false effort

So much of the performance of conventional NZ masculinity – what it means to be a man – can be summed up as false effort. The voice lowers, even to shuddering in its lowest registers. Speech is halting. It is a machine that stalls, turns over, starts up again with a cough, with the threat that at any time it might stop altogether. And have to get taken to the shop.

Grunts and inarticulate expressions of effort make their way into even the most mundane exchanges. “Good aaah morning.” The impression being given and the truth that men are seeking to give out is that it’s hard being a man, as Lou Reed sings in the VU song: “living in ahhh a trash can / my baby calls me aaahh up / she tries to hit me with thuh ahh mop / I can’t stand it any more”…

The attitude of false effort contrasts with the suavity, fluency and cool of, for example, Italian men, who become suspect for the very reason of their ease of attitude, their panache, why worry? even when it’s all front. Perhaps all the more when it’s all front. Staying cool in any situation, taking little sips, rather than draining the can dry, is suspiciously artificial. It goes against male appetitiveness and competitiveness. Whereas if the appearance is that effort is required, it must somehow be justified and it justifies: it self-legitimates. A long pull on a cigarette – when they were more fashionable – or a long and antisocial draining of the jug in one continuous adam’s apple bobbing draft followed by Aaaahhhh! as much meant to convey satisfaction – mock – as effort – false.

Ease is unknown to the man who practices false effort. A man who is unburdened, unharried by this sense of masculinity as a crushingly manual undertaking is a faggot, poof, or foreign. Ironic then that the grunts and sighs and huh-huh-huhs of false effort resemble so closely a gay porn soundtrack. But then, sex is honest work and hard. Or ought to be.

For the opposite sex to indulge in false effort is called faking. In fact, you might say that NZ women have to apply themselves to a greater degree to the production of an easy attitude by way of compensation. They must at all times be fluid, smooth, and are subject at all times to admonitions not to be uptight, go with the flow, calm down, when it is NZ men who are semi- or pseudo-hysterically giving birth (or doing poohs) at regular intervals, Aaaahhhh! Women are sweepers, minimisers, cleaner-uppers. They clear the stage of obstacles just so that their men may make the most mountainous of the dust motes which remain. They are expected so to do.

What makes it so difficult being a man in NZ? The answer would be the same for most women: other men/women. Albeit that women show their superiority in what they are prepared to tolerate. And then bitch in the background clique.

False effort is never found at more concentrated levels as where men meet, professionals, labourers alike, the residues of our once egalitarian society. With the gentrification of the pub, NZ men constitute a floating diaspora. Myth says it is the barbeque, around the grill. But high levels of false effort can be encountered in a phonecall. Ending with the obligatory and often uncomfortable – perforce – Cheers!

Commentators have suggested that male reticence – deeper underlying sensitivity which cannot bring itself to expression – causes the sentences of the NZ male to stumble and sigh and fart and groan and… pause. Before coughing, or laughing. For no apparent reason than the noise. If this were the case, the cause, then men are clearly more sensitive and show greater sensitivity to members of their own sex among whom they play out the routines of reticence – often passing the point of caricature – than to the opposite one.

NZ men are sensitive to the needs of women to make them feel more comfortable, safer and more it ease, just so they may be affirmed in being uneasy, uncomfortable and unsafe, and protest all the louder at the unfairness, the hardness of their lots, their jobs, their lives, at the shit they have to deal with. And their fear. NZ men are sensitive to the needs of women to have babies and therefore baby them. After all, it’s aaaaaahhhh hard being a man.

I have focused on speech, because I came off a phonecall – to another man, of course – where I realised I had slipped into vocal false effort, but I think false effort can be extended, as an ontological category, or style of being, to dress and other technologies of the self. Sartorial false effort can be considered like Chanel’s recommendation to dress and accessorise completely in character and when perfect to take away one element. But the other way around: to take away every element characteristic of style or a style and add one thing it is too hard to do without.

The man who moves easily is less than a man. He should never look too comfortable in his skin as in his clothes. The NZ man is most natural when dressed in nothing more than his comforter. So long it remains clear he is uncomfortable there is no affectation. Afraid of ease, he should never be afraid of his own fear and therefore wear whatever fear dictates, camo gear, for example.