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My barber recently retired and it was more traumatic than I expected it to be. This was a female barber, but with the profane tongue and crusty persona of an old buzzard. When she moved away she sold the business to a younger guy, who hired an older woman to run a second chair, and entering their shop was a tension-filled experience. The first look around was reassuring. There were still combs and stuff in blue Barbicide jars. The magazine rack was filled with sports, car, and hunting mags. The smut was up on the counter, where the kids can't get at it too easily. The daily paper was still the Union-Leader. They hadn't gotten rid of the R2-D2 vacuum with which to suck your neck clean after your cut. There were no women customers. And, best of all, the price was still under $10--though not the blessed $6 it had been for years. Despite these comforting signs, my trepidation returned when the next open chair was the lady's. We kept it light on the conversation, but as she finished up, and was trimming the back of my neck, she grumbled: "It's like sheering sheep back here." And all was right with the world...

Why was this seemingly simple and routine excursion so fraught? It's because men have so few places we can escape to nowadays where the atmosphere is wholly masculine. Women have forced their way into most of the institutions that used to be our private preserves. We have more child-care responsibilities than we used to, so there are often kids about in places where they were never seen before. Homosexuals, metrosexuals, and other PC sorts are likely to take offense on behalf of womankind even when we can mange to exclude the ladies. It grows harder and harder to find the spots, as in the title of this wonderful book, "where men hide."

James B. Twitchell is a professor of English at the University of Florida and has written a number of books on consumer culture. But an odd confluence led him to this topic--on the one hand he was struck by the images of Saddam Hussein being yanked out of his spider hole in Iraq and, on the other, came across a photo essay in Esquire featuring pictures of distinctively male spaces that were taken by Ken Ross. Where Men Hide features a generous selection of Mr. Ross's photographs and text by Mr. Twitchell that explores the meaning of the places pictured and why they're in decline. The photos are marvelous and it's easy to see why they captured the author's fancy. Mr. Twitchell's commentary is always provocative and informative and frequently fascinating--as befits an English teacher, he takes particular delight in examining how the origins of words reveal deeper meanings behind the terminologies we use today. However, his overall conclusions are pretty sketchy and there's a dichotomy that runs throughout the book -- and apparently his prior work -- that may explain why he doesn't tend to follow where his insights seem to lead.

In a radio interview about the book, you can hear Mr. Twitchell talk about how the places men hide are uniformly dank and dreary, but in the next breath say how inviting and comforting they are to him. The former would appear to be a socially proper feminized view, while the latter reveals his genuine feelings. No normal male would look at these images and be struck first by a feeling of revulsion. The instinctive reaction is certain to be: "Cool, I wish I was there." As the book goes on and Mr. Twitchell both demonstrates an obvious love for the places he's describing and then condemns them and the male attitudes that inhabited them somewhat harshly, the reader gets the feeling that he's just saying what he thinks he's supposed to say. It's like he's trying to say one thing -- a politically incorrect thing -- to fellow men and another to intellectuals -- one that won't get him run out of the Academy on a rail. He becomes the kind of untrustworthy narrator we're more used to in fiction, like Pale Fire or Debt to Pleasure.

The interesting this about this dichotomy is that it may be characteristic of the Professor's work. In the past he's set out to write a critique of consumerism and ended up penning a paean instead and I found this interesting comment in a review of another of his books, REVIEW: of Lead Us Into Temptation by James B. Twitchell (GAVIN McNETT, Salon):
It might be hard for the proper readership to find Francis Fukuyama's "The Great Disruption" or James Twitchell's "Lead Us Into Temptation," since neither is destined for the New Age section. But make no mistake: these are treatises of inner striving -- subtle and powerful documents of the soul's grappling with the ineffable. Fukuyama's book is an attempt by a prominent intellectual to demonstrate that community values can flourish under market capitalism; Twitchell's is a slick-jacketed paean to consumer culture by a curmudgeonly English professor. Underneath, though, both are desperate attempts to unravel a Zen-grade contradiction at the root of modern conservatism: How is it possible to want society to go forwards and backwards at the same time?
One would hardly call Mr. Twitchell a political conservative, but he would certainly seem to want to conserve the men's places he describes in this book. So when he slips in the condemnatory bits he does appear to be hoist on that Zen contradiction of valuing the old but wishing to be "progressive."

