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Imperial Settlers: Roll and Write
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Ral Zarek and the Male Ideal

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Well, you never made a move, bro . . . She was asking for it; I just gave her what she wanted, ya know? C’mon, you woulda done the same . . . 

WARNING: Critical thinker content ahead. This article contains generalizations (it’s the only way you can get anything said) and opinions. Read at your own risk.

I laughed when I read this—after all, the guy looks like a cocky jerk. Then, I quieted. I had to admit to myself that when I first saw this wallpaper, my initial reaction to Ral was: Hmmmm, pretty hot. Beneath the superficially lighthearted tweet, I felt undercurrents of truth that touched some of my own inner feelings.

Why on earth would I have that thought about this smug cat? Would I have gone out on a date with him? Would I have let him kiss me in the car? Often, we mistake aggression, assholery, and arrogance for confidence. We like to be around confident people because their energy mitigates our own doubts and shores up our own wills. Thus, a lot of young people become stuck in relationships with jerks (of both genders). When I say I want you to pick a restaurant for me, it’s not antifeminist. It’s because I want to relax and rest in the aura of your confidence about where we eat.

Izzet Guildmage may not look like much, but he receives VIP treatment at all the best Ravnica bars (he remodeled major distillers’ column stills to maximize profits).

My male friends’ reaction to Ral’s mean-bro posturing reminded me forcibly of female players’ reactions to fantasy art. While many female MTGers appreciate the beauty of MTG cards, most concur the breastastic and skimpy depictions are disturbing. Female overexposure versus male conservatism (in costuming) is a constant sore point. In contrast, I never hear men complain about a guy’s loincloth in an art piece or the fact that Gideon is built like a glory-days Schwarzenegger.

Izzet Staticaster receives high marks for attitude, her reasonable outfit (on most counts), athletic body type, and her joie de vivre attitude.

This is probably because males and females (generally) operate under different social-pressure systems. Females deal with feeling undermined by fashion models, magazines, butt doubles, popular pretty girls, and our own mothers (whom we consider beautiful, kind, enduring). Males feel victimized by stronger (not buffer) bullies, testosterone-ridden athletes, the dude with the better car/job/house/yacht, the sleazy friend, their own fathers (whom they consider competent, driven, successful).

“Dad? Dad? Are you busy with the lightning right now? Can we play? Dad . . . ?”

Thus, women MTGers have a strong gut reaction to scantily-clad women who they feel represent an unachievable, unfair physical ideal that has been tormenting us for years. Meanwhile, male MTGers have a strong gut reaction to depictions of jerk-face dudes who they feel represent the masculine assholeness that has tormented them for years. It’s an interesting difference.

I have never yet heard a female Magic player say, “Wow, that Vraska looks like such a bitch. I can’t stand that art.”

Based on reactions to MTG art, I would have to conclude that in the community, perhaps males really are concerned with competitive jerkism (but maybe don’t talk about it readily due to other social pressures about “sucking it up” and not being “wussy”) and females are more concerned with physical and sexual objectification boxing them in to roles and casting them as outsiders.

Not now, honey. I’m brainstorming.

Rather fortuitously, another tweet (from GM writer Natasha Lewis Harrington) showed up linking to a man’s reaction to Daniel Craig’s over-buffed bod in the new James Bond flick Skyfall. Take the time to read this guy’s column, if you can, because I’m very interested in hearing your reactions.

Here is a summary of my reaction to Cohen’s article:

Context matters: The article is by an older gentleman and for older gentlemen (it’s Washington Post, for Serra’s sake).

Author’s aging insecurities are showing, being displaced onto Craig’s pecs.

Let’s ignore the line about Grace Kelly and Gary Cooper in High Noon because if we take you seriously, you are positing their characters’ May–December romance (Kelly twenty-three, Cooper fifty) as a feather in the cap of the male protagonist, which by extension turns the female character into a piece of meat. You are a better writer than this.

Yes, you have to deal with the physicality of the Daniel Craig Bond. But you also have that Dos Equis guy, who hasn’t lifted weights—except for the rocks glass full of cognac in his hand—in years, and is The Most Interesting Man in the World—admired, hypersexualized, marketed as an ideal way for a man to be. Do women get to have Dame Judy Dench or Helen Mirren out there in a comparable campaign, being paid to represent sex appeal at age fifty-plus? No, we don’t. Count your blessings.

Stop whining.

Sometimes, when I get nervous, I put my hands under the straps of my covalent bond destabilizer and then I smell them, like this . . . 

Despite the fact that with my writer hat on and from a female perspective I can find numerous flaws in Cohen’s article, I actually empathize with his feelings in the context of outcast versus insider. Cohen is writing this article from the standpoint of Smart Nerd, who is, yet again, being tormented by the easy popularity of Buff Jock. He’s championing the men who have spent time building up knowledge, becoming successful at their crafts, taking time to learn to be a good lovers . . . and yet inevitably lose the race to the dude who did the most pushups in those gym-class fitness tests.

What is overlooked in Cohen’s article is the fact that many men identify with Craig’s Bond (over Brosnan’s or Connery’s) because muscle definition and athleticism are tangible and achievable goals—as opposed to wit, intelligence, and sensitivity, which might never be yours, no matter how hard you work, depending on what cards life has dealt you.

Bori Andon gets his forelock bleached twice a month and endorses Frederic Fekkai hair products.

Compared to learning to be clever, getting in shape is a breeze! So, Cohen’s missing the fact that many males who would watch Sean Connery and secretly think, “Wow, I can never be that witty or nuanced or suave . . . ” might watch Craig and think, “Hey, if I just work out a little and act with conviction, I might be as badass as this guy . . . ”

Additionally, look at the Bond character. Whether he’s rawr and steroidal like Craig’s or pasty and a bit of a dandy like Brosnan’s, Bond clearly had to work hard to hone his talents to make it where he is. He’s tormented by the repercussions of his profession, which basically consumes his entire life, and he’s incredibly lonely since his life dictates he can’t have any kind of normal intimate relationship. These aspects of the character, I think, speak loudly to both men and women.

The mage on Counterflux is not only talented in magic but is also a professionally trained Cirque du Soleil dancer.

In other words, I would postulate that Bond is not a creatine-fueled dumb jock who fell into success, but rather a nerd who decided to become active, work hard, and kick some ass, increasing his physical discipline and funneling his mental energy into an extremely dangerous, trying, and elite career. There is nothing hotter than a smart, introspective guy who can also bang out a few good pushups.

The ideal we should push for, for both men and women, is the Most Interesting Person in the World Who Is Sort of Fit and Is a Kind Person.

Sometimes, we durdle for decades before we realize we’re doing so.

Peruse the images of the Izzet guild in this article. Apparently, it’s a guild made up of old men, jerk-face Ral Zarek, and a lot of really nubile, really bangin’ lady mages. I don’t actually take issue with the longstanding fantasy trope of idealized female and male bodies, as long as we’re fair about it. Skin for skin, please. And if that takes us to a weird place, maybe it’s time to be more sparing with the female flesh quota where it doesn’t really make sense.

RAARGH YEEAH!!! My cleavage is just so eye-poppingly nature-defying, WOOT!!!

Wizards of the Coast, we really need some fat grandmas blasting face here. And a wallpaper of Ral Zarek being pushed off that roof, his shirt open to the navel, exposing his bare chest—and he should be wearing a loincloth that flutters up just enough to almost . . . well, you know—in the breeze of his impending doom. Thanks.

Till next time, may Magic be your counterburn.

-MJ