Last month Esquire found space between the guide on watches you’ll never afford and the Minka Kelly photo spread to reflect on the everlasting popularity of Clint Eastwood. The magazine had recently conducted a survey of men aged 20-50 to see who they thought was the coolest man in America. Dirty Harry was the winner, hands down. He even beat The Situation.
The magazine was trying to offer a rationale for why Eastwood – whose been eligible for Social Security for 15 years now, who probably tells kids to get the hell off his lawn every day (Gran Torino was all about it, actually), and now understands what Costanza’s dad was on to with the “Man-ssiere” – remains the biggest swinging dick in America. It might’ve been Gladwell-esque, counter-intuitive thinking, but Esquire suggested Eastwood’s appeal isn’t about machismo, but rather it’s exact opposite – restraint. Eastwood “has always been about needing and having and showing less. His gift as an actor and director is his economy of motion and expression; his moral vision is of men who struggle with and eventually master their bloodlust and lust and their desire for booze and self-propogation.”
Fewer things have sounded as right as what the magazine wrote about Eastwood (although the economy of expression comment could also apply to Ah-nold and Keanu Reeves). I suppose I’ve always thought “macho” is about preening – trying to compensate for personal shortcomings by affecting some grandiose, one-dimensional aspect of manliness. Eastwood, on the other hand, has never needed to compensate for anything.
Where I think the magazine gets it wrong is assuming this is why he’s popular. This is the age of the End Zone Dance, the Weepy Press Conference Apology, the Dubious Public Career Resurrected By A Reality Series. People are posting their credit card info on Facebook and writing confessional blogs (whoops). Matthew McConnaughey apparently can’t afford shirts, Charlie Sheen has yet to find a hotel room he doesn’t want to torch, and a man can achieve TV stardom for siring 8 kids – and then get even MORE notoriety for leaving both them and his shrew wife for the hot babysitter. It’s hard to notice quiet composure above the din of people clamouring for attention. Most times it has to be pointed out, usually with a press release from the public figure’s publicist explaining their client will happily take questions from the media about how quietly composed they are.
My guess is men like Eastwood more for his habit of shooting large calibre weapons and dispatching villains with snappy one-liners that are quoted for decades afterwards. Somehow, those things don’t exactly scream “low profile” or “private grace”. If his popularity had anything do with his efforts to maintain his profound personal dignity, then The Bridges of Madison County should be Clint’s biggest picture ever.
So you might say Eastwood is like Whitman – big enough to contain contradictions. Certainly his later work illustrates the distinction between machismo and manliness…macho wants attention, while manliness prefers to keep it on the DL. In this regard, Eastwood could be one of the least macho men around. There are others – my dad, for starters – and of course, Don Mann.