Manly Man #9
1/2 Star Wars Man John Williams
When I was a little boy, my father had two things in the basement. The first was a whip hanging from the ceiling rafters. The second was a personal library filled with old books, with yellowed pages feeling soft and tender under my fingers. Among those books were classics from Jules Vern, books about science, history books, and so on, but as I write this I vividly remember pulling out an Indiana Jones chose-your-own-adventure book from eye-level.
Like many boys my age, I thought that my father was the coolest person ever and the epitome of manliness. Being a boy, my perceptions of what it meant to be a man lacked some sophistication, so my understanding could best be illustrated by how I fell into the classic playground argument that consisted of boasts that "My dad could beat up your dad!" I vaguely recall saying that my dad was so strong that he could flex his muscles and they would reach the moon. In any case, all us boys knew the requirements of what it meant to have a cool dad: he had to be tough, capable of beating up everyone else's manly dads, and dominate in an already tough pack. They had to do manly things, dangerous things, and so forth. Looking back now as an adult with a lasting sense of nostalgia on these tiny little moments, I realize that we in a sense we were right on all these things. We knew what it was like to have a cool dad; what it meant to be a cool dad was not for us to worry about yet. There was something special about those arguments, because they were a testament to the innocence of childhood that for me ended overnight. Most of us would grow up and at one point or other become disillusioned with our fathers, and then we would turn our gaze inward as we began to realize the weight of bigger questions, like who we would become and what kind of men we wanted to be, and if we wanted to be like our fathers. The one thing I learned from this is that I hope to be the type of father who will live up to his son's fantasy of him, and to give him reasons to make uncomplicated boasts. That uncomplicated pride for the father is, I think, a fundamental part of growing up and the personal history that makes a man a man.
As a man, I realize that there was some truth to my claims about my father. He happens to have been blessed with just the right wrinkles, just the right smile, just the right hair, and just the right physique to pass as an Indiana Jones doppelganger. I think a part of him knew it, otherwise he would have never owned that bullwhip in the basement. He did tough things for a living, and when I visited the construction sites he worked at, it was as if I was stepping into an ancient temple or some abandoned city to explore. He did dangerous things there and worked with other people who did dangerous things. The callouses and scars on his hands proved it. This was not the only highly textured part of his body. Part of growing up was having him pick me up and rub his face against mine, and his rough stubble would scratch against my youthful skin. Most men who grow beards should never have done so in the first place, but stubble is a virtue. I still want to have my own scratchy face sometime. Maybe then I will be my own Indiana Jones, and my father will be a crazy old Sean Connery who has, in a way, a son who grew up to be a man he always would have liked to see. Somehow, I think he would still get frustrated with me and we would still bicker. Such are the consequences of being too much alike, but it's worth it to successfully adopt the Jones mentality, which has always been very strong in such a way that even a child can understand it.
In all these things, Indiana Jones excelled in uncomplicated manliness. Everyone is familiar with the 80's action hero, where being manly was fairly straightforward. Harrison Ford into that group of people, but he had a little more. He wasn't a muscle, but a man. He had just the right kind of masculinity. He wasn't just tough, but he could get the women, fight the bad guys, get his fair share of arch-nemeses, wield a bullwhip, discover lost artifacts, know the value of important MacGuffins, be a hero everyone loves, go on adventures, and make it all look normal when he came back to teach his history class. To top it all off, he had that remarkable sense of fashion and stubble to die for. If the list of manliest men ever were to include anyone on the grounds of that sort of uncomplicated masculinity, the kind built off of sweat and daring action, the only person suitable for that list is Indiana Jones.
