Tuesday, November 08, 2005


MACHO, in astronomy, stands for Massive Compact Halo Objects, remnants of massive stars that are considered key to the study of neutron stars and black holes. But there have always been MACHOS right here on our planet- Massive Compact Hollow Objects.

I hate the ‘macho man’ culture, especially in the US. Now that does not mean that I hate macho men. There are good macho men and ‘macho’ macho men. If the word ‘macho’ refers strictly to structural characteristics, then yes, I have a couple of macho friends, and very nice people at that. But I get fed up with the latter, and especially with the cocoon of apparent macho privilege that they surround themselves in. What I don’t like is the constant adulation that the macho men are worshipped with, and the almost obligatory stereotypes that they are cast in, and also the almost obligatory derogatory stereotypes that ‘the others’ are cast in. I hate the macho men cliques who deride other men as not being ‘real’ men, and I shirk from the elements of culture that are supposed to define the macho man as the only man there can ever exist on our planet,and who can take care of the opposite sex. I am repelled by the macho men one line definitions, which say things like ‘real’ macho men are not supposed to be too sentimental, are not supposed to cry, and are always supposed to lend themselves to ‘being a man’. All the other men who are not macho become weaklings and ‘pansies’, by default.

An entire industry grew around the perceived and made up needs of the machos. The macho has to smoke a certain brand of cigarette, has to guzzle certain beers, has to drive macho trucks, has to make sure that his biceps pass a certain diameter test every month and most importantly, has to roar like a gorilla at football games. The vision of beer drinking hunks gathered around pizza in front of the TV for the Sunday games reminds me of the writer and literary critic Francis Ferguson’s resentment of the progenitors of machos, prevalent even at the esteemed Harvard, in the 1920s. Ferguson said,

“Instead of five thousand keen, intellectually alive, well-read young men, I find five thousand tawdry yokels, bellowing at ball-games”.

The Corporation pounced upon the culture that the machos had entwined themselves in. They invented Red Bull, the Ford Truck and other accessories guaranteed to win the heart of the macho. Everyone else belonged to an inferior group of men. But the Corporation went a step further; they had to, it was so alluring. By making the machos and their worshippers pander to their glitzy products and ideas, the corporation could deflect their attention from the issues that really mattered. Not only that, they could instill a kind of irrational jingoism, especially made manifest by the team games and the whole industry that grew around them. Team games build attitudes of mindless groupism. The whole deal about ‘My Team’ instills an almost patriotic brotherhood in the machos, driven purely by irrational emotion. This brotherhood in turn fuels a million dollar propaganda industry of sponsors, and every type of consumer industry built upon these principles. Television and the Internet was a boon for The Corporation, who could now use these hypnotizing mediums to dull the minds of the machos, and to make them massively subservient to the corporate culture insidiously seeping into their psyche. When the government teamed up with the corporation, this confluence ensured total brainwashing
I don’t want to get too predictable or too extreme here, but I think there’s definitely more than a shred of truth in what Chomsky has to say about sports and thought control:

"Now there are other media too whose basic social role is quite different: it's diversion. There's the real mass media-the kinds that are aimed at, you know, Joe Six Pack -- that kind. The purpose of those media is just to dull people's brains.
This is an oversimplification, but for the eighty percent or whatever they are, the main thing is to divert them. To get them to watch National Football League. Just get them away. Get them away from things that matter. And for that it's important to reduce their capacity to think.
Take, say, sports -- that's another crucial example of the indoctrination system, in my view. For one thing because it -- you know, it offers people something to pay attention to that's of no importance. That keeps them from worrying about -- keeps them from worrying about things that matter to their lives that they might have some idea of doing something about. And in fact it's striking to see the intelligence that's used by ordinary people in [discussions of] sports [as opposed to political and social issues]. I mean, you listen to radio stations where people call in -- they have the most exotic information and understanding about all kind of arcane issues. And the press undoubtedly does a lot with this.
You know, I remember in high school, already I was pretty old. I suddenly asked myself at one point, why do I care if my high school team wins the football game? I mean, I don't know anybody on the team, you know? I mean, they have nothing to do with me, I mean, why I am cheering for my team? It doesn't mean any -- it doesn't make sense. But the point is, it does make sense: it's a way of building up irrational attitudes of submission to authority, and group cohesion behind leadership elements -- in fact, it's training in irrational jingoism. That's also a feature of competitive sports. I think if you look closely at these things, I think, typically, they do have functions, and that's why energy is devoted to supporting them and creating a basis for them and advertisers are willing to pay for them and so on."