One of the judgments that Mr. Twitchell gets very wrong may or may not be a function of this tension. He writes that women have an easier time getting together and getting along, as reflected by things like their innumerable book clubs, while men have to go out of their way to schedule things like golf dates in order to even see one another. However, no one who knows any women thinks they generally get along very well. They have falling-outs and feuds that are inexplicable to men and don't have places to congregate specifically because they're ill-suited to random socializing. That, after all, is why they have to have rigidly structured groups. Men have places to go to for the very reason that given a place to gather they can bond with one another regardless of whether they were initially friends or not. Nearly any group of men sitting around a poker table, watching an NFL game on tv, fishing, hunting, or golfing can engage in some male bonding with no difficulty. Women don't bond--there isn't even a term for it because it doesn't happen (which you'd think the English teacher might have noted). The disappearance of male hiding places is sad because it deprives us of these easy opportunities to bond, but doesn't reflect anything broader about the gender. And, if men tend to stay home more these days--their new "places" being the Lazy-Boy recliner, the Widescreen tv, and the computer terminal--it's as much because they can hide at home -- since the wife is out of the house -- as because the other hiding places are fewer and farther between.

Now, don't get me wrong--there's so much to enjoy here that the book is highly recommended. Indeed, if you approach it properly, the structural flaw seems to be an oddly post-modern demonstration of Mr. Twitchell's own point. if you met him in a bar one night he'd likely tell you and the fellas just what he really thought, but a university press book is no place for a guy to hide.


Grade: (B)


See also:

