By Jed Grainger
The modern man is in a confused place. As traditional marriages decline and progressive movements loom large – the world that men were taught they were inhabiting has gradually faded away. There is nothing new about this. Every new decade seems to bring its own new “crisis of masculinity” – where men attempt to come to terms with the gradual obsoletion of their hunter gathering instincts, whilst uneasily attempting to keep the patriarchy afloat.
Whilst women redefined themselves against their oppression, men have never bothered. As the gender divide realigned itself, men never attempted to have a conversation amongst themselves to determine how best to change. Instead they just kept on going as they are and the crisis only grew. This is where the modern man is now.
In “MEN.” I wanted to depict the ambiguous place that a lot of men seem to find themselves internally, though in the most extreme and stereotypically masculine way possible: a homoerotic tableau of facist identikit white men fighting in a dilapidated toilet. Whilst showing the dark ends that unchecked toxic masculinity can lead one to, the picture also shows a scene that is full of pathos and grimness. The men in the picture are joylessly having a fight in a pathetically and needlessly macho-male way whilst their surroundings fall into disarray. This is meant to show the trappings of some men who cling onto all that they know and are left to act out glum reinterpretations of what was done before them, in the hope that this will in some way provide a purpose. Amongst the discarded lines of cocaine, puddles of urine and obligatory displays of masculinity, there is a sense of sadness and emptiness to the picture. How many of the men depicted actually want to be involved in this sad, aimless fight, and how many of them are only there because they don’t know life to be any different?
In many ways the prominent Union Jack is a direct comparison to the depicted men, who have been made to look as stereotypically English as possible. As Britain becomes more and more isolationist and deluded about its power and place in the world, a doomed sense of patriotism and tattered flag waving has started to take hold of its culture, as if covering up for the uncertainty Britain faces as a country. These stereotypically gammony men, depicted in the picture, who seem to have stopped off to the bathroom at their local Wetherspoons after a Brexit Party rally; in many ways share the same issue that Britain faces; lost and outdated yet a stubborn delusion to do anything but double down.
The picture also takes aim at the way men are presented in progressive society. The reason it is titled “MEN.” is a reflection on how men are often only cast as brutes who need to be tamed and that this is all that men can be. Increasingly men are told what they are not meant to be and not what they are. The world treats men, especially straight men, by old fashioned values where they are unable to escape their masculinity. This lazy and un nuanced thinking leads to men feeling more trapped into performing an act that no longer works for them. With a huge mental health crisis where the suicide is the biggest killer of men under 50, the pressure of being a man leads on, making some fall into the clutches of people like Jordan Peterson or even becoming what is depicted in the picture. The problems of masculinity may have been defined yet the solutions haven’t.
Jed Grainger is a 24 year old artist based in London.