First off, I must confess – I'm dating someone. Clint Eastwood circa 1970, to be exact. Judge our DVD romance all you will, decry that we break the time-space continuum, but we're very happy together. We just spent a delightful weekend via The Beguiled and Two Mules for Sister Sarah. The sun came up and we were still together. What can I say? He treats me like a lady, despite the fact that he only ever sees me sans make-up and in pajamas.
The sad thing is, I'm only half-kidding -- and yes, I will look back on this period of my life (probably via therapy or alcoholism) and wonder why Eastwood was the most dependable man in it. But our affair got me thinking overmuch about today's men, both in and outside of Hollywood. And it didn't help that in the early days of my relationship with Eastwood, we lost the wonderful Paul Newman. I wrote in Cinematical's tribute to him that the world could use more men like Newman – and it is so very true. Where are the men like Newman, Eastwood, Robert Redford, James Garner and Gregory Peck? The men who are rugged, larger than life, and who exude honesty and decency even when acting in so-so films? Who exude it in real life? What the heck happened to the world since these guys arrived on the scene?
I'm not the only one who feels that way – my favorite Gawker site, Jezebel, voiced a similar lament: "Why can't everybody just look at his career and see that there's nothing sexier than a class act? It's not a tragedy when someone who's settled his scores and lived a good life dies at a ripe age, but that doesn't mean it can't be a loss ... It's so easy to say they don't make 'em like they used to, but jeez louise, this is one death that drives that home. We really can't afford to lose any more really amazing people right now, okay? The national psyche can't take it." And David Bax over on The Quietus praised Newman for making him a man: "A true man, according to Luke, is an outcast by definition because he carries and lives by his own moral code, not that of the status quo. He stands up against transgressions of this code but not in base ways. He does not rage against his enemies. He really has no enemies because he is too mature and far too self-reliant to define himself by the opinions of others."
The reason I think this is all applicable to my column is that geekdom owes much of its existence to men like Eastwood and Newman, and the movies they made. Wolverine is The Man with No Name combined with Harry Callahan. Who is Captain Malcom Reynolds or Batman, but a variation of Cool Hand Luke? Atticus Finch was Superman. I honestly feel that larger-than-life fiction of Marvel, DC, and all the sci-fi in between are the only place you can find those characters -- and those characters exist because, consciously or not, the writers are thinking of men who can count the shots of their Magnum 45, or who can beg for mercy in prison. Decry the superhero/comic book trend all you want, but I do wonder if people are drawn to them because it's the closest we can get to the good old days. And given what all is going on in the economy today, we could use any taste that comes our way.
Now, don't get me wrong -- I think our A-list will yield its own icons, like Tom Hanks, George Clooney, Viggo Mortensen, Russell Crowe, Daniel Day Lewis. I watch Hugh Jackman and Gerard Butler with interest, waiting for the moment they really blow everyone away. Hollywood just might have it covered, and be able to turn this whole trend around.
But it's a sad state of affairs when you can only find a class act on the big screen or on the comic book page. I grow increasingly frustrated and depressed when I look at the world, and who all I encounter in it. It's why I find myself curling up with my Netflix player on the weekends, romanced by Eastwood's squint and cigar-chewing, grateful he's not going to stick me with the dinner bill. More than once, I've wondered why more fans, who worship and admire everything an icon does, don't spend more time emulating what makes him (or her) so iconic in the first place. (Lest you think I'm man bashing -- and I'm sure many among you will anyway -- let me assure you I think everyone, male and female, need to borrow some of that old-school cinematic class. What kind of hypocrite would I be if I slummed it with Harry Callahan?)
In other words, it's time for life to imitate art! We're in for some tough times, and what we need to emulate is on screen. Be your own Iron Man or Batman! Be Paul Newman or Clint Eastwood! They may not make them like that anymore – but we can sure try to remake ourselves in their image.