Let me start by optimistically saying that maybe these jeans are just a publicity stunt. Would someone really pay $425 for jeans covered in fake “dirt”? Okay, maybe they would.
Mike Rowe, most known for being the host of the Discovery Channel’s Dirty Jobs, ridiculed anyone who might buy the Barracuda Straight Leg Jeans from Nordstrom. He calls such people “inauthentic,” as these jeans don’t have “real mud” but have “fake mud” on them. “Something to foster the illusion of work. The illusion of effort. Or perhaps, for those who actually buy them, the illusion of sanity.”
What got us to a place where a store is betting that people will pay $425 for “dirty” jeans so they can pretend to be something they’re not? Talk about someone with a pathetic, inauthentic life.
Isn’t America supposed to be a place where people roll up their shirtsleeves to get things done, a place where people pull themselves up by their own bootstraps? Are we fast becoming a country of fakers?
America, after all, has long been a place where we ask those we meet, “What do you do?” Europeans rarely ask this question. In Japan this question is actually considered to be impolite. But America is supposed to be a nation of doers. It’s in our cultural DNA to define ourselves by our hard work. Our value actually falls if we don’t know how to start a fire, change a tire or fell a tree. This is one reason some wealthy, urban wannabes might just pay $425 for “dirty” jeans. Who knows, in this image-stricken culture it might make them feel more like men.
Nevertheless, at the end of the work day, an American is still someone who can proudly answer the question, “What do you do?” The thing is today we too often miss the fact that it really doesn’t matter what we do as long as we pay the bills, have pride in our work and respect where our meat comes from. It’s this last condition that many today are uncertain about. This is because the process of literally earning our own sustenance, and thereby learning how nature truly functions, is a critical segment now largely missing from our education.
Tellingly, our loss of a tangible role in nature is a recent phenomenon: In 1790, about 90 percent of Americans were farmers, but the percentage of Americans farming fell to 64 percent by 1850, to 38 percent by 1900, to 12 percent by 1950, and to about 2 percent of the American population today. So, just two or three generations ago, more than one out of every 10 people in America still dealt with the wildlife that ate their crops, and with insects, droughts and floods. And even those who didn’t farm in 1950, likely had a relative or a friend who did; as a result, they were still close enough to the natural process to understand how food was grown and what farmers had to do.
But now, with just two out of every 100 Americans still tilling the land and six out of every 100 Americans hunting, we have in just the last two generations transitioned into a society that is so successful the bulk of the public doesn’t know where its food comes from much less how to get a dirty job done. This is a staggering thing.
Theodore Roosevelt, a hunter, conservationist, and president, noted our waning connection to nature in 1899, when he wrote, “Over-sentimentality, over-softness, in fact washiness and mushiness are the great dangers of this age and of this people. Unless we keep the barbarian virtue, gaining the civilized ones will be of little avail.”
Roosevelt thought that, if we’re not accustomed to getting our fingernails bloody, or at least dirty, we can hardly be expected to remain manly. Indeed this, more than any other factor, has softened men’s hands and feminized their behavior. Because, though it’s fashionable among conservatives today to blame feminism for creating metro-sexuals, the truth is sissified males aren’t the result of women donning suits and toting briefcases. Males don’t get manicures, have highlights put in their hair and have their eyebrows plucked because a woman has the corner office. No, the cause is a lack of concrete connection to the earth. Just travel to any third-world country where men still have to till the earth with their hands and hunt to fill the pot, and look around and see if you can find a “girlyman” admiring his reflection in a stream like Narcissus and wishing he had a fuller-bodied shampoo. Such men don’t exist far off the pavement.
It’s not a bad thing that we’re so successful most of us don’t work on farms. It is a bad thing that we’re too often misunderstanding what builds character and how to get it back. That some are trying to fake it is the most pathetic thing of all. (I wrote a book on the adventurous path men and women can follow to prove themselves and thereby to become all they can be, it’s called, because why not be straightforward, This Will Make a Man of You.)