The above photo shows an Australian soldier laying a wreath at the Cenotaph in London on Anzac Day in 1920.
I like the photo, perhaps because it offers such a contrast with the image of men in the media today. Perhaps the most common portrayal of men is that of the loveable but harmless doofus - a character that is given to most TV dads.
The men in the photo, in contrast, have a dignity and seriousness of purpose and a masculine bearing.
I don't think you can just blame Hollywood executives for the transformation. I think it has to do, in part, with the larger trends in society.
The larger trend is to reject unchosen qualities like our sex as authoritative when it comes to social roles and organisation. Instead, authority is shifted away from the ordinary person to a class of people who rule along the lines of more formal principles (you can tell here I have been reading Jim Kalb) .
What that means is that the ordinary man no longer holds what you might call "social offices" (I'll expand on this in a moment). What is left to the ordinary man are personal relationships alone and this fits in well with dad as a loveable doofus.
What do I mean by social offices? Being a man once meant something in terms of the roles that were held in society. For instance, being a husband was not just about a personal relationship with a wife, but was an "office" with particular duties, responsibilities, status and authority. The same was true of being a father, which again came with responsibilities to provide for, to protect and to mentor, alongside the authority and the status to carry through with these tasks.
Increasingly these roles/offices are being socialised (shifted from individual men to the state) and androgynised (no longer connected specifically to men).
But there has been an even more significant change since that photo was taken in 1920. Even when I was growing up in the 1970s, there was still a sense of Australian men having a group ethos and existence. There was a positive pride in achievement, particularly as pioneers, soldiers and sportsmen.
When you have this kind of culture, then men also have a role as defenders of the tradition they belong to. Their role is to keep going the particular tradition they belong to, to be the sentinel on the wall allowing the tradition to be renewed within this protected sphere. It's a responsibility that brings men together in the public sphere and which requires a larger engagement with society. It again represents a kind of social office, which brings a particular purpose to the work that men do in society.
But this kind of role has been radically undermined in the larger society. First, by the constant attacks on men as oppressors rather than as defenders and then, second, by the shift toward open-bordered, internationalism in the West.
As things stand, therefore, it would be difficult for Western men to have the same seriousness of purpose as the men depicted in the photo in 1920.
It seems to me that the choice is either to accept the loss of social offices, and to make do with a lifestyle based on personal relationships alone combined with career and consumption (with authority and responsibility in society being shifted away from individuals and toward an administrative class) or else to seek to recreate more traditional communities, though most likely on a smaller scale than they once existed.
I don't think we experience what we are meant to experience as men if we accept the modern conditions of life. What is more, it is likely that men will continue to experience confusion and uncertainty about being a husband or a father or even a worker, when a large part of the meaning of such roles has been lost.
The more we can either hold onto, or recreate, the social offices I have tried to describe, the stronger we become.