Ever iconoclastic, DTW fearlessly investigates Bromance …..or is it Necromance?
Life is full of those niggling prejudices. However open-minded and liberal one tries to be, there are always certain things that one can’t excuse. Here’s a very short personal list, by no means comprehensive : Comedians. Pernod. Farting on the Underground. The Bugatti Veyron. Of course only one of the above is noxiously anti-social – and you know which one that is don’t you Ferdi?
But, to that list, I must add the late actor Steve McQueen, and this month has already been particularly trying on this front. First, the usually highly readable MotorSport had both a bumper 30 page Precision Watch special (another thing I can’t get) and, even worse, a 10 page Steve McQueen Le Mans feature to mark the release of a documentary about the 1971 feature film. Of course, just as the dumb jingle has to follow any mention of Intel processors, so must the words ‘King Of Cool’ be appended to any mention of Mr McQueen.
Then, as I opened my copy of Classic and Sportscar, a 16 page booklet fell out advertising http://www.thekingofcool.com , a business offering a huge variety of merchandise vaguely connected to the human iceberg.
Let me make it clear that I have no real gripe against the late actor. I was a lot younger than him when he died, now I’m a lot older than he ever was. I’ll even admit that, as a teenager, I thrilled to the car chase and, even, wondered if I could get my hair cut like Frank Bullitt. He actually had a fair acting range, as shown in the adaptation of Ibsen’s An Enemy Of The People (see top picture), a film you’re unlikely to find in most fanboy’s DVD collections. But, in other films, he created character by deliberately projecting none – the Steve McQueen the studios wanted was, to me, cold and blank rather than cool.
What little I know of the actual man suggests that he had a troubled, possibly traumatic, childhood and grew up to be someone complex and contradictory, with a reputation for being both a difficult personality, yet generous and loyal to those he liked. In other words he was a bit like many of us, and a lot like many actors. But, unlike many other actors who either don’t manage to live up to their screen reputations, or don’t even want to, since Steve McQueen died, the blur between man and character has become complete.
So what I really have is a gripe with the whole King Of Cool industry. Certain young men of all ages seem to have a fetish for the man. It’s not homoerotic, it is just absolute, puppy dog worship. You’ll find it everywhere, but it’s at its height in the world of motoring enthusiasts. Because he had a stable of good cars, because he starred in an archetype car chase movie and because he made a quasi documentary about Le Mans at a time when real documentary footage of good racing was sparse, we are supposed to be eternally in awe of him.
But of course it goes beyond this, he represents a masculine pinnacle to many, the man they’d like to be – irreverent, untroubled by responsibilities, self-indulgent and loved without having to make an effort. But for me the character he represents is not an ideal role model; it is withdrawn and taciturn. Young men are often reticent to show their feelings, and a frown and a look-straight-through-you stare are a good way to keep your true self private. But it’s a diminishing return – if you don’t give you don’t get.
He’s seen as brave. Bravery is finding the ability to do something that scares you. If it doesn’t scare you, you’re not brave, just fearless. Derek Bell tells the story of him leading McQueen and Jo Siffert through a bend, not exactly at the two professional’s ludicrously high personal limits, but at a very, very high speed. McQueen emerged ashen-faced, so knew that he was putting himself in danger, but was not going to back off. It’s clear that Bell liked and respected him, but was in no way in awe – if Bell has heroes, it’s in other spheres.
So he was brave and he was certainly a skilled driver. You’ll find many claims that he, Paul Newman and James Gardner could, had they chosen, have been top racers. And maybe Ayron Senna, Gilles Villeneuve and Jim Clark could have been top actors. From my vague knowledge of actors, Tom Cruise is brave. He does a lot of his own stunts and has acted characters who are ‘cool’. But in his rather public, private life, Mr Cruise is not seen as ‘cool’, by any means.
But the McQueen industry carries on inexorably. Guys sit in front of their screens, watching the Sand Pebbles or The Thomas Crown Affair on stop frame, trying the expression out until it’s near perfect. They buy replicas of his jacket from The War Lover and make up a 1:24 scale model of a green Mustang 390 GT to put on their bookshelves next to their 50 volume library of various McQueen themed books, and backed by a framed picture of The Man in his racing overalls sticking two fingers up at …. The Man. They’ve read that ‘women found him irresistible’ and, maybe, some of that will rub off. Well it won’t. The ‘icon’ that Steve McQueen has become is, to me a cypher for avoiding human engagement.
The whole concept of cool is deeply unromantic. I shouldn’t be writing about it this month