Real Men Don't Act That Way

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Title: Real Men Don't Act That Way
Creator: Kitty Woldow
Date(s): mostly likely 1999
Medium: online
Fandom: The Sentinel
External Links: Real Men Don't Act That Way, Archived version
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Real Men Don't Act That Way is a 1999 meta essay by Kitty Woldow.

In it, she discusses smarm, portrayals of masculinity in fanworks, and The Sentinel.

Excerpts from the Essay

You've seen the argument on the lists, you've read the polemics on somebody's page, you may even have mumbled it to yourself once in a while. Fortunately, you probably haven't gotten the idiotic hate mail on the topic that I have, so the actual extent of the population holding this peculiar delusion hasn't been forcibly impressed on you. I've been in fandom, and specifically the smarm production side of it, for a while now, and I can assure you it's nothing new.

Since the very beginning of smarm in fanfic, there have always been two extremist sides to the spectrum: the ones like me who love to write this stuff, and the ones on the other end who hop up and down and turn purple and accuse the smarm writers of everything from being closet slashers to bigoted homophobes (and often both in the same breath), all on the basis of their rabidly held belief that "real men don't act that way." I will, for the time being, refrain from repeating the ways they seem, by their own writings and preferred reading, to think real men do act. That's a whole other topic well beyond my ability to retain what I had for breakfast.

Even though this is a rant, I'm not going to attempt to analyze why the denial group gets so irate about the topic, or why I like to write smarm and so many others like to read it. I'm not a psychology major, so I'm not even going to speculate about what sort of relationships the anti-smarm whackos must have experienced personally in order to come to this bizarre conclusion about human behavior. That's their own business, and while I don't believe therapy is likely to be very helpful, at least the frequent encounter sessions would keep them off the streets (and the net) at night. I do feel a sort of pity for anyone who hasn't ever met a guy who can smarm, and every one of them who makes this blanket declaration about all men cites their family and friends as proof. These poor women really do need to get out and meet a better class of male. My objective here is going to be a purely factual rebuttal of a ridiculous premise: the sort of demonstration which I know won't change anybody's mind, but will be fun to show the rest of you just how demented these people are in their denial of blatantly obvious reality.

You don't have to walk through the Castro to see guys openly displaying affection for each other. Straight, "normal" guys manage to get caught in public being happily demonstrative all the time.

Exhibit A: the Sentinel second season gag reel. So far as I am aware, every single person in Sentinel fandom has seen this tape. There are hugs and kisses between the guys, none of the smarmy events having been scripted into the scenes being filmed at the time the displays occurred. They are spontaneous acts, and at least two of them are not intended as jokes (I am not presently at liberty to repeat the story behind one of the serious smooches, but the source is impeccable). So, are these anti-smarm people contending that Richard Burgi and Garett Maggart aren't "real men"? Because after all, if they were they wouldn't act like that? Huh? Or the other notion these wingnuts claim about smarm now and then, the theory there is some dark, repressed sexual longing which has to be motivating these two guys to touch each other in apparent affection? Because, after all, no straight guy(s) would do anything like that? I fart heartily in the general direction of anyone who says so.

Exhibit B: The Sentinel satellite interview tape. This one is in more limited circulation, but I believe copies may still be available from the source. It is a two hour tape of a series of quickie, introductory interviews Richard and Garett did on April 1, 1997, for television stations around the country. The poor guys have to explain, time after time to about 27 different entertainment anchors, what the premise of the show is and who their characters are. I won't even try to convince the doubting reader of how one can see the affectionate relationship between the guys in the way they watch each other, defer to each other, and the subtle off-camera byplay that takes place several times. I don't have to.

At one point, an interviewer asks Garett how he likes working with Richard, and after an initial joke about how rotten it is, he goes completely serious and declares that he loves Richard. Not to be left out, Richard interrupts to add that he loves Garett. It's up to you whether Richard had to get that kleenex out of his pocket because of his head cold or the emotion of the moment, but their seriousness before they break out of the mood is undeniable. Oh, wait, these anti-smarm people are the same ones who saw the gag reel and still deny smarm is real; I guess they could claim this was phony too. And that whole Jewish Holocaust thing, man, what a fake job. The landing on the moon? Pure special effects. I'm betting a few of them even have charter memberships in the Flat Earth Society.

Exhibit E: Hearsay descriptions of actual events. Hardly as convincing, but supportable by the testimony of other witnesses, should anyone care to make the effort to locate them. I've seen off-camera real life smarm on the set of Riptide, along with anyone else who happened to be on the pier in King Harbor that afternoon in August back in 1985.

More recently, other fans were fortunate enough to see it on the Sentinel set. Those of you with stronger stomachs than I have should browse the TS list archives and the various websites with set visit tales, and you're sure to come across at least one description of the group expedition that took place somewhere back in spring of '97, I believe. The one where the crowd was standing by when Garett had to leave to go see his sister or something, and Richard kissed him goodbye. There were probably similar events during other visits, but mercifully I am spared from knowing too much about what I've missed; and for my temper's sake, I prefer to keep it that way. But I bet a determined searcher could find plenty of lucky fans who got to see more of what made the show so wonderfully, realistically smarmy, and who would be happy to tell all about it. Unless, of course, they don't believe "real men" act like that. You would think cognitive dissonance on such a large and permanent a scale ought to be physically painful.

I could go on. The world is full of real life smarm, if you have the kind of heart that can see love in others and appreciate the beauty of it. If you can't, or are so twisted up with fear and repressed desire and all those other things the anti-smarmers accuse us of, no amount of proof will do any good. You gotta figure that when the epic Gilgamesh was first pressed into clay tablets and shown around, some little crowd of misfits gathered in Uruk and griped about how the story was nothing but over-written innuendo and obvious homoerotica, while another bunch of nuts lathered themselves up re-reading it over and over, and then scribbled angry cuneiform notes to the temple of Marduk complaining that real god-kings would never act like that. I'm no more likely to change the world by curing that sort of perpetual determined blindness than I am to find a cure for cancer.

It really is a pity we can't just capture these poor sick crazy people and send them all off to live together in some special corner of the world with no internet access - it might not be a very good way to change anybody's viewpoint, but at least it would cut down on the number of loudly obnoxious, laughably ignorant posts they insist on sending to lists and authors in the meantime. And wouldn't you rather have us spending the evenings writing more smarm than composing rants about the moronic mail we get?