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The man cave

Men are driven by nature to hide out, preferably with other men, an author explains. It’s just that secret lairs are harder to come by.

Published May 28, 2006

When James B. Twitchell isn’t teaching English lit or advertising classes at the University of Florida, he’s observing his fellow men and their hiding habits.

For Twitchell, a professor of literature for 30 years, every male sanctuary is fair game for his observing eye. And what he observes he writes about. His latest book is Where Men Hide (Columbia University Press, $24.95).

Twitchell, 62, who teaches a course in advertising and culture, is a self-admitted hider himself. His university office has long been his refuge.

Chapter headings in his new book include “The Boxing Ring: Shame and Honor,” “The Baseball Dugout: Chew, Spit and Fight” and “The Recliner Chair: Hiding in Plain Sight.”

We asked Twitchell about the secrets haunts and habits of Hiding Man.

What led you to write this book?

When Saddam Hussein’s hidey-hole was discovered, for me, that was really intriguing. There was no video of his hiding place for six to seven days. What made that interesting, you started seeing on the Web all the various graphic designs that newspapers were generating for what they imagined this spider hole looked like. All cultures are fascinated by this.

In where famous people hide?

Men were interested in what Thoreau’s cabin looked like. What the Unabomber’s cabin looked like. In literature, we have Huck Finn, Deerslayer (James Fenimore Cooper), Hemingway — all these passages of men without women, men being with men, like at the bullfights.

So Saddam led you to write this book?

In this same time, I was getting my hair cut at a unisex salon — even the barbershops used to be for men only. I saw a magazine article with some pictures of men spaces. I’m interested in this from an advertising point of view. I like to study these places.

The photographer sent me a hundred photos of hunting blinds, offices, barbecues, NASCAR races, any place where men would go. I like to write about the deep cultural backgrounds of these places. Where are they? And how come most of them are no more?

For example?

Moose lodges, Eagle lodges . . .  They’ve all disappeared. They all just evaporated. Was it the rise of women’s movement? Television? What was it?

The book is a series of about 20 chapters where I take subjects like a deer camp or strip clubs or cars, garages, cellars — anyplace where a guy used to go by himself or with other guys. Very often (it) has been profoundly transformed.

If you go to Home Depot or Lowe’s, you’re as likely to meet a woman as a man.Do men hide in plain sight?

The baseball dugout is still a male sanctuary, one of the few that have been there almost entirely unchanged for the past 80 years. It makes no sense. No reason why these guys have to be underground. In all other sports, players sit on the playing surfaces.

The dugout being below ground, a lot of it had to do with protecting players from other fans. Male bonding. These guys play a lot. Also the fact that they have a whole ritual they do in the dugout, There’s a huge amount of spitting. Spitting is really male-bonding behavior. There were spittoons in old barbershops and bars and saloons.

Your book mentions deer-hunting camps.

It doesn’t take too much to look at a deer camp and figure out what’s going on. Spitting is huge . . . The very thing you can’t do at home, at deer camp, you celebrate — bad language, spitting, smoking cigars, going outside to pee, food that’s bad for you, jokes.

Guys who go deer hunting don’t go for hunting reasons. They would be embarrassed if they actually shot a deer. These guys are clearly going not for the hunting but for the rough camaraderie.

Do men realize they’re hiding when they go to the barbershop or deer camp or a neighborhood bar?

If you ask women if men are going out to a bar to be away from the women, they’ll say, “Yeah.” If you ask guys that, they say, “No.”

They think they just want to feel a certain way. And they feel comfortable very often in the company of other men. It’s very hard for men to get together. If women want to get together, they pick up a phone and have a book club.

Are there new places where the 21st century man goes to hide? Or be with other men?

One of more interesting current places are these huge megachurches — 10,000, 15,000 or more people. If you look at them, one of the reasons they’re so successful is they’ve got men to go back to church. Men go back . . . because these megachurches provide all sorts of men’s only groups: Bible study, barbecues, retreats.

What is the key quality of a good place for a man to hide in?

A place where there is control is important, a place where you feel comfortable. The La-Z-Boy chair. They tried to bring out a La-Z-Girl chair. No market for it. A guy enjoys sitting in it. He gets his remote control, and he’s at peace. There will always be hiding places.

So why are many of the traditional male-only places disappearing?

The reason these male-only places are disappearing is not just because of women. It’s got to do with the rise of the automobile.

Before cars, you walked down to the grange or you walked down to the Masonic lodge. Now you drive wherever you want to go. It made the car into the hiding place. The ultimate jerkmobile — the Hummer — is the pure male hiding place. It says, “Don’t get near me. I’m in this armored vehicle.”

At what age do males start needing to hide?

Boys were going off into the woods to a clubhouse with No Girls Allowed signs for years. It all comes from male tribal behavior.

Women have children and, by virtue of having children, they’re not particularly efficient hunters, slaughterers and killers. To do this efficiently, men have to bond and do this in a group to do it efficiently. That’s why male-only groups have these stupid rituals.

If you’re going to hunt with someone or go to war with someone, you have to make sure they watch your back.

Where else do men today go to hide and/or to bond with other males? Are there any places left?

A 21st century hiding place is the Internet and these megachurches. There are plenty of other places where men go . . . The free weights section at the gym. In free weights, it’s mostly men. You can see these guys are really comfortable, helping each other out.

And the traditional male bonding venues?

Some are coming back. Men-only barbershops are coming back. There’s a chain of old-time barbershops called Roosters. There are 15 so far in the Southwest and more coming.

Fred W. Wright Jr. is a freelance writer .

[Last modified May 28, 2006, 20:07:23]

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