I went to a boys prep school back in a day when exclusivity – not inclusivity – was a virtue. Consequently, my teenage years were very different from those of my public school peers. To this day, I have a hard time watching movies about high school life. It’s almost like watching a science fiction movie about a parallel universe.
One film that I could relate to was Dead Poets Society, a 1989 release starring the late Robin Williams as a teacher at a New England prep school. Aside from the fact that the film took place at a boarding school and I went to a day school, the secondary education depicted was a close match to my own. The film took place in 1959, just a few years before my experience began.
Williams is very good (Oscar nomination for Best Actor) as an alumnus who has returned to the school as an English teacher. As it turns out, he is a very good teacher – too good. He encourages the boys in poetry and drama and they respond enthusiastically – too enthusiastically. Without going any deeper into the plot, let’s just say it all ends badly.
I don’t recall any inspirational teachers, but I do recall that the general cultural level of the teachers and the student body at my school was much higher than at the public school I transferred from. A passing knowledge of poetry, art, languages, and music (let’s call it PALM) could be dismissed as mere dilettantism. On the other hand, if you want to move up socially, you have to move up culturally lest you be dismissed as a philistine or exposed as a parvenu. But there’s much more at stake than social climbing.
Did I mention that all my teachers (actually, they were called masters) were men? In English class, almost all the works we studied were by male authors. An estrogen-poor environment persuades male students that being a man of letters is an honorable status, even though it may not directly prepare one for a lucrative profession. To a certain extent, we all keep score with money, but the ledger of life has room for numerous assets you need not itemize on your tax return.
When I went on to college, English classes were more or less 50/50 in regard to male and female students. From what I read about college life today, liberal arts colleges are majority female, and English classes are overwhelmingly female. Female professors are more numerous than ever, and all texts are subject to feminist interpretation. The courses offered and the attendant reading lists are compiled accordingly.
Today there is a push to get more women into STEM, but there is no move to encourage more men to go into PALM. While the feminist party line encourages men to be more sensitive, to be more expressive, to get in touch with their feminine side, or whatever you want to call it, there is no welcome mat put out for men in PALM. How can this be?
Over the centuries, that good old patriarchy provided a reliable supply line of talented males in all the arts. Museums across the land are chock full of evidence. There’s no reason to suspect that there’s a shortage of male talent today, but the will to develop it seems to be lacking. How can we explain that?
If more men get involved in PALM, that means less room for women in PALM. And if men at the far-right end of the gifted-and-talented bell curve turn their attention to PALM, they may very well dominate the arts, as they should, and overshadow the women, even as women outnumber men at art institutes, music schools, and creative writing classes.
Today PALM has been taken over by females not because they are outstanding but by default. To a large degree, the male competition is standing down. Declining male enrollment in academia is one reason; another is the difficulty of landing a high-paying job to pay off student loans necessitated by inflated tuition rates. Aside from these factors, the implicit message is that when it comes to PALM, men need not apply…unless they are nonwhite or one of the protected classes included in the alphabet soup (LGBT, et seq) of minority sexual persuasions.
At publishing houses, art galleries, and concert halls all across the land the push is for more and more female empowerment. Thanks to Harvey Weinstein, et al, even the movie industry is bending over backwards to accommodate females. So I understand the average young man’s lack of enthusiasm for PALM. Alienation is the inevitable result of the influence the loony left wields over culture. A toxic culture is like a rattlesnake; upon encountering it, one’s instinct is to keep one’s distance.
In some countries, outstanding PALM men were like rock stars. In Russia, great poets like Pushkin were national heroes. Vaclav Havel became prime minister of Czechoslovakia. William Butler Yeats was a Senator in the Irish Free State. Giuseppe Verdi was a key figure in the Italian nationalist movement.
In the early days of the nation, the USA usually took a back seat culturally to Europe, but by the 1920s, American literature was teeming with male talent. Maxwell Perkins, an editor at Scribner’s, was renowned for his work with Ernest Hemingway, F. Scott Fitzgerald, Thomas Wolfe, and many other notable writers. Of course, Perkins was interested in book sales, but he was also interested in serious American literature…encouraging it, publishing it, and promoting it.
Today the likes of Maxwell Perkins are nowhere to be found. In fact, male editors of any taste are rare. An article (“Publishing industry is overwhelmingly white and female, US study finds”) in The Guardian posted on January 27, 2016, took a survey of 34 US publishers and 8 journals and discovered that 78% of the workforce was female. (This didn’t seem to concern the article’s author, Alison Flood, so much as the fact that the workforce was “blindingly” white at 79%.)
I don’t think The Guardian fudged the numbers. Look at the “Acknowledgment” blurb in recent books and see how many editors, agents, proofreaders, researchers, etc. are female. Now I’m sure some of them are true lovers of literature and would be more than happy to assist outstanding male authors, but given the college upbringing of most of them, I have to believe that they peruse and parse manuscripts through feminist-tinted reading glasses.
If there is even the slightest hint of misogyny (always easy to find when you’re looking for it) or inequality or mild criticism of the fair sex in a text, what are the chances of getting it past the gatekeepers? Given the contemporary marriage of estrogen and ink, one wonders if it will ever be possible to publish any sort of “manly” fiction again? Could Hemingway and Henry Miller or Norman Mailer get published today?
Nevertheless, I realize that encouraging men in PALM is a daunting task. I’m sure there are plenty of low-paid, debt-ridden male humanities majors (guess we could call them Palmers) who rue the day they passed on more lucrative pursuits. In fact, if they wanted to form a social media for Never Again Poetry, Arts, Languages, and Music, they could name it #NAPALM.
Of course, the original purpose of universities was scholarship, but that would be a tough sell today. “You are a gentleman and a scholar” used to be a compliment. Today they would probably add “a sucker” to the chain.
Men build things, women use those things. A home builder is one thing, a homemaker is another. The same is true of culture: men create culture, women live in that culture. By turning their backs on PALM, men are in effect turning the culture over to women. Even if you never read serious literature, go to art museums, or chamber music concerts, this concerns you.
Consider the meaning of culture in biology. A culture is a medium for organisms. Think of your society as a giant Petri dish. The culture you’re immersed in can enhance your life or degrade it.
Now think of horticulture, agriculture, aquaculture… living things depend on it. So whoever husbands (note that verb) that culture makes all the difference in culture in every sense of the word. Absent husbandry, the plants and animals run wild.