in group hugs.
As for me, I'll stick to watching Arnold, Clint, Bruce and Jackie Chan.
Laura Ingraham is a political analyst for CBS News in Washington. This article first appeared in the Los Angeles Times.
Pub Date: 8/17/97