Monday, January 4, 2010

the wing man, the grenade, and the fat friend

My blood recently started boiling while I was watching a show on MTV called Jersey Shore. I don't own a TV, but at the gym I have started to channel surf. The show is like a bad car accident--atrocious, but keeps you staring.

This was all fine and dandy until one of the male characters went on and on and on about "being the wing man"--perhaps he said "taking a grenade" or perhaps someone else told me that phrase--and repeatedly insisting that the "grenade" was "busted" and the like.

Scene 2. Enter Asher Roth. I'm having an awesome time bopping around to "She Don't Wanna Man" when after a while I finally start hearing the words:

"...ask him, yo can you take her fat friend? He laughs and then digs in hell yea ill be your wing man"

In this case, the weightist attitude is implied. "Taking" the fat friend does not explicitly mean that being fat is "undesireable," but it is the whole "taking one for the team" and getting with the "fat girl" to prove your brotherhood and then--what is the verb, bragging, exclaiming, excusing?--it afterward. Don't get me wrong: canoodling with someone you find unattractive so that your friend can interact with the unattractive person's friend is not what disgusts me.

A casual sexual exchange does not upset my ethical code. The fact that the Jersey Shore goof ball thinks he is getting it on with someone unattractive does not bother me. What bothers me is parading around and degrading a person's body--especially after two adults had some sort of consensual exchange. But the story doesn't end there.

The most mystifying part is how this degradation is somehow culturally praised. How is at all funny to degrade a person's body, and diminish a person's sexual being? What part of that could possibly be humorous, or warrant a high-five or whatever these people do?

My only answer is that behind this behavior is a desire to feel powerful and in control, and that a combination of insecurity to assert some sort of "ideal" self coupled with a superiority complex replaces any respect for boundaries and personhood. When you look at culturally praised constructions of hyper-masculinity, the whole scenario is not very surprising. (This is not to say that women don't exhibit this type of behavior. From my experience, it is more prevalent and pronounced among heterosexual males. Feel free to comment if you disagree).

Regardless of a gendered analysis, I still don't understand how this is fun or funny, so chime up if you have an answer.


Aequitas2787 said...

So perhaps to your surprise I have to agree with your primary point... I find it appalling. I must raise a question and state an observation however.

First the question... Is it possible to have such a casual approach to sexuality without losing some person hood? I'm all for personal liberty when its coupled with responsibility and I'm not advocating any regulation of people's sex life... however, when society makes sex so meaningless there are consequences that seem hard to avoid and this seems to be one... I feel like if sex is nothing more than entertainment and has no emotional or deeper meaning then the basis for claims that people of the opposite sex should be seen as more than objects of amusement is eroded... When you separate the function from the object you comoditise it even if there isn't a "sale"... I have several blankets... most of them are just random objects that I would throw away without much thought but the one my Grandma made me is different... they all keep me warm equally but I don't treat them the same some are just things but one is special... I don't understand exactly why we expect that we will treat people with respect when we think its ok to see them only as a source of selfish pleasure... perhaps I am creating a straw man here but if I am it is out of ignorance and not strategic I'm legitimately curious if its possible and if so why or how.

Second, I think that you see it more in heterosexual males because of the attitudes of those you are around... and because guys talk bigger game to sound cool in certain company... I'm not comfortable making sweeping statements because I have somewhat limit exposure as well but I have to say that heterosexual men in my experience are critical of figure and other similar aspects when someone is on display in a movie or magazine or when talking to friends like blow hearts but in quite most guys don't really expect that and most don't want a skinny little stick... anecdotally my two sisters and my sister-in-law are far more critical of women's bodies and men's bodies for that matter than me or my older brother could be if we wanted too. That's not an uncommon observation for me either it's very often the women I know who are first to criticize a womans body and not the men... in my experience men cut women more slack than women do at least when they aren't trying to look cool and talk big.

In my experience men respond to social pressure... they are suppose to care about perfection in a woman's body.. it's those women who wrap their identity in their looks and who create their person hood around their physical beauty that perpetuate this... in my experience guys want pretty girls but not perfection... its the pretty girls that demand perfection... I've never heard anyone tear down other women's appearances unprovoked like a beautiful woman... but again that's from my perspective with a very limited cross-section view so it's worth what it's worth...

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Vanessa said...

I COMPLETELY agree that women are far more critical of their bodies and the bodies of other women. But I am talking about something different.

I am talking about the "wing man" being willing to, attempting to, or actually having, some sort of physical/sexual exchange with the "ugly" girl, and then afterward, announcing what a "grenade" she is.

