Most men have gotten used to observing their wives or significant others grin at the TV whenever Sen. Barack Obama graces the screen. The Democratic nominee does not even have to be delivering one of his historic speeches—which seems to be every other day—to elicit such an adoring response.
What men might not be accustomed to are the powerful reactions that Sen. Obama has generated among other men. The indelible image of an African-American man crying during an Obama speech in Pennsylvania posted on the front page of The Rootin March, vividly captured the powerful reaction that Obama has been able to generate among some men. And while commentators may attribute this particular level of reaction to feelings of “racial pride” or being “caught up” in a moment, the reality is that these intense male reactions to Obama are not limited to black men. A recent article in Salonchronicled the passions that that Obama had generated among men.
Why do men as diverse as Colin Powell, Michael Eric Dyson, Andrew Sullivan, Tom Joyner, Ted Kennedy, Bill Richardson, Christopher Hitchens and numerous others, appear to have such a “man crush” on Sen. Obama?
The answer: his white-collar masculinity.
Despite the economic trend away from blue-collar jobs, many of the most powerful expressions of masculinity within contemporary American society continue to be associated with blue-collar imagery. The unprecedented popularity of video games like Grand Theft Auto, Halo, Madden Football, movies like 300 and the explosion of professional blood sports like ultimate fighting speak to the kind of tough-guy masculinity celebrated in media and popular culture.
These pop-culture touchstones, along with the ubiquitous images of rough masculinity in hip-hop continue to demonstrate a basic tension for males in modern society; that at the very same time that society is becoming less reliant on male brawn, the dominant cultural images of masculinity are largely derived from the “traditional” ideas of maleness.
With degrees from Columbia and Harvard and a background teaching constitutional law at the University of Chicago, Obama surely represents a break from “traditional” images of masculinity. But it must be more than his educational bona fides.
The reason men crowd televisions to watch Obama speak is the same reason NBA players rushed home to watch Michael Jordan play or the reason people who have no knowledge or interest in golf will interrupt their day to turn on the TV and watch Tiger Woods: It is because these men perform at levels that are without equal in their respective fields. It just so happens that the type of masculinity at which Obama excels is a type white-collar masculinity.
And Obama manages to blend blue-collar sensibilities into his image, as well. He not only plays word games like Taboo, he also plays basketball. And before he was the editor and president of the Harvard Law Review, he was stomping the streets on the South Side of Chicago as a community organizer.