Wednesday, December 16, 2009

The Greatest Ethnography of American Guyness as Performance of All Time.**

Well, maybe not. But I saw it yesterday for the first time and I was truly in awe. Clint Eastwood tries to teach a young Hmong kid how to "man up" and interact with older white guys. The point of the scene is that Eastwood is sure that manliness is a set of specific traits that can easily be learned and imitated: be aggressive, talk obscenely, don't be afraid of racial epithets, shake hands with a firm grip, look people in the eyes, have a pair of work gloves... But he quickly discovers that there are all kinds of hidden rules that he, himself, was unaware of. Actually, the age, race, history of the relationship, and formalities of the interaction matter quite a bit. When the kid tries to do as he's told and say the right words, he gets it wrong. Then Eastwood and his "Italian Prick Barber" have to figure out, for the first time, what the unspoken rules of engagement are. They have to back up out of their own unexplored relationship and examine it. It turns out that instead of being merely casually obscene *to* a stranger you should break the ice by being casually obscene about "people not in the room" that the stranger may also dislike.

In the next scene in the movie Thao tries out his new skill during an interview for a job and successfully deflects questions about himself ("you don't have a car?") into a friendly discussion of the evils ofcar repair guys who have "fucked him" over an (imaginary) "busted gasket." Without even knowing why, the new boss happily joins in the round robin of complaints about evil car dealers, goes from suspicious to friendly, and offers Thao the job. He completes the interview by shaking his new boss's hand hard, and looking him in the eye (things we've already been told the Hmong don't like to do.)

**Since the scene in The Birdcage when Robin Williams has to teach Nathan Lane to walk like a man.

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