The other day I was struck by an amusing scene in Mad Men, which prompted a part two to my previous blog post. It was the episode where Don gives his boy-faced brother-in-law William a terse life lesson about taking responsibility for William and Betty’s father. But before that scene something happens that captures the problem in a nutshell. Don comes home from work and sees William with the sleeves of his blazer rolled up to his elbows, trying to unclog the kitchen sink with a plunger. “Don, don’t worry about this. It’s under control!” Don characteristically says nothing, and leaves the room. Handyman (in)competency is densely symbolic and little else functions as economically to comment upon a character’s masculinity. Continue reading
The other day I joined the growing ranks of men who have allowed IKEA into our homes to remodel our bedrooms and dismantle our masculine self-concepts. Real men hate IKEA, I hear. I suppose it’s fortunate I’ve always fallen short at being a real man. It’s not that I don’t fall prey to wanting to be one. It’s not that I don’t understand this hostility to IKEA, particularly their instruction manuals.
Who exactly do they think they’re speaking to, anyway? That shapeless line-drawn androgyne there with pencil in ear and placid helper certainly isn’t me! And how dare they strike an oversized X through my manly need to build it alone. (It’s not surprising that I assumed the androgyne bent over struggling alone was male, while the star-headed helper was his female counterpart.) And how dare they make it near impossible to construct anything more complex than the BILLY bookshelf without following their step-by-step procedures, in order, and to the letter. Everyone knows instructions are for losers. Any handyman worth his salt can look at the parts and figure it out instinctively; he’ll finish the job and leave the site with two nuts and a screw to spare, always. Their quasi-opaque pictographs don’t look like me and don’t speak to me: they must be talking to somebody else… Continue reading