“Looking for Alaska” Sends a Message to Guys
October 21, 2019
In March 2005, author John Green published Looking for Alaska, a novel following the lives of high school students Alaska Young, Miles “Pudge” Halter, Chip “The Colonel” Martin and Takumi Hikohito, and all of their pranks, successes and struggles.
Fast-forward eight years: I, Parth, a scrawny 11-year-old, decide to pick up the book after reading one of Green’s other famous works, The Fault in Our Stars.
And I absolutely love it.
Fast-forward six more years: I find out that Hulu recently premiered an eight-episode television series based on the book.
I—being the avid John Green fan that I am—am absolutely stoked.
The screenplay actually stayed true to the original story. But as I was watching, I began noticing something that I hadn’t when I read the novel: traditional masculinity—on TV or in real life—is extremely limiting.
Weekday Warriors and Intellectuals
There seems to be a divide in the way the show portrays masculinity. On one end, you have the Weekday Warriors, the Colonel and father figures, who share more traditional ideas about masculinity. And while there’s nothing wrong with some traditional ideas about masculinity, these men share a masculine perspective that’s not always healthy. For example, these men advise their fellow male counterparts not to cry. The Colonel shares with Pudge that his father beat him if he engaged in “feminine” behaviors like reading. And Pudge—whose sex talk with his dad was simply, “Keep your pecker in your pants”—gets a completely different message about sex when he watches pornography that shows men objectifying women and actually “hurting them,” according to Alaska.
All of this is totally NOT O.K. It’s completely fine to cry as a guy. The whole idea of not having guys show emotion turns them into robots that can’t feel anything but rage! Things like reading and being intellectual aren’t “feminine.” They’re just some of the many activities guys can enjoy and ways guys can express themselves! And watching pornography that demeans women shouldn’t be the way guys learn how to act in sexual relationships.
On the other end of this “spectrum of masculinity,” you have characters like Pudge and Dr. Hyde, who express their masculinity through their intellect and peaceful natures. Pudge, for example, gets out of his first scuffle with the Weekday Warriors via the intellectual route. All he does to shoo away the big bullies and preserve the war is recite Millard Fillmore’s last words. And then there’s Hyde, a gay man who asks big questions and is always preaching harmony and benevolence to his students.
Be Your Kind of Man
As I look back on what I watched, it’s apparent to me that masculinity isn’t meant to dominate, demean or hurt other people. If Alaska’s dad didn’t feel the need to control and blame her, perhaps Alaska wouldn’t feel as depressed as she is and could actually feel safe to go home. Similarly, if the students of Culver Creek Academy didn’t feel the need to “flex their muscles” and pull off prank after prank, so much grief could be avoided.
If you haven’t read the book or seen the show, I won’t spoil it for you. But it takes a huge loss for the guys to come out of the bodies of their previously toxic characters. Tears are shed, emotions are shared and communication is opened up.
Looking for Alaska is sending us guys a message: no one can tell you how to “be a man,” whatever that means. Express your masculinity the way you want, and be a nice person while you’re at it.
I really hope you watch this show, and while you’re at it, guys, take some notes.