No, oddly enough, the remasculated man of which we speak more closely resembles Guy Ritchie's Sherlock Holmes. On the surface, Robert Downey Jr.'s steampunk version of the English detective comes across as a bit of a fop—he's a connoisseur of waltzes and brocade waistcoats, and he's got an unusual streak of possessiveness when it comes to Watson. But this Holmes also happens to be a pillar of confidence, a strategic genius, and a gifted, chiseled practitioner in the art of kicking ass. Just watch him in slo-mo as he prepares to dispatch an opponent by thinking through every step of the bone breakage and jaw dislocation that he's about to inflict. He's a man of words and action. A refined badass. He's a gentleman, absolutely, but that doesn't mean he always has to be gentle.
Which is a crucial distinction. For a while now, American men seem to have endured the shocks and shifts of the past 10 years by collectively cowering—by retreating into a safe, soft, risk-averse, and often narcissistic fortress of solitude. In 2005, this magazine stated it plainly: "The average 21st-century guy is a quilted man, tucked under a fluffy coverlet and surrounded by throw pillows. His world is one of comfort and frippery. His idea of agony is getting his chest waxed—which, to be fair, is said to be agonizing—and his idea of frustration is trying to unclog the john while his wife makes fun of him." That approach is not going to cut it anymore. You can feel it. The decade that lies ahead already has a Glengarry Glen Ross undercurrent of make-or-break to it: Supersize me or Marginalize me—those are your options, without a lot of wiggle room in between.
Such a shift is evident in the bumper crop of Oscar-worthy dude-in-a-spiritual-crisis films like Crazy Heart and Up in the Air—movies in which the cinematic drama hinges on whether a guy will finally get his shit together, find a new focus, and move forward. The recent spring fashion shows in Milan were rife with military imagery. "The mood of the collection is a saying we have in Italian," Gianfranco Ferré designer Roberto Rimondi declared in the New York Times. "Use the final bullet in your gun." The man of the moment is a sniper. He knows that getting ahead in a fractured, fluid world is no longer a matter of fishing with dynamite; it's about taking aim and going after what you want. You can see it with actor James Franco, who drop-kicked a stagnant bucket of Hollywood's conventional wisdom by enrolling in writing classes at Columbia University, taking on gay-friendly roles in films like Milk and Howl, gamely air-dropping into General Hospital, and proclaiming his love of poetry while squiring his gorgeous girlfriend Ahna O'Reilly to red-carpet parties—and becoming a bona fide star in the process. You can see it with Democratic politician Harold Ford Jr., who, having been thwarted in his plan to become the first African-American leader of the free world, uprooted himself from his home state of Tennessee and launched a campaign to capture a New York seat in the U.S. Senate—against the wishes of his own party and his president. You can see it with Conan O'Brien, who has spent the better part of his adult life banking on being an NBC talk-show host—and will now take a skydive into the ether of reinvention. While it would be an exaggeration to say that a Promise Keepers-style movement is afoot, there are charged particles of change in the air. The runaway success of next-gen self-help gurus like Gary Vaynerchuk and Timothy Ferriss is a clear sign that America's dutiful salarymen are looking for ways to navigate a new, uncharted territory, one in which the old rules about careful investing, "skill sets," and professional advancement no longer apply.