Fanning these flames are the select pseudo-feminist members of the opposite sex (read the ladies in ‘Sex and the City’), who adulate and adore the machos. Living up to their expectations becomes another enormously labour intensive diversion for the machos, and also for the non-machos, because they are kept wondering what they exactly lack.

The machos created norms, they automatically created cliques. You needed to have the above quoted, team-sports watching, beer guzzling, truck driving, bicep building qualities in order to become a member of the select club. All other men who did not play sports, did not drink beer, and did not have the other aforementioned noble qualities, instantly generated new adjectives in the dictionary- nerds, geeks, pansies, and wimps- and became minority outcasts. So much so that in a heartbeat, one would label somebody else with one of these epithets, without knowing a thing about him. Critics who criticized the machos were instantly discarded aside as examples of the foxes calling the grapes sour. Intellectuals, who tried to portray the absurdity of the macho culture, became ‘intellectuals’.

The macho culture is a great example of how self-generated paradigms undermine rational thought and purposeful and critical analysis of key issues. It’s also a very good example of the kind of human characteristics that fuel propaganda and thought control in a democratic country. It is the portal to a false sense of power, and a blow to the heart of an equal, unbiased evaluation of society.

Machos would not like to read this. That’s because since I don’t like or play sports as such, it makes me a weakling, doesn’t it?


Blogger Vivek Gupta said...

Very interesting post! I remember when I was back in IIT, I used to think that US
society must be the sort which really values erudition and academic achievements because they have such great higher learning institutions. Infact, on coming here I find that a respect for erudition and academic excellence is on a decline here atleast in the general populace. An average american citizen spends countless hours following his favourite NFL team, baseball team, basketball team, college team etc. It is a miracle that he still finds time to concentrate on his job which pays the bills. No wonder if you look outside academia you will find an alarming decrease in general awareness levels (Jay Leno has made a nice segment on his show out of this). The pointless exercise of sports worship, along with other frivolous pursuits like TV, has relegated learning and knowledge to the background in the psyche of an average american. Even though america's college education system is still world-class largely because of pay to study system , a constant influx of high quality foreign students and generous spending by government & industry, the standards in high school and secondary education system have fallen alarmingly low. American high school students rank among the lowest in the developed world in science and math literacy. Even in higher education front americans (not america though!) are falling behind. Majority of PhDs awarded in
hard sciences (read physics, math and other quatitative sciences) in US today go to foreigners. A large percentage of scientists, academic faculty positions are occupied by people not born in america. It seems education, for most americans, has become a necessary evil which is needed to find a source of living instead of a life long pursuit in intellectual fulfillment and enlightenment. It is a sad state of affairs for the most powerful country in the world.

9:07 PM  
Blogger Hirak said...

Ah! Rationalize! Rationalize!

5:50 PM  
Blogger Kunal said...

Good post, but why does everything thing wrong with this world have to be the fault of private enterprise?

9:55 PM  
Blogger Ashutosh said...

Vivek: Well said! You are absolutely right about the relative complacence that the average American exhibits towards higher education. I think it is again a case of the younger generation not realising the efforts that the older generation put into the making of a great nation. This has also made them self-sufficient and smug, and largely unaware of the world around them. I think these things will change when they will finally face problems which they can solve only with international cooperation (and they are already facing them, like terrorism)

Hirak: That's the only thing we can do :)!

Kunal: Yes you are right. Everything is not the fault of private enterprise. But it is too tempting for corporations to exercise total control over our minds, and I think that we simply must be aware of it. I am no Chomskyite who says we should actually get rid of them. But I think that awareness simply provides a preventive cap. The true fact is that we really are not always thinking about subtle tactics that corporations employ to fuel our ambitions and desires.
On the other hand, this was written on a lark, and some remarks may seem unprovoked and spontaneous, which they are :)

3:51 PM  
Blogger Sumedha said...

Amazing acronym for MACHO :)

5:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nice post!
I hate macho attitude, and I never hesitate to tell them :)
C'mon kill the macho!!!

5:42 PM  

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