Last week I tweeted this:
A grown-ass man ≠ half as grown as a grown man is. Or just a man. A man can say w/out weirdness “I’m a man.” Everyone stop saying grown-ass.
It’s been something I can’t stop noticing, the usage a grown-ass man, mostly on TV but also in face-to-face conversations. Cursory googling reveals the usage comes from a Cedric the Entertainer book, so yes: comedy. A grown ass is a funny thing (as a grown assman is, too, see comic), and in all it feels like a funny phrase. My point with the tweet and here with this post is that this need to joke while indicating one’s sexed adulthood is weird and new and silly.
I follow a number of blogs and subscribe to a number of magazines that give me advice on things to buy, use, do, eat, drink, and say that can enhance my manly self-satisfaction. It doesn’t take a gender-theorist to point out how such prissy research into manliness is in itself unmanly, using this weird adverb to reattain the mythos of mid-20thC men as displayed in movies and sitcoms. Men for whom there weren’t yet a lot of products or magazines to tell them how to look, smell, and eat better.
Mad Men manliness, is its most obvious form. And so naturally is it all tied to nostalgia. But this is where the big problem lies. What I like about retro manliness is its anti-commercial bent. Not all new products for men are good ideas. Retro manly blogs introduced me to safety razors and their inexpensive blades, which I happily converted to in the wake of outrageous asking costs for wacky 5-blade contraptions. And yeah, I like the increased danger of slitting my throat while I shave. Is it a smoother shave? It’s an equally smooth shave for a tenth of the cost.
But take a look at this, from the often-insufferable Art of Manliness blog I long ago stopped RSSing (from its list of 50 great stocking stuffers for men):
These classic chewing gums were discontinued in the 70s and then brought back by Cadbury Adams and now make a great stocking stuffer for the man who wants to taste what Gramps was chomping on while playing stickball.
I don’t think a man exists who ever wished to taste what his grandfather was chewing at any moment in our nation’s history. I’ve never had Black Jack gum, but it and its horehound-candy cousin have always seemed like unfortunate pieces of joylessness from a time where refined sugars weren’t made from corn and ass cheap to turn candy delicious.
But tastes are tastes and I don’t have a taste for this. It’s not my point. Any man is welcome to like black-licorice chewing gum. My point is the insistence on this as a good present for men, because it was old. Because it was what our grandfathers chewed when they were kids. Because it’s from a time when men didn’t concern themselves about buying proper manly objects because they had lots else to worry about—like families, work, and not catching the croup. It’s, in the face of such ongoing anxieties about being a man we need to joke it up with grown-ass, so wimpy and defeatist.
No, no: it’s pitifully talismanic. This thing? Yeah get it, it’s old timey. It’s what real men used to chew.