Does Hemingway’s Revival as Role Model Mean a New Male Lifestyle Demo?

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Approaching July 2, the 50th anniversary of the author’s death, is a new generation embracing Hemingway as a revolt against the rise of the perm-adolescent man-child? The manly men of the early 1960s, Hemingway proteges, are current pop culture icons.

Is the man-child on the decline and a new Hemingway era coming? And what does this mean for marketers?[more]

In the wake of the Ernest Hemingway fishing tournament, and on the eve of Hemingway Days, the annual Florida Keys event celebrating the man, gears up for its three-day run July 21 to 23, it seems “Papa” is regaining some of the popularity and respect his image had lost since his death, at his own hand, in 1961.

Country star Kenny Chesney’s 2010 album was titled Hemingway’s Whiskey. Why Hemingway? He told Billboard, “He’s traveled, he’s met all these wonderful characters, he’s written about them, he’s loved, he’s lost love, he’s lived with regret, he’s lived with depression, he’s lived with so much stuff. Why wouldn’t you want to have a beer and pick his brain… on a good day?”

This year, Hemingway is still all over pop culture.

In Woody Allen’s latest film Midnight in Paris a young Hemingway puts in an important cameo. Meanwhile, the novel The Paris Wife, a fictionalized account of the early (and poor) married years of Hemingway and Hadley Richardson, has scrapped its way to number 15 on The New York Times best seller list. The San Francisco Chronicle has been running a travel series “Hemingway’s Paris.”

Then there is the new HBO project titled Hemingway & Gellhorn. The film chronicles how journalist Martha Gellhorn came to meet, and marry, Ernest Hemingway. The film, also starring Nicole Kidman, casts Clive Owen as Hemingway, picking an actor women want and men want to be. Hemingway’s granddaughter Dree, meanwhile, is a rising star, most recently appearing in the commercial for Justin Bieber’s perfume.

In a recent look at the 50th anniversary of the author’s suicide, The Independent writer John Walsh put it thusly: “The idealised life of Ernest Hemingway, the one the writer himself wanted the world to buy, was simple: he was the perfect man, the perfect synthesis of brain and brawn.”

This idea of Hemingway as Spokesman of Man was put forward best by Joseph Waldmeir, whose essay “Confiteor Hominem: Ernest Hemingway’s Religion of Man” about the author’s award-winning book “The Old Man and the Sea” summed it up “Hemingway has finally taken the decisive step in elevating what might be called his philosophy of Manhood to the level of a religion.”

Indeed, what is more Hemingway than the current popularity of full beards on men?

The Hemingway revival may signal a revolt against a male lifestyle that author Julie Klausner defined recently as men who “talk about ‘Star Wars’ like it’s not a movie made for people half their age.”

The power shift to women from men, feminism, doting parents, a declining manufacturing economy — while the reasons for the rise of adult boys are many, the conclusion is the same: men are no longer acting “like men.”

Marriage stats, one traditional sign a man had moved in from boyhood, reflect this trend. While only 16% of men aged 25-29 were unmarried 40 years ago, 55% are today. As George Will aptly pointed out last year in Newsweek, during the Tiger Woods scandal, the golfer’s agent asked that everyone “please give the kid a break.” Woods at the time was 33. (Hemingway, meanwhile, was on his second wife and third son by 33.)

Former Esquire editor Marty Beckerman is the author of “The Heming Way” a new “male guidebook”  that helps men “realize their full potential as drunken, unshaven, meat-devouring, wife-divorcing, gloriously self-destructive manimals.” Beckerman says the new affection for Hemingway is

“because we don’t have any skills. We can use Twitter and Facebook and Google, but if you dropped us in the middle of the woods, we would be dead within an hour. We can’t hunt, we can’t fish, we can’t build shelter… we know less than the average cub scout. And we’re beginning to realize that, as we enter manhood — with jobs, wives, and kids —we’ve lost abilities that have defined us since the dawn of mankind. Everything we know comes from Wikipedia, not experience and adventure. And Hemingway personifies the opposite of that.”

Marketers have of course exploited a brewing blowback against the perm-boy lifestyle. But the efforts have usually rung false, communicated in the very language of that lifestyle. For example, Burger King’s 2007 ad “I am Man” campaign communicated a desire to “eat this meat,” but all the wink-wink chest thumping and mocking of “chick food” was just man boys playing at the idea of being “real men,” something achievable not through lifestyle, but the choice of a sandwich.

Beckerman says this is subtly shifting, pointing to the popularity of the Dos Esquis ‘Most Interesting Man in the World’ campaign, which he calls “really just a cheap Hemingway knockoff.”

The switch to accepting more traditional definitions of what it means to “be a man” is also on the rise in our entertainment. Mad Men’s 1960 boozing fast talker Don Draper has become a new male icon, irredeemable, but adult. The “Draper Man” will soon be echoed by the character Nick Dalton in the NBC drama The Playboy Club. Ironically, even the entertainment targeting the large populations of man children is subtly suggesting the change; in the latest X-Men film set in the 1960s, Professor X’s character is shown as a bit of a naughty, boozing rake, but a responsible and driven one. A man.

These early 1960s men learned to be men, in part, from Hemingway. So if men are now looking to Draper and company as role models, what they are really looking to is Hemingway.

For marketers looking to ride the next wave of male lifestyle trends, focusing on Papa, style and substance, could be worth the while.

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