by Lynne Luciano
(Hill & Wang)
Lard ass. Cue ball. Horse face. Limp Dick and Li'l Smokie. No, these aren't villains out of Dick Tracy's Rogues Gallery, but rather, they are You: that proud yet tragically self-involved beast, the American Male. In her book Looking Good, Lynne Luciano surveys the last half of the 20th century for the development of male body image and the increased social acceptance of male vanity. Luciano shapes each of the last five decades into four primary areas of concern, consternation, and conquest for men: baldness, body shape, face, and, gulp!, pecker troubles.
All too soon, however, the reader realizes Luciano's primary focus is not men in general, but rather, a particular male demographic: "the white, middle to upper class, executive/professional, mostly straight and (dare I say) Californian baby boomer."
Luciano makes only perfunctory reference to less privileged men, implying that poor dudes can't afford to be vain, or couldn't care less about how they look, unless they're body builders. Nor is there meaningful discussion of non-white American men, unless we are to assume that over the last half century minorities have cultivated masculine wiles at pace with the white boy, but as yet haven't broken away from his fashionable influence. Check, please.
Even within the target range of Luciano's focus, only small percentages of men have participated in all the various vanity plays. For instance, in the '90s we've seen pretty boy fads culminate into extremes of self-enhancement: penile enlargement, hair transplants, liposuction, steroid use, and pectoral, calf, and buttock implants. When it comes to stretching the ole turkey neck, 15,000 American men have willingly, nillingly, insanely undergone penile enlargement surgery. That's out of roughly 100 million men. That's 15 hundredths of one percent. That's a curiosity of masculinity, not a crisis.
What is most insidious about this book is that, while arguing that men are progressively more fixated upon and victimized by the illusions of pop culture, Looking Good perpetrates its own advertisement of the media images and undercurrents of how a man is supposed to look--or at least, the only brand of man who is worthy of study.
Of course, Looking Good is not without humor. For instance, serious attention is paid to John Wayne Bobbitt, a man who certainly wrung lemonade from his poor severed lemon. Nor is the book completely without pathos: The horrifying case of the middle-aged carpenter whose schlong ends up shorter after his penile enlargement surgery goes terribly awry.
Despite the human interest stories, Luciano employs statistical sleight-of-hand in her study of male vanity. Looking Good is, unfortunately, little more than a very finely researched term paper--hardly surprising since Luciano is an assistant university professor. In fact, if we were the cynical type, we'd suspect this book was written primarily to afford the author a tenured position at California State's Dominguez Hills.
Regardless of Luciano's agenda, most men, in general do want to look good. So if we are to conclude anything from Luciano's book, it's that men have become fully vested in the right to be as vain and shallow and just plain silly as women.