Al Franken called yesterday to challenge me to a fistfight.
No boxing gloves, no rules, no time limits — just me and Franken, in a parking garage, until someone cries uncle. Loser pays $1,000 to the victor’s charity of choice..
It’s not often that you get an opportunity to punch one of those cloying celebrities whose voices are played over and over again in New York taxi cabs, urging you to buckle your seat belt. Franken’s message is — characteristically — one of the most irritating. So, part of me is delighted that he called (although Placido Domingo or Joan Rivers would have been even better).
Franken’s challenge, naturally, has a political point. He saw me on C-SPAN the other day giving a talk in which I decried the way liberals and feminists are promoting the feminization of America, and called for a defense of traditional notions of masculinity. Franken now thinks I should prove my own manliness by grappling with him in a garage.
This makes a certain amount of sense. If I had to choose a male representative of the feminization of America to punch, the former SNL comic, who has always vaguely reminded me of Richard Simmons, would do as well as any.
A slapdown with him would also have the advantage of being a decidedly low-risk engagement. Whenever someone challenging you to a fight stipulates that he is nearly 50 years old and has a bad back, it’s a strong incentive to say “yes.”
All that said, the premise of Franken’s challenge is wrong. He makes the same mistake that the columnist Richard Cohen did in objecting to Christina Hoff Sommers’s argument that masculinity is under assault in America — namely, associating the hallmarks of adolescent males (toilet humor, crass sexuality, fistfights, etc.) with manliness.
Franken told me he wants our fisticuffs to be “just like The Fight Club.” But The Fight Club — just like the popular gross-out movies Cohen cites as evidence of the triumph of men in our popular culture — really portrays a perversion of masculinity.
As for Franken’s offer, in these matters it’s always best to ask, What would Gary Cooper — as good an approximation of the gentlemanly ideal as any — do? When challenged to a unnecessary fight, his instinct would always be to walk away.
So, I regret to say I won’t be bruising Al Franken anytime soon. When I called to let him know a few minutes ago, he told me his son made him promise to say that he was “just kidding” when he made his challenge.
The sound that you now hear, obviously, is a collective sigh of relief from the Franken household.