I did not at first notice that there had been a fundamental change in the world when Seth Rogen graced the cover of GQ Magazine, I was not an avid reader of the magazine as I purchased my watches mostly based upon their reliability and endurance, so I had never much need for their extensive coverage of the season’s best ties and timepieces. I did have a passing familiarity with the magazine, however, and the name connoted images of Brad Pitt and George Clooney, alongside some recently popular young athlete—all looking beyond the edges of the page, faces cracked into smiles. At what? Most of us would never know. But just look at how happy (and handsomely dressed) these fellows have been throughout the years.
Add to that list of gentlemen Seth Rogen. And why not? You might not look to him for fashion or grooming, but as a young and powerful creative force (now he can add model to his resume of actor, writer, producer, director, Francophile, etc.) he seems to be running with the elite, and to be doing it, at least to some extent, on his own terms.
I figured I had some catch-up to do. Who else had gone down as newfound GQ men? I assumed I would find the second comings of Paul Newman and Steve McQueen, their smiles cutting through the camera’s lens with a confidence and cool that was more special effect that any Lucasfilm explosion.
So I search (Google Search, of course, but feel free to imagine me pooled in the dark light of a library cubby room with stacks of back issues scattered all around me) and I find . . . well, Matthew McConaughey, for one, which I suppose makes sense. I also find Tom Brady—again, this makes sense. That guy who is Thor. Robert Downey Jr. Denzel Washington. I find all these choices understandable.
And then, there is Seth Rogen. Always back to Seth Rogen. The guy you knew with all the video game cheat codes who likes to talk about pot and wizards. But also there is Louis C.K. That’s a bit . . . he is known to be a bit of a schlep, but OK. Steve Carell? The forty-year-old virgin is GQ material? Fine. Drake?! Doesn’t he just dress in sweats anyway? Adam Driver, the guy who plays the tired-voiced villain in Star Wars: The Force Awakens? Then: James Corden? Benedict Cumberbatch? The Danish Girl?!
Interspersed among issues for the modern man were both members of Ocean’s 11 and the Pineapple Express.
So what is a gentleman anyway? Also, we might want to keep in mind that we should mitigate the amount of trust we place in the publication’s adherence to definition anyway, considering the monthly periodical’s loose understanding of the term “quarterly.”
A “gentleman,” according to Dictionary.com, is “a man of good breeding, or social position; a civilized, educated, sensitive, or well-mannered man.” A rather loose definition, but a workable one.
This gets me thinking: who am I to judge whether Jonah Hill is of good breeding? I know he seems civilized enough. I work for no gentleman periodical; I am not equipped to judge. But I do notice one thing: the gentlemen I seem to accept as such (your Clooney’s and your Pitt’s) most often tend to be older than me (I am thirty-one). The ones that tend to give me pause—those geeky, slacker-ish fellows that often remind me of my gamer friends—these tended to be closer to my age.
It occurs to me: a gentleman is something constantly constructed. Perhaps that is why we need these periodicals—to map the rising of the tides; the changing of the guards. Because I am always me, as I was when I was a little boy. My idea of a gentleman is something solidified and decided before I was.
Jeff Goldblum helped me to understand this.
While searching old GQ covers, compiling my list of both “oddity” (Drake) and “obviously” (Denzel), I came across some old 80’s covers. Jeff Goldblum stared back at me. So did Robin Williams and Timothy Hutton. Staring at the Jeff Goldblum issue, I again notice the tagline of the magazine, labeling it for the “Modern Man.”
That, finally, is really what the key is: the Modern Man. For these blokes from the 1980’s are now iconic, but during this period of time, they were solidifying their iconic status; they were men putting in the work.
That may very well, sort of, be the point. In 1993, I was nine, and Jeff Goldblum was 41. At this point in my life, I thought that one of the coolest things that I could grow up to be was a mathematician because I found the leather-clad, sputtering, gum chewing Dr. Ian Malcolm of Jurassic Park to be quite cool. Perhaps, if I had been closer to my forties, to Goldblum’s own age—growing up with pictures of Frank and Dylan on my childhood wall—I might find the nerdy nebbish-ness of Goldblum’s Dr. Malcolm to be hardly charming or inspirational.
But instead, I was nine. I was quite glad to have him back with us three years later as a very similar character in Independence Day. Likewise, I was happy to discover that before he became the cool figurehead of my childhood, he was still at work, doing basically the same thing in 1986 in David Cronenberg’s remake of The Fly.
It is very hard to examine a time and a moment that you yourself find yourself a part of. So, naturally, looking at the covers of a magazine through a transitional shift that will help determine the gentlemen of this moment may appear to be a little odd, because I know these guys. They are defining the moment, not the other way around.
This makes things quite interesting. It is quite refreshing to realize the malleability of a culture and see that the direction it will take is largely determined by the people—by everybody—and where they want to go, and what they admire. Culture will seek out that which is doing whatever is appropriate for that moment.
This can be looked at as the ultimate aspirational element of all. Because if one wants to be a gentleman, one need not seek to replicate the ways of a gentlemen; one need only to seek to be the best, most influential person he can be. Then the way of the gentleman will seek to replicate him.