He is, to me, the ultimate manly man when it comes to defining what masculinity is. Yes, being a man entails other things, including a loving heart and a wealth of maturity, but I always wanted to be an Indiana Jones type of manly man. Arnold Schwarzenegger was cool, but he's not who I wanted to be. Sylvester Stallone was a manly man, and I envied his muscles but little else. The list of 80's action stars goes on, but then I look at the newer generation of action stars, which now consists of actors like Matt Damon, Will Smith, and Tom Cruise. They're really good action stars, but lack the roughness and charm of a classic manly man from the 80's. I think that Harrison Ford playing Indiana Jones managed to capture the best of both worlds. Yes, he had plenty of charm and endearing personality that was real and authentic, but it just so happened that part of that authentic personality was his roughness and aggression, and his brash bravery. He was tough, charming, and sophisticated all at once, and this could have only been pulled off with Harrison Ford, who had just the right personality and, conveniently, a face that was both rigid but also very handsome in such a way that Carrie Fisher said he had a "classic Hollywood face."
According to many other women, he was incredibly hot. Perhaps a relationship with him is not the most desirable, since it apparently took him a long time to mature to the level where he was ready to settle down, but it seems that a lot of women wanted to at least give him a try, or to at least see what it was like to be kissed by him. He knew how to act and carry himself in just the right way in order to be incredibly sexy, and to make women feel incredibly sexy as well. Would it be good to be like that all the time? That's questionable, but Indiana Jones is masculinity distilled, and it would be nice if every man knew how to be that manly if they wanted to. Perhaps not all woman like ultra-manly men like Indiana Jones, since he comes in such a high concentration it would be too much for most people to handle, but it’s pretty nice when men know how to channel that archetype, that confidence in their manliness, when the time calls for it. After all, most women understand that the important things to look for in men are loving kindness, honesty, maturity, temperance, stability, and other signs of good character, but it’s also nice for there to be chemistry, by which I mean that most of them want their man to be distinctly a man. You know, someone who makes her feel sexy and awesome.
He got the attention of women because he was willing to own up to his masculinity. He wasn’t necessarily always sexually charged, but he clearly gave off an aura of his personality, which was the intellectual, rough-riding, simple and uncomplicated, red-blooded adventurer that he was. He was the man other men could look up to. He didn’t conceal his nature, which was the nature of awesomeness himself. He was so manly it was contagious. Other man would gain a notch of manliness through continued exposure to him. Women had fun being women around him. He made everyone sexier, which in turn is probably at the core of what made him so sexy and appealing himself. Therefore, women knew he was a catch – unfortunately for them, catching him would mean getting pulled into the lake.
Thus is the problem with Indiana Jones. While not as deadly as James Bond, people associate with him at their own peril. He saves people’s lives, but in order to do so he gets into dangerous situations. A good number of his friends died by following him too closely. Perhaps, then, it is a good thing that Indiana mostly seems to enjoy women but not necessarily value relationships, since far too much could go wrong considering his lifestyle. Even if a woman could hold her own, she still has to get past that lack of commitment. I choose to acknowledge that Kingdom of the Chrystal Skull actually happened, so it’s my pleasure to know that he ends up with Marion in the end – twenty years after their initial wedding plans. Therefore, he does mature enough to settle down in the end. It just comes at the expense of him being much older and manly in a completely different way. It sort of ruins the fantasy of having a boyfriend or husband who could channel Indiana Jones every once and a while on a date, but there’s a way around that. If a woman wanted to imagine what it would be like if her man perfectly channeled Indiana Jones, but with a more romantic side completely in keeping with his character and presence, she could always think of herself as Princess Leia.
There's more to Indiana Jones's manliness, of course. Why has he endured so much as a character where many others have failed? Why has he become the quintessential adventurer? Asides from nailing the archetypal visual queues, his ability to easily attract women, his relationship with his enemies, and his personal charm, I think that there's something to be said for his sheer smarts. Indy is known for going into a situation without a plan, and it almost always works, because neither the villains nor the audience can predict him. Regardless, he still gets into a lot of trouble, just barely getting by, and I don't think it wouldn't have been possible if it wasn't for how smart he was. One could argue that he would have gotten into those situations in the first place, either, if he hadn't been too smart for his own good.
