While watching the rather excellent Slow West recently, something that had been laying dormant in me for a year or two awoke with a vengeance – my whopping great man crush on Michael Fassbender. It was inevitable. With Macbeth and his Steve Jobs biopic making headlines, he’s everywhere. Not only that, but in Slow West itself, he plays a macho outlaw who teaches his young lovelorn companion Kodi Smit-McPhee about being a man in the Old West. Phwoar.
As my mind raced with thoughts of the Fass’s sheer manly brilliance, I was reminded of the other man crushes that have gripped not only me, but other straight men across the globe. Ryan Gosling, Idris Elba, David Beckham, Bruce Springsteen, even Bill Murray: all are or have been the object of other men’s affections.
The cynics would retort that the man crush is little more than a buzz word – a faux ironic way for the repressed male to channel his repressed homosexual desires. But that’s too flippant: I don’t want to sleep with my man crushes (I do tend to be straight, after all); it’s more like I want to bethem. I admire their success, their talents; I want to emulate their natural charm and appeal to women, not to mention their ability to look fantastic in a suit.
But there’s still more to it than just success, talent and good looks. It takes a certain kind of bloke to have his fellow men swooning with platonic, misty-eyed love – a man’s man, if you like.
Let’s go back to Robert Pattison. If you told your mates you had a man crush on R-Patz, you’d get laughed out of the boozer; if you owned up to crushing on Fassbender, Gosling or Elba, chances are you’d be met with a chorus of grunts in manly agreement.
The effeminate straight man – or a man who’s been somehow cast as effeminate – is seldom the object of a proper man crush. Take Leonardo DiCaprio. Leo is one of Hollywood’s most respected leading men, but back when he first hit the big time in the 1990s, he was ridiculed by the lads of the day for his floppy hair and soft ladylike face. The same goes for those 90s boy bands, whose impeccable appearance and willingness to dance around with their oily bodies out put them at odds with most men, rather than making them the objects of bloke-on-bloke affection.
It was pure jealously, of course (contrary to the rumours that went round my school, none of Take That turned out to be gay – in fact, between them they’ve probably slept with more women than I’ve ever met). But they also tapped into new realms of masculinity that many men weren’t ready to embrace back then. Somehow, a part of that attitude has stuck. In man crush terms, R-Patz’s only real shortcoming is to have made his name in the perennially girlie Twilight movies; if he’d have come out all guns blazing in a Jason Statham-style bone-cruncher, with some decent stubble, perhaps he’d be a top man crush pin-up.
It’s the most manly men – or those with the most enviable of man skills – we’re crushing on. Fassbender is a tower of stoic ruggedness; Elba’s a complete hard-ass; Gosling’s the king of cool; Beckham’s football skills and dashing looks were good enough to make him a global superstar; Springsteen is a bicep-laden blue collar everyman who could work a split shift at the factory and still rock a three-hour stadium gig. And Bill Murray? Well, he’s the thing every man wishes he could be: the funniest bloke who couldn’t give a damn in every room.
There’s a primal urge to all this, with the objects of our man crushes playing the alpha, while we look on in googly-eyed wonder at their wanton manliness. Some men, after all, are just brilliant specimens. The man crush, I say, is a celebration of this, of the things about masculinity we secretly treasure.
Somewhere along the way, masculinity – the word, the concept, the whole shebang – has been tainted with such negativity. The common response seems to be that masculinity is immediately sexist or aggressive or oppressive. I say not so. Men are working on leaving the bad stuff behind, but we shouldn’t completely lose touch with our sense of self. We’ve deconstructed and poured over masculinity for long enough. Let’s allow ourselves a little celebration of its better qualities.
And don’t most of us actually love manly things? I know I do – style, looks, strength, athleticism, charisma. In fact, I don’t just love them, I covet and envy them too. That’s the root of my man crush on Fassbender and all the other brilliant specimens. Forget imitation; the man crush is the sincerest form of platonic, heterosexual flattery.
I’ve been criticised for celebrating masculinity before, and I’ll be criticised again I’m sure, but the man crush to me is the ultimate in progressive masculinity – a celebration of things that are natural to men, while not being too macho to admit you’ve gone all gooey for another bloke. Enjoy it, lads. Sometimes, it’s good being a man.