As for the question whether or not one can maintain personhood while engaging in casual sex, I really think that varies on an individual basis, as does sexuality. I honestly think the issue is not about objectification, but maturity and a healthy self-concept (b/c I think the people that I am talking about are both immature and performing to maintain some sort of identity out of insecurity, for fear of what kind of "man"/person s/he would be otherwise). I think it seems completely reasonable that consenting, mature, grounded adults with compatible attitudes toward sex could have some sort of successful casual exchange.

Aequitas2787 said...

ah wow I jumped clear over your point and wondered into left field my apologies...

You're right the "wing man" "grenade" thing is almost exclusively a heterosexual male thing... in fact I would be surprised to see it in any other context.

You are the expert in the field but my gut tells me it arises from a vestige of an outdated distrust of heterosexual female autonomy... it's a general unspoken understanding (whether accurate or not I do not pretend to know)that an intoxicated, or even perhaps a sober, woman alone in a situation like a bar is far more vulnerable than a man in the same situation.

When sex is a consumption good... for individual pleasure and little more then the "ugly friend" is little more than an obstacle to be overcome. Social norms prevent a single woman from being left alone in a bar by a friend but no such convention exists for male friends... whether or not it makes me sexist I personally would have no qualm leaving a bar without a male friend I came with but I wouldn't abandon a female friend that I accompanied under normal circumstances. This apparent social understanding, that its acceptable to leave guy buddies alone in a bar but not a girl, gives rise to a facilitator much like social pressure against drunk driving gives rise to the designated driver. Like the designated drive in this situation the "wingman" is seen as a facilitator and the "ugly friend" as a "grenade" or obstacle preventing the "good" consensual sex... as abhorrent as this is to my personal conscience I can't really see a way around this conception (Though no doubt saying such things is in poor taste I can't imagine a way around the inevitable conclusion if only subconsciously). Though the "wingman" seems to be of little practical protection in my mind society seems to wave the friends obligation to not leave a girl companion alone when there is a "wingman" ie a male escort stepping in... as long as convention requires that the "ugly" friend has an escort the "wingman"; His martyr status like the designated driver seems unavoidable... while I don't condone it I have to admit that the statement is probably an honest statement of feelings most in the same situation would suppress out of politeness... maybe saying it bluntly is healthier than pretending? Bring the underlying problem into the light... of course that presupposes the underlying structure is a problem and that its correctable...

Feel free to call me an idiot I'm far outside of anything I should let myself talk about... I'll learn to keep my idiotic thoughts to myself eventually I promise :)

Today's Tom Sawyer said...

I am inclined to point out something else that is unstated in Aequitas' analysis...Who is worse, the "wing man" who "takes one for the team" or the woman who goes to bars/clubs with the "grenade" in order to keep guys away? It seems to me that the intentional act of the supposed friend of the "grenade" is a betrayal as opposed to the crude and insensitive nature of the "wing man." What we are seeing is a dual social evolutionary process. The Feminine autonomy argument falls apart since it would indicated that any companionship would be necessary, not just that of the "grenade" (what about the "grenade" herself). I would actually posit that the ugly friend came first as a sorting and blocking mechanism used by other females to only deal with guys who they find attractive, driving away the rest. In that sense, the "wingman" is a later development to overcome the barrier put in place by the first mover.

Another issue I would posit is that the "wingman" in some situations is the victim of social standards. Rather than admitting that he enjoy his experience with the "ugly friend," he uses the "grenade" argument as a way of saving face among his friends. I've known guys who actually prefer the girl deemed by society as "ugly," but to actually admit that would make them a subject of ridicule and an outcast. I know this from personal experience since I was often the nice guy who would look out for the "attractive" friend while my friend "hooked up" with the "ugly friend."

Vanessa said...

Tom Sawyer, great point about using "grenade" to save face.

Regarding your first point, I don't think it is fair to say that if a "pretty" girl is friends with an "ugly" girl, it must be to ward off unwanted males. Are only "ugly" people supposed to be friends, then?

From my general experience, "pretty" girls like being friends with "pretty" girls to form cliques that receive special treatment, reputation, etc. Although I will admit I think that there are "pretty" girls who like having "ugly" friends to look better by comparison.

Today's Tom Sawyer said...

I'm not saying that all girls do that, or even that many do, just that there are some that do, and that the practice of "wingman" evolved in response to the Wall of Estrogen Solidarity to prevent the "wrong" guys from picking up women within a group

Melissa said...

An additional point from the whole weightist/ general douche-baggery issue at hand: really the show should have been taken off the air last month when they premiered it using an ethnic slur 127 times in the first episode.

The show is only surviving because everyone likes to watch a train wreck.