See, Henry Jones, Jr. is a college professor. He's a savvy Yank just as much as he is a rough ranger. Half of his time is spent studying and gathering all of the know-how that carries him through his adventures. If he wasn't smart, he wouldn't have been such a challenge to the Nazis seeking the lost ark. If he wasn't so smart, he would not be able to speak so many languages and automatically know the important details of ancient cultures. If he wasn't so smart, he wouldn't be solving ancient puzzles all the time. If he wasn't so smart, the Russians wouldn't have personally kidnapped him to learn more about aliens. If he wasn't so smart, he wouldn't have made allies wherever he went.
My father once again comes to mind. If I allow my mind to travel back in time, I can distinctively recall a time when he was the man who knew everything. He was bigger than me, stronger than me, and by God he was smarter than me. He was the man I went to whenever I had any questions. He knew everything there was to know about the big, big world out there. Part of it was from first-hand experience, but part of his knowledge came from everyday book smarts, because he graduated with an engineering degree from Dordt College, knew a million things about math and science, and had a ton of books on all these things in his personal library. That made him manly, too, and for that same reason, Indiana Jones is manly, especially since he and my father are one and the same.
That amazing man, my father, has another gift that I have come to belatedly appreciate, which is the ability to blend in wherever he goes, no matter how different the other people are. This is one of the really big things about Indiana Jones, because his knowledge, as stated previously, gained him a lot of friends. He always had friends, sidekicks, and allies wherever he went. Part of it was because he was simply a total alpha male, but his knowledge and appreciation for other cultures really helped him by leaps and bounds. If he went to China, he knew enough about Chinese culture to give him respect. When he randomly dropped in India, people knew him right away and could tell he was a commodity, because a famous professor such as him could surely associate with them, and he indeed proved to Willie that he was far more familiar and comfortable with Indian culture than she was. His adventures would not have been so exciting if he did not know how to adapt to each amazing situation, locality, and climate, for which Professor Jones has my highest.
Without being paradoxical, he's still an underdog. He still has to fight an uphill battle against the bad guys with limited resources. he has to board moving cargo vehicles, hide amid crates of Nazi weapons, scurry to find a useful tool, solve ancient riddles before the bad guys do even when the bad guys physically possess the map to which he only temporarily had, ride mining carts, escape captivity, survive deadly encounters with snakes, and so forth. Every once and a while it gets easy, and he can simply shoot a swordsman, but the circumstances are almost always extraordinary.
Then the incredible happens. There are a lot of reasons that I consider him manly, from his charm to the nostalgia of reading old-fashioned pulp novels in my personal library, but in spite of everything I've mentioned, in spite of how he can be a cranky old cook, and in spite of how he can be slightly arrogant at times, what makes him special is that he's indisputably the good guy. He's the hero of the story, and his heroism is surprisingly uncomplicated. His goals are pure, his objectives respectable. He just wants things to be the way they ought to be. He fights the bad guys because they're the bad guys and it's very clear that what they're doing is wrong. Sometimes he's cocky (like a certain Skywalker), though usually when he's around people who don't really know what they're doing, and he is otherwise a very humble man who knows how to respect those around him, but most importantly respect for the treasure he hunts down. Sit still and think about this for a moment. Consistent throughout all the films, Indiana Jones doesn't defeat the villains at the end. He's pretty cool, but all that manliness just isn't enough. The villains are ultimately destroyed by their disrespect for the treasure.
Think about this. Indiana Jones never defeated the Nazis. He was captured, tied up, and did nothing as the Nazis opened up the Ark. God came down and killed everyone, but Indiana Jones was spared because he respectfully closed his eyes. In the next movie, he didn't kill the Thuggee cult leader, but rather the cult leader fell to his own death getting burnt trying to grab one of the sacred stones. In The Last Crusade, God once again killed the Nazis when they tried to remove the Holy Grail from its chamber. In the final movie, Irina Spalko thought that Indiana Jones had little faith in the knowledge of the aliens, but Indiana Jones responded "I have faith. That's why I'm standing down here." Every single stop of the way, his humility saved him and the villains defeated themselves while he focused on the true treasures of this world, which were the lives of his friends and trustees. The world needs more heroes like him.
And that is why Indiana Jones is the quintessential, archetypal, classic alpha male ever to grace both silver screen and pulp novel.