Michael Ian Black On Why 'Boys Are Broken'
LULU GARCIA-NAVARRO, HOST:
Following the school shooting in Florida, comedian Michael Ian Black started a thread on Twitter. He began by writing, deeper than even the gun problem is this - boys are broken. His tweets sparked a lot of conversation and debate online. So we wanted to get his thoughts in person. Michael Ian Black joins us now from our New York studios. Welcome to the program.
MICHAEL IAN BLACK: Thank you.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: So boys are broken. What did you mean by that?
BLACK: I want to clarify that I am not an expert in gender studies. I'm not an expert really in anything, other than maybe '80s music. And so my thoughts are reflective on my experiences and the experiences of people around me and my observations after living 46 years as a dude. What do I mean by boys are broken? I think it means that there is something going on with American men that is giving them the permission and space to commit violence. And one of the main things we focus on correctly is guns and mental health, but I think deeper than that is a problem, a crisis in masculinity.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: You wrote in this that the last 50 years redefined womanhood. Women were taught that they can be anything. No commensurate movement for men, who are still generally locked to the same rigid, outdated model of masculinity. And it's killing us. When you say that there's this rigid masculinity, what do you mean by that - that men aren't able to express themselves?
BLACK: Partially, yeah. I also think that masculinity doesn't have a language in the way that femininity has come to have a language. We understand that femininity can be much more broadly encompassing than masculinity now. When you think of a strong woman, that doesn't rob her of any of her femininity. But when you think of a fragile man, that has the effect culturally, I think, of neutering that guy. And so much of masculinity is rooted in sexuality.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Some have pushed back at this argument, saying men and boys are taught that masculinity is bad now, that being male is a bad thing to be. And that's the reason they're floundering.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: How do you respond to that?
BLACK: I obviously disagree. But I think I understand what they're getting at. And I think what they mean in this instance is a kind of positive aggression and positive strength. But, again, from my point of view, that's a very narrow slice of what masculinity can be and should be. When we talk about, you know, sensitive men or even something like a stay-at-home dad, even if we don't mean to, there is a slight judgment associated with that. And I think men sense that. And the reaction is to shut off or to escape into rage.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: What would it mean, in your view, to create a healthy model of masculinity?
BLACK: I don't know. I mean, I really don't. I know that I only started feeling comfortable in my own skin as an adult man in my 40s when I stopped trying so hard to - and this is going to sound counterintuitive - but be a guy and started trying to live in my own skin the way I felt most comfortable. And what's interesting to me in thinking about these ideas is you hear those similar thoughts being expressed by, like, the trans community, where they would say, I just didn't feel like I was living in my own skin. And I feel like for me, sort of embracing my own version of masculinity has been similar. And it's taken me a really long time to just feel comfortable being me.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: And is part of that embracing of this expanded view of masculinity taking responsibility for some of these issues?
BLACK: Yeah. I think so. There is a lot of work we need to do on ourselves. And look. I'm a comedian, as you can tell about my very funny interview today. And the whole #MeToo movement has been very jarring, certainly for the comedy world. And we've all been, I think, examining our own past behaviors. I have. This movement has been great for us, for men. And I want this idea of masculinity to coincide with feminism as opposed to feeling like it's in opposition to it. And I think so many men feel threatened by feminism as opposed to feeling like they're welcome within feminism and feeling like they have a place in the new world of reconstituting what gender can be.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Can I ask you just when you wrote this thread, what prompted it? What was the moment that sort of made you think, this is something I need to write right now?
BLACK: I live in - I jokingly refer to it as the wilds of Connecticut, and there's nothing wild about it. But I live in the woods about 10 miles away from Sandy Hook. And when that incident happened, my daughter was in elementary school. My son was in middle school. The schools went into lockdown. I think I became radicalized on that day against gun violence. Every time one of these events happens, it affects me really deeply.
And so I found myself on the kitchen floor. My daughter wanted help with her homework, and I was sort of tweeting as she was reading me an essay she was writing. But it - I just felt like I needed to try to say these things in the best way that I knew how in that moment. And I - you know, there was no real forethought to it. It was just a kind of expression of deep, deep sadness.
GARCIA-NAVARRO: Michael Ian Black is a comedian, actor and writer. Thank you so much for joining us.
BLACK: You're welcome. I hope that wasn't terrible.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.