“Don’t Be Such A Pussy.”

Sudden awareness can hit you in the strangest of places from the strangest of sources. For me, that realization was about the dynamics of male relationships, and the catalyst was an article on Adam Sandler movies.

“I’M A DICK!”

Writer Steven Hyden offered a great analysis of Sandler’s movies and his portrayals of the ugliness of human behavior in an article for Grantland.com. What was at once a damning of Sandler’s lazy man-boy shtick and an offering of the angry, childlike personas mirroring his fans as they age was also a thesis on those traits being the worst, most embarrassing qualities that men in particular exhibit–especially in the company of peers in different stages of life. The tantrum-throwing Sandler one often sees is a reflection of the single friend that is unable to acknowledge or accept their married/relationship-saddled bro, cemented with these paragraphs:

“The scene [in Reign Over Me] where Sandler and Cheadle attend the Mel Brooks festival includes a somewhat exaggerated version of an exchange I’ve had with single friends on numerous occasions. Sandler and Cheadle leave the theater early in the morning, and Cheadle calls to check in with his wife, who tells him his father has just died. Upon hearing the news, a clueless Sandler asks Cheadle if he wants to get some Chinese food, which of course he doesn’t. Cheadle needs to head home immediately. ‘Come on,’ Sandler says, ‘don’t be such a pussy.’

I’ve been called a ‘pussy’ for calling my wife from the bar, for leaving a little earlier than the rest of the gang, and for otherwise acting like the sort of normal, considerate adult male you don’t see in Adam Sandler movies. This is part and parcel of a specific kind of guy-on-guy interaction, where one guy doesn’t get it and the other guy has trace amounts of insecurity over his subjugated “man” identity. I was half-expecting Reign Over Me to pull a Fight Club–like twist, where Sandler’s character ends up being a projection of Cheadle’s fractured male psyche. That would’ve been the truest moment of Sandler’s whole career: If you’ve grown up with his movies, Adam Sandler embodies a part of you that, at some point, starts to seem sort of ugly and embarrassing.”

This made sense to me for several reasons. Among my friends, I’ve rarely–if ever–been that selfish, “don’t be such a pussy” guy, not going out of my way to chastise friends for tending to their loved ones. This is despite rarely being in romantic relationships. I think that dealing with churlish behavior throughout my life–from family members, friends, jerks in school, bullies–has made me more empathetic as a result. People have others in their lives to consider, and they have stuff to deal with. It’s life.

Dennis Duffy of 30 Rock: ugly and embarrassing

This is not bragging; I know that I am sometimes too sensitive, leading into neurotic tendencies and always wondering who doesn’t like me and why. I do admit that my close family has seen me at my most selfish, from arguing with my brother and cousin over pennies and breath mints to 8-year-old me yelling at my mom because she forgot an item from the grocery store. And I’ve been hypocritical of my behavior in the wake of others many a time. And I’ll be the first to note that I’ve mellowed over the years and eliminated much of that behavior. But I’m human, and it does occasionally seep out.

But the other aspect of that “ugly and embarrassing” understanding is seeing peers continue to engage in that behavior. Much like the unbearable Sandler characters onscreen, being in the company of friends and associates that toss off putrid sexist, racist and homophobic comments, hassle buddies about their commitments to others, and overall act like Xerox-copied cads that beer commercials tossed in the recycling bins is all the more uncomfortable when you comprehend that they are the exact same age as you.

This is more of a damning of the influences on people’s lives that lead them to such behavior than the person themselves. What role models did they have that made it okay to wrestle friends, slap waitresses on the ass or hurl enough epithets to make writer Tucker Max nervous? Who are these people that not only leave these impressions upon impressionable youths but are so plentiful that they line Sandler’s coffers in a non-ironic celebration of cloddish antics?

Maybe the answers are in movies like That’s My Boy, the tale of a middle-aged asshole that comes to ruin his straight-laced son’s life, and whatever “truth” Sandler will reveal going forward in his Hollywood career. And perhaps these same people that transpose similarly crude behavior from the silver screen to real life will one day have that same realization. I hope they can connect the dots before then so they can not only become better people but perhaps stop these dumb movies in the process.

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