More details

The man that dreams are made of

Ross Erickson

The Man That Dreams Are Made Of

Right around the time I graduated high school, our church got a new pastor, a man named Neil. He was a cowboy, through and through. Neil grew up in Wyoming, raised by what you could call America’s last frontiersmen. These were men who tamed the wilderness; who broke wild horses not just for fun, but because they had to; who made contracts with their word and never broke them; in short, they knew what a man was supposed to be.

These frontiersmen passed this knowledge on to Neil. The problem was, once Neil left Wyoming, he was surrounded by people who didn’t know what he was talking about. “What do you mean, women shouldn’t work outside the home? What do you mean, my word is my bond? Isn’t that the government’s job, to enforce contracts?” Back then, I could have been chief among that group. I couldn’t make sense of him while he was here. A lot of that was because Neil didn’t understand how to explain what he knew. He could tell there was something missing – like a Hokusai painting with Mt. Fuji taken out. He tried in sermons to describe that gaping Patriarchal hole in civilization, and I suspect he figured he would have gotten in trouble if he succeeded (I agree).

Neil left our church a few years ago, but now I finally get it. And when I watched The Maltese Falcon (1941), I saw the type of man who would have raised Neil.

The Maltese Falcon is a film noir starring Humphrey Bogart as Sam Spade, a private detective caught in a web of dealings and deception surrounding a jewel-encrusted falcon statuette. It’s a must-view classic – one of the first 25 films selected by the National Film Registry in 1988. Besides that, it’s just plain fun. But the plot can wait for another time – for now, we need to look at how Sam Spade deals with women.

There are endless historical myths to draw from regarding irresistible beauty. In Greek mythology, the Sirens sang a song so alluring that sailors would jump overboard to their deaths. The Slavic Alkonost, the Brazilian Yara, and the Welsh Morgen tell the same story. There are others – Medusa’s gaze, David and Bathsheba in the Bible – that, taken together, tell us a deep truth: Sometimes, when a man looks at a woman, it shuts down his brain. All rational thought goes out the window, subsumed by one notion: “I must have her.” Heck, we don’t even need stories. We’ve all experienced it. When faced with this situation, a man is nearly defenseless. There is known only one method of emerging victorious – the guidance of the Patriarchy.

Patriarchy is, quite simply, the organization and cooperation of men. Male cooperation has many uses – forming armies, constructing buildings, conquering wilderness. This patriarchal tendency began to be selected for in the human genome with “total Y-chromosome replacement events” around 10 kya. For the layman, think of Genghis Khan – he formed an empire that reached from the Pacific Ocean to halfway up the Danube River, all because he got a few tribes of nomads to fight with each other instead of against!

Male cooperation is (apart from God, if you believe) the most powerful force in the universe. It’s what Western culture seeks to uphold – because when patriarchy collapses, Western culture dies with it. Patriarchy is what separates the cities in the sky from huts in the mud.

The Patriarchy of yore may be dead in 2021, but it was alive and well 80 years ago in The Maltese Falcon. A client enters Sam Spade’s office. His secretary prefaces that no matter what her case is, Sam will want to see her, “she’s a knockout.” In comes Brigid O’Shaughnessy (with the pseudonym Ruth Wonderly), played by the lovely Mary Astor.

Sam and his partner Miles have two different reactions. It’s clear that Miles’s brain has shut down. He’s wrapped around her finger. Sam, though, isn’t phased. He stands, offers her a seat. She compliments Sam, and he tells her to start from the beginning. She gives her story, but every once in a while interjects with a beg for guidance, a plea for pity. Sam sits back and continues to work. When their business is complete, she offers some money; Sam sits back and watches, and she offers more. It’s clear when Miles stands that he would have offered to do the job for free. That night, Sam learns Miles has been shot.

Sam and Brigid have three more extended scenes together after this first scene in The Maltese Falcon. In the second, he goes to visit her after the murder to figure out what happened. He starts businesslike, but when she starts trying to manipulate him, Sam goes on the attack. He tells her that he expected manipulation from her. When Brigid asks him to trust her and begs for his help, he responds, “You won’t need much of anybody’s help, you’re good. Chiefly your eyes, I think, and that throb you get in your voice when you say things like, Be generous, Mr. Spade.” “I deserve that,” she responds.

The third scene happens after Spade starts to piece together what the whole fiasco is about. The game between Sam and Brigid gets stronger and stronger, as each tries to figure out what the other knows. He shares what he’s learned, only to read her face – she tries to hide what she knows, but he sees right through it. She gets to a point where she only has one tool remaining to her, sex – it’s implied that she uses it.

In the fourth and final scene, Sam Spade has figured it all out. Brigid shot Miles, using his vulnerability to seduction as a tool to get what she wanted. She admits, but only because he’s trapped her – he had set up lies earlier in the conversation for her to agree with. That’s when Sam drops the bomb – he’s going to turn her in to the police. At this point, Brigid uses every tool she can think of to manipulate him. He lays out his reasoning, although he knows she won’t care. “It’s bad business,” he says, “to let the killer get away with it – bad all around, bad for every detective everywhere.” In short – he won’t betray the patriarchy. He knows that if everyone did what he wanted to do, the whole system would collapse.

I’ve seen it said on the internet that using fictional characters isn’t a good basis for morality tales. To that, I say balderdash, nonsense, a load of hooey. If it’s good enough for my ancestors, it’s good enough for me. And, to be frank – it’s all we have left. We need these old movies to understand what we need to become again, if we’re to survive.

I want to end on one final note. When Neil came to our little church in the middle of nowhere, he was actually sent by our Conference leader to help us get through an explosive church split. Our pastor before Neil was a bookish liberal type who spread a lot of dissension. Neil wasn’t just any pastor – his job had been to work for the Conference to take broken messes and form them into a powerful tribe. To do that, they grabbed the manliest man they could find, and they put him in charge.

1200 630

Man’s World in Print

MAN’S WORLD is now available, for the very first time, as a high-quality printed magazine. Across 200 glorious pages, you’ll find everything that made the digital magazine the sensation that it was – the best essays, the most brilliant new fiction, interviews, art, food, sex, fitness – and so much more.

Man’s World in Print

MAN’S WORLD is now available, for the very first time, as a high-quality printed magazine. Across 200 glorious pages, you’ll find everything that made the digital magazine the sensation that it was – the best essays, the most brilliant new fiction, interviews, art, food, sex, fitness – and so much more.

You must submit

Want to write for
Man’s World?

Here at Man’s World, we’re always looking for new contributors to dazzle, inform and amuse our readership, which now stands in the hundreds of thousands. If you have an idea for an article, of any kind, or even a new section or regular feature, don’t hesitate to get in contact via the form below.

Generally, the word limit for articles is 3,000; although we will accept longer and (much) shorter articles where warranted. Take a look at the sections in this issue for guidance and inspiration.

Please enable JavaScript in your browser to complete this form.
I have an idea for a