Editor's note: This article is a part of a head-to-head. Read the other article here.
American men’s magazine Esquire published a highly controversial cover article earlier this month titled “An American Boy” with the subtitle “What it’s like to grow up white, middle class, and male in the era of social media, school shootings, toxic masculinity, #MeToo, and a divided country.”
Ryan Morgan is the 17-year-old, white, middle class male the cover article focuses on. He loves football and video games. His divorced parents support President Trump. He lives in West Bend, Wisconsin where 95 percent of citizens are white, President Trump won 67 percent of the county’s vote and moderate conservatives are considered liberals.
Ryan thinks parties are lame. He’s barely been outside the state. He’s one of 2,300 students at a nationally recognized high school where security and active-shooter drills make the possibility of shootings a daily reality. He’s set on working at a water plant rather than going to college. He doesn’t use social media. He claims to be interested in politics but doesn’t remember what the #MeToo movement is. Like the title says, he’s an American boy growing up in a pivotal and disruptive time.
Critics immediately took shots at Esquire and Ryan. Some despised that Esquire picked a privileged white male to be the image of the American boy. Some attacked Esquire over the fact that it was published during Black History Month. Some said that the last thing anyone wants to read is another story about a white male with a sob story.
While these critiques are absolutely valid, this story is one that is worth telling and not one to immediately discredit. Esquire never said that this is “the” American boy. This is one article of a series that aims to explore the daily lives of Americans. Also, the issue is technically the March edition, even though it was printed in February. In regards to “another story about a white male,” at this particular point in history, a story about a boy like Ryan is interesting and worth the read due to the insight it provides.
Ryan’s story is boring and uneventful. The article doesn’t mention any tragedies or incredibly difficult personal obstacles he’s faced. His life could be a snapshot of a white, teenage boy in the '50s, aside from video games and the political questions his peers sometimes force upon him.
His life in relation to the current political climate is where the true interest lies. With a President who seems to fuel every political tension known to America, I’m curious as to what life is like for someone like Ryan. The article refrains from drawing any conclusions about Ryan that he hasn’t directly said. However, it appears Ryan is a bit lost among the political discourse and doesn’t know what to make of it. He expresses overtones of supporting traditional gender roles, but that’s about the most I dare to psychoanalyze him.
His conservative upbringing clashes with progressive peers. He’s just beginning to see the world outside of his hometown. He doesn’t have strong feelings about any political ideals yet. When I was 17, as far as I can remember, the only strong political ideals I had were being in favor of same-sex marriage, gender equality and mental health awareness. All of those stemmed from personal experiences I had growing up in a moderately liberal household and attending a moderately liberal high school. I didn't become interested in broader politics until college.
Although we live in an age of information with the internet at our fingertips, I would hesitate to place blame on Ryan because he’s only just beginning to see the world and form his own opinions. I would also hesitate to attack the editors at Esquire. It would have been tasteful to refrain from publishing the story during Black History Month, and I’m sure the decision was heavily debated. But, the fact that publishing in February attracted this much controversy means their readership is likely as high as it’s been in quite a while. Those editors knew exactly what they were doing.
Ryan’s story may be dull on the surface, but it’s one American story that gives a glimpse into life of one segment of the population. Everyone has a story worth telling, especially when that story takes place in a time as confusing, disheartening, hopeful and American as ever.
James Smith is a 22-year-old mass communication senior from Grand Coteau, Louisiana.