Iron John In The Gilded Age

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Echols’s statement points out that more than gender is involved in the appeal of men’s rituals. The orders and the men’s groups seize upon the distant past because it offers something of an antidote to the modern world. Victorian men, driven by sales and production quotas, buffeted by the vagaries of distant markets, and trapped in widening webs of corporate bureaucracies, retreated on lodge nights into a mystic wonderland inhabited by gods and heroes, kings and knights, a place where identity was conferred rather than imperiled. The unreality of the lodge was its chief attraction.

The same may be true of the mancamps. When one participant complained that its rituals were ridiculous, an organizer explained that the weekend’s purpose was to let people “get beyond the logical world.” The rational demands of the modern world for system, regularity, and order may spawn an antithetical world of fantasy and emotional expression. Tocqueville put it somewhat differently: The material satisfactions of life notwithstanding, “the soul has needs that must be fulfilled.”

The emergence of Bly and of the Wildman he bought back from the primordial depths of the human soul serves as a reminder that the road to the future may take some strange detours. The enduring appeal of compensatory anachronisms—not to mention the resurgence of religious fundamentalism and ethnic nationalism—shows the emotional power of pre-modern values and beliefs. When we finally arrive at the year 2001, it may bear less resemblance to the aseptic and androgynous landscapes of Stanley Kubrick than to terrain through which we passed centuries ago.