Thursday, 26 May 2011

D is for Danger

The old saying, 'the clothes maketh the man' takes on rather worrying connotations in this age of homogeny.  Most men dress for safety, to blend in and not have anyone notice or mention their apparel. If we were all to follow this template it would be a very bland world indeed.

Whether we admit it to ourselves or not, most all of us want to be safe in this life. But the fact is, no matter how well, or how badly we plan things, there is still so much of our lives that is beyond our control. Life is full of danger. 

Many of these dangers are foist upon us, but some of us seek them out.

What is it about danger that is attractive?

Why should a Gentleman flirt with danger?

And why are so many women attracted to seemingly dangerous men?

The true gentleman has a taste for danger and is not afraid to express his individual character through his views, his dress sense, and in the way he walks through the world.

To take some notable examples, Marlon Brando, James Dean and Elvis Presley became hugely influential at least in part due to a sense of danger in their presence. Being handsome didn’t do them any harm either, but it was the fact that they were dangerous that set them apart and ignited the world over, crossing borders, language and generations to make them icons of men’s style.

Rock ‘n’ roll wild boys and alcohol and drug abuse have been the bane of 'normal' society for they represent something uncontrollable and unpredictable. Ultimately most of these figures are crushed by or subsumed into the mainstream through time, their dangerous edges smoothed out. 

Yet, the reality is all of us have a desire to find something wild within us, to move beyond the containment of social conditioning. 

Some men are gamblers, some are skydivers, some play the stock market and others go to war, I have always found that the stage is a good place for Danger. After more than twenty years performing, the possibility of spontaneous action amidst the ebb and flow of a live show still remains exciting. It has led to a number of memorable accidents during shows over the years. The scars I bear are those of experiencing and embracing danger, but I must admit, there is nothing particularly romantic about the ongoing danger of rolling my ankle or popping my knee in the wake of these moments of wild abandon.

None of us want to live life in fear, yet we are beset by our own host of personal demons on a daily basis. Danger offers an escape from this, tapping into a primal sense of being in the moment, having to deal with what it is that is that is dangerous and forgetting about all else.

As much as we quest to be more civilized and peaceful, the world is still beset by violence and turmoil. We seek this out. Men have as many dark, destructive urges as we have capabilities to build and to give and nurture. If we can find a balance between these two opposites, perhaps we can find peace within ourselves.

But how does a Gentleman incorporate these ideas into his life? Should he not prove that he is beyond such conflicting desires? Well, yes and no. The only way to find our higher selves is through the acknowledgement of the beast within us. The beast can be tamed to a degree, it has to be, otherwise we would live in a very horrible world. But the beast is always there, within our hearts and minds, and it is dangerous.

Saint Clare recently said to me ‘You are like the Beast’ (she was referring to the fabulous Disney musical adaptation of the classic tale of Beauty and the Beast) and I said back to her, ‘and that makes you Beauty’.

This may seem like a shallow gender stereotype on the surface, but there is more at play here. Beauty is personified in the film as not only lovely to look at, but strong-willed and intelligent, not conforming to the reductive stereotypes of the village around her, dreaming of a more exciting world through constantly reading books and her flights of imagination, yet with a down to earth grip on the reality of day to day life and a good sense of reason. Wow, I wish I was Beauty.

The Beast on the other hand, broods over what could have been of his life, fuelled with anger and resentment. He is powerful in form, but is impotent as he has been banished from society and lives alone in his haunted castle. Slowly, the Beast finds his better self through his love for Beauty and in the end must confront the hatred of society that has banished him due to the awful crime of being ‘different’. He must confront his bestial self to find his inner Prince. 

It is Beauty who gives him the strength to do this for she has the insight to see that there is a sensitive man lurking beneath his terrifying visage. In part she is attracted to the danger, but she is also fearful of its damaging potential. Beauty sees through the beast to the man and it is through love that the hateful side of the Beast is transformed.

Well, I think I have a few positive attributes that the Beast does not have, but still there is some truth in the analogy. There is a lot to unpack here, and you may wonder what impact all of this has upon the world of gentleman’s grooming and deportment, but stay with me.

I posit that within everyone there is a Beauty and a Beast, and a gentleman must nurture his inner beauty and he must groom his inner beast. The two must live together, not necessarily in harmony, but with acceptance. We all have the capability for acts of kindness and acts of cruelty, we can be careless with ourselves and others, yet we still have the ability for surprising generosity and selflessness.

Caring about our inner selves is directly connected to caring about our outward appearance. The deep chasm of the psyche within us is a dangerous place, and one of the few ways to fathom those incomprehensible depths is to have a strong sense of self. What better a way to have a strong sense of self than to care about what you wear, how you wear it, your hairstyle and how your inner self fits into the world of the surface.

I began this missive by saying D is for Danger, and so too I will end it.

Danger is all around us, no matter what choices we make. Conformity is dangerous as it stifles the needs of the individual. Many choose to belong to a tribe and find their sense of self. This can be fulfilling, but danger there lies in the limitation of possibilities. Non-conformity too is rife with its own attributes of danger, the danger of slipping away into 
alienation and madness. The world is not always kind to free thinkers and still too often they are celebrated only after they have shuffled off this mortal coil.

So where is there some satisfying middle ground?

In trying to find our individuality, we must accept that we are each a melting pot of influences, that we have a strong and unique sense of ourselves and at the same time we are all, in part, the sum of what has come before us and what will remain when we are gone.

D is for Danger my friends. It waits for us around every corner, so it’s no use trying to run from it. Embrace danger and invite home for tea and you may well find that you get on a lot better than you expect.


Captain Frodo in the Carnival of Dreams

Photos by Simon Schluter, Saint Clare, Caro and Paul Zenon