In the Schizogendria trend, Millennial men and women are experiencing an alienating split between “should” and “feel” in their gender roles; both parties to the drama sense they are losing something valuable.
Schizogendria’s countertrend is Guys and Dolls, whose name takes its inspiration from the musical enjoying several revivals since it first debuted on Broadway in 1950. Its anthem sings:
When you see a guy reach for stars in the sky
You can bet that he’s doing it for some doll.
Guys and Dolls: the return of romantic gender archetypes in which women inspire and men sacrifice; whether the expression is retro, ironic or straight-on serious, the result is the same: the end of PC Unisex.
70s-style feminism preaches that there are no “real” differences between the genders and seeks an ideal world in which genders meld together. The corporate world and some of our more official culture has created an elaborate set of manners and morals that aspire to a gender-less world but thereby feed into the psychic split of Schizogendria. This utopian thinking is one of the hallmarks of Boomer culture. Boomers once said, “never trust every one over 30.” But those under 30 today, the Millennials, have begun a deep rejection of the UniSex ideal.
End of gender, no.
Women inspire. Men sacrifice. This duality is at the heart of primordial gender archetypes which can be repressed but will never die. And when women act like men, men lose their fundamental orientation in life.
It is why women of all walks of life and of all ages enjoy receiving the inspired homage of flowers. It is why poems and songs written in the honor of women take this same exchange to the nth degree. It’s what made Princess Bride and The Notebook instant classics.
You can see it in Transformers in the heroism Shia Leboeuf’s character uses to win the heart of Megan Fox, echoed by the self-sacrifice the Autobots are willing to make to save humanity from the predatory Decepticons.
You can see it in the hit movie The King’s Speech, a world in which a man isn’t celebrating his own vanities but, inspired by his wife and family, is striving to sacrifice his own comfort and overcome himself to be of service to his country.
You can see it in the Twilight series which indirectly celebrated the heroism and deliciously sublimated erotic energy of chaste romantic love, hidden in the subtext of vampires and werewolves. Millennial women know that they rule “their bodies, their selves” but they also know that by controlling how they give their love, they control the wellsprings of male creative energy.
You can see it in how great guys look at a blacktie wedding. Because the tux is a uniform and a man in uniform has prepared himself for sacrifice.
Guys and Dolls runs even deeper than eros. Some of the most creative gay men would be lost without women as their inspiration. What would Yves Saint-Laurent ever have been without the most beautiful women who were his muses? Or Truman Capote? Or Tennessee Williams?
And, as nightlife expert Gamal Hennessy wrote in his recent study of New York nightlife, Seize the Night, “the attempt to attract and appeal to women is basic to every aspect of the nightlife experience. The lyrics in the music are for them, or about them, or by them. The dance floor is put there to entice them. All the fancy cocktails and impressive interior design are created to appeal to their senses. Men don’t really care about any of these things; men care about women. And if you’ve ever seen straight women hanging out in a gay club, you know they are treated like gold there, too.”
You won’t find this in an HR Manual or spelled out at a corporate offsite.
But it is a perennial enduring truth and when a brand connects with it, the results can be profound.
Here are three ways to approach the power of Guys and Dolls.
1) Don’t be afraid of retro
Schizogendria is still at play in our culture. Sometimes, by looking at things through retro lenses, we can easily escape its clutches. Retro brand thematics are not just nostalgic in their appeal and won’t necessarily date your brand. Consider that The Darby, a supper club with the feeling of 50s Hollywood, is one of the coolest nightlife destinations in New York City this year. That muscle cars from Detroit are making a huge comeback. That craft cocktails with personalities loaded with masculine swagger and femme chic are all the rage.
2) Bring back heroic men
The critical and commercial success of The King’s Speech is a powerful example of how much today’s audiences are longing for genuine tales of heroic men who sacrifice themselves for family and country and doggedly pursue duty. Brands have just barely scratched the surface of this longing. There’s the new campaign from Chivas on Chivalry. And Brooks Brothers has done it by publishing a book it sells in its stores: As a Gentleman Would Say - Responses to Life’s Difficult (and Sometimes Awkward) Challenges. Both of these brand initiatives are somewhat obvious, but ownable, concepts in the right direction. The opportunity is still ripe for many other brands.
3) Move beyond patronizing empowerment and into romantic inspiration
There was a marvelous scene in Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings when the Lady Galadriel, beautifully portrayed by Cate Blanchett, is tempted to take unto herself the power of the ring that the Dark Lord seeks. Suddenly she becomes terrifyingly beautiful and mesmerizing as her voice runs deep.
“In place of the Dark Lord, you will set up a Queen. And I shall not be dark, but beautiful and terrible as the Morning and the Night! Fair as the Sea and the Sun and the Snow upon the Mountain! Dreadful as the Storm and the Lightning! Stronger than the foundations of the earth. All shall love me and despair.”
But then she sets aside her power and becomes radiantly graceful once again. And the memory of her will rouse Frodo back to action even as his will to pursue his dangerous quest flags. “For the Lady,” he shouts and fights again.
I think of Joan of Arc, no literary creation she, yet as fantastic as any mythic construct. She was willing to fight not because she wanted to be a man but because the men of France did not. Frightened, young and vulnerable she brought the beautiful nation of France back from its rape by cruel King Henry VI.
Women of great power and spirit, not just materially successful, will inspire the next generation of men to become men again. Brands that know how to tell these tales will be iconic of the new Millennial romanticism.