I have a running joke with my friends about “the Man.” We use the phrase as a substitute for “awesome” or “cool,” but to add to any pretense of actually thinking WE’RE cool for using it we always include the “the.” We will refer to an event as “the man” or a song as “the man,” basically extrapolating from the upsettingly lame phrase “You da man!” Don’t get it? “Use it in a sentence, Rob!” Okay!
“That’s pretty the man.”
“Yeah, her friends were unexpectedly the man.”
“THIS CAR IS THE MAN!”
“The word ‘yes’ is way more the man than ‘yeah.’”
One late, beer-sodden night, a few of us sat out on the porch and began riffing on what “the man” is. Is Bruce Willis the man? Are his marriages the man? Is 90s Alt Rock actually the man or ironically the man? We stumbled right into a great existencial question. What makes a man? What’s man-ly? How can we define anything as “the man” when we don’t really have a measuring system for “the man” outside of our own like and dislikes, yet we still can clearly draw a common thread through all of the things we believe are “the man?” After a great deal of discussion and liver-and lung-threatening material, we decided the essence of “the man” is not giving a shit.
That is to say, a lack of doubt, not the presence of apathy. Not giving a shit is not a passive thing, it’s actually the opposite. It means you are doing what you want to and believe you should do, and contrary thoughts or other people’s opinions don’t matter much. They don’t like that you shaved your head? You don’t give a shit, you like it. It feels good. They think “Speed Racer” was an awful movie? You don’t give a shit, you really enjoyed watching it and you think it’s a cinematic milestone. They think My Chemical Romance sucks? You don’t give a shit, they’re loud and fun and good and those tools don’t have to listen if they don’t want to.
One of the early episodes of Family Guy, back when they were sure they were getting cancelled, featured a rather “the man” moment. Stewie, the inexplicably British, malevolent child in the family does his best to tell a joke. When greeted with no response, he pauses, then shrieks out “I DONT HAVE TO F*CKING IMPRESS YOU,” and leaves.
And we don’t. Our actions and convictions alone should impress you. I don’t have to measure myself against you or what you think I should be. My life, my call.
There is another phrase that is used commonly amongst my friends: “determined.” We use it as a way of describing something that is really REALLY serious about itself. Songs that think they’re going to change the world, or people with permanently furrowed brows. Think of the guy at the concert who keeps his hands at his side but closes his eyes and jumps as high as he can to the music. He might not even be having fun, he’s so determined about this song. Being determined is good at times, but you can’t be too determined if you’re going to be the man. Fun is an absolutely crucial part of being the man.
What we settled on that night was this:
“Being the man is working hard, not giving a shit, having fun and not being too determined about yourself.”