Gender Issues
James Twitchell Links:
    -AUTHOR SITE James B. Twitchell (University of Florida)
    -BOOK SITE: Where Men Hide by James B. Twitchell (Columbia University Press)
    -ESSAY: Where We Go (LARRY MONTALI, March 1999, Esquire)
    -ESSAY: Jesus Christ's Superflock: Megachurches have found the secret to attracting the unchurched—and it's not just the Sunday service (James B. Twitchell, March/April 2005, Mother Jones) -EXCERPT: from Lead Us Into Temptation: The Triumph of American Materialism by James B. Twitchell: Chapter One: Attention Kmart Shoppers
    -ESSAY: Needing the unnecessary: the democratization of luxury (James B. Twitchell, August 2002, Reason)
    -ESSAY: IN PRAISE OF Consumerism (James B. Twitchell, August 2000, Reason)
    -ESSAY: How I Bought My Red Miata (James B. Twitchell, August 2000, Reason)
    -ESSAY: A (Mild) Defense of Luxury (James B. Twitchell, Regional Review)
    -ESSAY: ON ADVERTISING: Sut Jhally v. James Twitchell (Stay Free)
    -ESSAY: The Stone Age: A response to "The New Politics of Consumption" by Juliet Schor (James Twitchell, Boston Review)
    -ESSAY: Higher Ed, Inc (James B. Twitchell, Wilson Quaterly)
    -ESSAY: Frankenstein and the Anatomy of Horror (James B. Twitchell, Spring 1983, The Georgia Review)
    -EXCERPT: Frankenstein and Sons (from James Twitchell: From Dreadful Pleasures: An Antomy of Modern Horror)
    -REVIEW: of Financing the American Dream: A Cultural History of Consumer Credit, by Lendol Calder, (James B. Twitchell, Reason)
    -ARCHIVES: "james b. twitchell" (Find Articles)
    -PROFILE: The man cave: Men are driven by nature to hide out, preferably with other men, an author explains. It’s just that secret lairs are harder to come by. (FRED W. WRIGHT JR., May 28, 2006, St. Petersburg Times)
    -PROFILE: Professor’s New Book Looks at Where Guys Go — Just to be Guys (University of Florida)
    -PROFILE: You Are What You Buy: According to advertising guru James Twitchell, every symbol, from Alka-Seltzer's Speedy to the Energizer Bunny, plants powerful notions of who we are (Richard & Joyce Wolkomir, Smithsonian)
    -PROFILE: How to Save a Midlist Author (Sarah F. Gold, 6/20/2005, Publishers Weekly)
    -AUDIO INTERVIEW: The Man Cave (Living on Earth, May 5, 2006)
    -AUDIO INTERVIEW: 'Where Men Hide' (The Beat, 5/25/2006)
    -AUDIO INTERVIEW: Marketing Marlboros: James Twitchell—Professor of English and Advertising, University of Florida: One of the most powerful images in the tobacco industry is the rugged Marlboro Man. Advertising scholar James Twitchell tells us the story of the Chicago-born campaign. (Eight Forty-Eight, July 23, 2004, WBEZ Radio)
    -INTERVIEW: interview with James Twitchell, author of Where Men Hide (Columbia University Press)
    -INTERVIEW: interview with Ken Ross, photographer, Where Men Hide (Columbia University Press)
    -AUDIO INTERVIEW: Luxury vs. Necessity (Talk of the Nation, April 17, 2002)
    -AUDIO INTERVIEW: Luxury (Shoptalk, 5/06/03, BBC 4)
    -AUDIO INTERVIEW: What's in a name - a lot of money: Q + A: Cheryl Glaser with James Twitchell (Marketplace, 10/04/04)
    -INTERVIEW: MONEY MATTERS (Ray Suarez, February 1, 2000, Online Newshour)
    -ESSAY: A Hideout of His Own (FINN-OLAF JONES, May 18, 2006, NY Times)
    -ESSAY: Do Smarts Rule? (Thomas C. Reeves, October 29, 2004, The Wisconsin Policy Research Institute)
    -REVIEW: of Where Men Hide By James B. Twitchell (Mike Seely, Seattle Weekly)
-REVIEW: of Where Men Hide (Finn-Olaf Jones, Chicago Tribune)
    -REVIEW: of Where Men Hide (Siri Agrell, CanWest News Service)
    -REVIEW: of Where Men Hide (Jim Walsh, City Pages)
    -REVIEW: of Where Men Hide (Tom Webster, Edison Media)
    -REVIEW: of Where Men Hide (Michael McLeod, The Orlando Sentinel)
    -REVIEW: of Where Men Hide (Andro Blog)
    -REVIEW: of For Shame: The Loss of Common Decency in American Culture By James B. Twitchell (LAURA MANSNERUS, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of For Shame (Bill Marimow, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel)
    -REVIEW: of For Shame (DAVID FUTRELLE, Salon)
    -REVIEW: of For Shame (Steve Orlando, Science Daily)
    -REVIEW: of For Shame (Lisa Tozzi, Austin Chronicle)
    -REVIEW: of Carnival Culture: the Trashing of Taste in America by James B. Twitchell (Michael O. Garvey, Commonweal)
    -REVIEW: of Dreadful Pleasures: An Anatomy of Modern Horror. By James B. Twitchell (Lloyd Rose, NY Times Book Review)
    -REVIEW: of Dreadful Pleasures (Joshua Fischman, Psychology Today)
    -REVIEW: of Adcult USA by James B. Twitchell (Rex Roberts, Insight on the News)
    -REVIEW: of Adcult USA(Matthew Stanton, Metromemetics LLC)
    -REVIEW: of Adcult USA (Rogier van Bakel, Wired)
    -REVIEW: of Twenty Ads That Shook the World: The Century's Most Groundbreaking Advertising and How It Changed Us All by James B. Twitchell (Gwen Moran, Entrepeneur)
    -REVIEW: of Twenty Ads That Shook The World (Michael C. Gray, Profit Advisors)
    -REVIEW: of Twenty Ads That Shook the World (Wayne and Tamara)
    -REVIEW: of Lead Us Into Temptation by James B. Twitchell (Samuel Gregg, Religion & Liberty)
    -REVIEW: of Lead Us Into Temptation by James B. Twitchell (Rebecca Wyatt, Insight on the News)
    -REVIEW: of Lead Us Into Temptation (Judy Hopkins, ForeWord)
    -REVIEW: of Lead Us Into Temptation by James B. Twitchell(GAVIN McNETT, Salon)
    -REVIEW: of Lead Us Into Temptation (DAVID KUSNET, Baltimore Sun)
    -REVIEW: of Lead Us Into Temptation (Jack Sullivan, Washington Post)
    -REVIEW: of Lead Us Into Temptation (Geoff Lewis, Business Week)
    -REVIEW: of Lead Us Into Temptation (M.G. Lord, Village Voice)
    -REVIEW: of Lead Us Into Temptation (Mervyn F. Bendle, Screening the Past)
    -REVIEW: of Living It Up: Our Love Affair With Luxury By James B. Twitchell (Janet Maslin, NY Times)
    -REVIEW: of Living It Up (Michael Kammen, Business History Review)
    -REVIEW: of Living it Up (Kathleen Madigan, Business Week)
    -REVIEW: of Living it Up (Tom Welch, John Locke Foundation)
    -REVIEW: of Living it Up (Sandra Tsing Loh, Atlantic Monthly)
    -REVIEW: of Living It Up (Journal of American History)
    -REVIEW: of Living It Up (Michael Anft, City Paper)
    -REVIEW: of Branded Nation: The Marketing of Megachurch, College Inc., and Museumworld by James B. Twitchell (Mark D. Fefer, Seattle Weekly)
    -REVIEW: of Branded Nation (Marc Lesser, Shambhala Sun)
    -REVIEW: of Branded Nation (Robert Walch, America)

Book-related and General Links: