There's a track on Beatles '65 the rest of the world heard it on Beatles for Sale called "I'm a Loser." As with rather a lot of early Beatles tunes, it's usually written off as the sort of silly love song McCartney used to wonder if the people would have had enough of, maybe. But this is a Lennon song, and John is always about the subtext. From the John-and-Yoko Playboy interview, published, in a spectacular example of Unfortunate Timing, in January 1981:
Part of me suspects that I'm a loser and the other part of me thinks I'm God Almighty.
It occurred to me at the time I was twenty-seven, the traditional age at which rock stars drop dead that this dichotomy applied to just about all of us on this side of the Great Gender Divide, though the balance between Loser and Lord was never quite fifty-fifty.
And I didn't give it much more thought until this year, when columnist John Shore let it be known that the basis of male bonding is simply reflecting on what losers we are:
Women are mystified by the nature of male bonding. They think men bond over the joys of forming a football huddle, or the love of beer, or due to some kind of primordial mingling of testosterone-infused pheromones. But the real reason any man can instantly bond with just about any other man is because every man holds within himself a secret that he's only comfortable sharing with other men. And that secret is that he is an absolute, 100% loser. Like he knows his name, every man knows that in life he can never truly win. Not because he's incompetent, or inferior, or ... incapable of figuring out how blinds work. But rather because he knows that, no matter what he does, "winning" will always remain a relative state. No matter what a man wins, gains, earns, or accomplishes, he knows that for him there will always be so much more to win, gain, earn, and accomplish. He knows that being a man means competing in a huge, ongoing game he could no sooner actually win than he could fly. Every man knows that, in the end, his life's predicament is best understood as funny. They'll never come out and say it just that way, but whenever men are standing around together holding beers and laughing, that's almost always what, beneath it all, they're really laughing about. When you have nothing, you still have blessed humor.
Much of male bluster, I'd suggest, is intended to conceal this predicament. A few of us have tried to make light of it; reporter/blogger Robert Stacy McCain has been pushing a "Because I suck" theme for over a year now, plumbing the infinite vastness of suckitude. Having given off similar vibes myself over the last couple of decades, I contend that this is not so much a wallow in the mire, however suckulent it may seem to be, as it is an attempt to stay afloat: if you're trying not to hit bottom, it helps to poke around a bit and try to establish just where that bottom may be.
Women, of course, understand this from the get-go; the Beach Boys' "Don't Worry Baby" is about exactly that understanding. It will seldom if ever occur to us to test that understanding, however, because, well, we don't do that. We see ourselves as the spiritual heirs to Sisyphus and Roy Orbison, stoically waiting for that boulder to come back down, and don't you dare look behind the shades. (Orbison's paranoid bolero "Running Scared" alone contains 47 times its weight in existential dread.)
And it occurs to me that if we men lacked this particular dichotomy entirely, we wouldn't necessarily have an easier time of it; the man who identifies purely as Lord is just as insufferable as the man who identifies purely as Loser. Maybe more so.
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Copyright © 2010 by Charles G. Hill