Aurora and Secret Identities

How the American economy affects men.

Posted Jul 28, 2012

Artist Simon Monk's painting "Bruce Wayne" (2012), oil & alkyd on wood

The American dream is based on the economic progress of every generation of white Americans, with men historically heading the household and supporting the family with steady wages. The racial and gender Civil Rights Movements jolted this reverie and shifted relationships built on male provider income and women’s economic dependence in the direction of equality.

The widespread downsizing that began in the 1980s and euphemistically goes by the name of restructuring, RIFing, righting, and outsourcing is what psychoanalytic anthropologist Howard Stein calls “symbolic massacres” of the workplace.

The 2008 recession hit mostly male jobs, 75 percent of the more than five million employment positions lost, affecting mostly those in stereotypically male fields including finance, construction, and heavy machinery.

Driven by the information revolution ours has become a service economy valuing qualities traditionally associated with feminine attributes: the abilities to nurture, compromise, and socially connect. This largest and fastest growing sector we designate the "soft" part of the economy. becomes the go-to for reinstating a sense of manhood, seemingly debased economically and socially over the last half century. But how does one account for the range of responses in men faced with these modern social upheavals—many of whom don’t mass murder?

There are likely traumas from James Holmes own life that parallel his horrific actions at the Aurora Century movie theater. The individual overlaps with the group in various ways. In viewing the event’s replay and aftermath throughout the media this past week, we are spectators to an uncanny scene of domestic terrorism that echoes our nation’s gun-slinging attitude in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Simon Monk's "Clark Kent" (2011)

Invariably male and often disturbingly young, the perpetrators of these mass killings tell us something about collective rage over economic disempowerment, changes in gender roles, and in our perceptions of what it means to be boys becoming men.