Saturday, May 02, 2009

Aggregate Man

For as long as I can remember, boys and men in my life have collected. Not only do we collect, but we like to discuss our collections. We give counts and data, discuss processing techniques, and always highlight our prized possessions. I'm sure many women have a similar need to accumulate stuff, but men take it to another pathetic level.

As a kid, we collected things like action figures or baseball cards. Eventually, we moved to stereo equipment or cars. Sometimes, we even collected sexual escapades. This continued into adulthood. Some of us outgrew these obsessions and moved on to beer/brewing or sports cars, but others stuck with their childhood fixations.

No matter the collection or hobby, we always tried to one-up each other. "You may have a Cal Ripken Jr. rookie card, but I have two, plus a Ricky Henderson and a Ken Griffey." There's this constant pressure to be able to have one more or one better than your friend.

A typical conversation between two men who are into indie rock may go something like this...

Guy 1: Dude, I just found a rare first pressing of Sonic Youth's Daydream Nation at Vintage Vinyl.
Guy 2: Yeah, I found a rare Germs 7" and a Pavement import from '91 there last week. Have you heard Evol or Sister? Those albums blow the doors off Daydream.
Guy 1: I don't know. I've seen Sonic Youth at least two...I mean, six times and they always play more material from Daydream than those other records.
Guy 2: Well, I saw them play eight times and one of those was when they played Daydream in its entirety, but the best part was when they played songs from Rather Ripped for the encore.

It would go on from there. Each collected item or experience is one-upped with another vignette. In between, subtle put-downs are slipped into the conversation.

A conversation about beer might go something like this...

Guy 1: Hey, you wanna come over? I have four Hopslam in my fridge.
Guy 2: Yeah, sure. I have a six-pack of Hopslam, plus a Maharaja back home.
Guy 1: We could watch the game. Yeah, I've had the Maharaja, but the Caldera IPA is way better.
Guy 2: The Cards are playing Mets, right? The Caldera's in a can. I prefer my IPA's in a bottle. Besides, it's no Pliny the Elder. Ever had that?

Again, It's not enough for one guy to have something of interest. The second guy always has to possess something better or more of the same. The vicious cycle continues as each guy saves face with better information or larger quantities. It's always about one-upping the first guy, subtly putting him down.

Why do we do that? What voids are we trying to fill? What are we compensating for? (And don't just say "penis size". It has to be more than that.)

What bothers me the most is that despite my awareness and general resistance to pissing contests I still partake in the ritual. I've always seen better rock shows or owned more albums or tried rarer beers. On top of that, I feel this necessity to build my collections and experiences in preparation for that next male encounter. Why do I do this?

It's not any better when you can't compete. You share an experience with another guy and all he can do is prove that his experience is superior in some way. He saw Clap Your Hands Say Yeah on their first tour or has two Dark Lords sitting in his stash. You can't measure up. So, you feel small, insignificant.

But it's just stuff, right?

What ultimately happens - for me, anyway - is that I back off for a while. It becomes apparent that any enjoyment I may have gleaned from my collections or hobbies is lost in an arms race with my buddies. The one-upsmanship ruins the experience and consumes me. So, I take a step back and return to what attracted me in the first place.

However, I don't think it is the same for many men. They progressively become more and more involved with their past times, neglecting their friends, family and themselves in the process. The arms race takes over. It becomes more about accumulating or aggregating than a leisurely pastime.

I'm not sure where I'm going with this. It's just that I sometimes neglect the people who are important to me or forget how to enjoy life when I get wrapped up in these pissing contests. Sometimes it's really OK to just enjoy a beer for the sake of being a beer or to listen to the same album everyone else is listening to without having to impress the dude hanging out with you.


Pizza Cottontail said...

There's a place for pissing contests. It's like when I go to my Repub family's house, instead of initiating a discussion talking the Democrat's kickass 60 seat majority, I'll maybe talk about what a good show "House" is.

In music terms, it's much easier to talk with someone about, say, the number of times I've seen Wilco in concert than it is to talk about the interplay between repeated listenings to "Summerteeth" and mind-fucking depression. Re: baseball, it's easier to compare Topps v. Upper Deck (or Yanks v. Sox) than to wax weepy nostalgic about the first baseball game I went to with my dad. Etc.

jmenter said...

I've never seen this as being either a strictly or even predominantly male behavior.

Women do it too (although they tend to be a little bit more sly about it.) It's just one of those human things I think.

We're all trying to fill the empty spaces in our souls.

(Did I one-up the post?)

comoprozac said...

Bravo, Pizza. Well played.

I realize there are exceptions, but this is my blog and I can make all the generalizations I want.

Actually, I do notice some similar behavior in women. When women talk about pregnancy and giving birth, there is this little battle that goes on where one birth story has to outdo the other. It's really bizarre. I mean, one birth is not better than the other, but there's something making these women want to push their birthing stories to the top.

Is that what you're talking about, jmenter?