More Thoughts on Iron John and Misguided Men

I opened my newspaper today to find that the poet Robert Bly has died.

A few months ago, I wrote a post about what is probably Bly’s most famous prose work, Iron John, and how it has weirdly, in my view, been co-opted by conspiracy-believing Trump supporters.

Bottom line is that I felt that these Trump-worshippers were reading something into Iron John that wasn’t there, and wasn’t intended to be there. In other words, it’s my feeling that they have somehow taken their conclusions about how the world ought to be and fit Iron John into that framework, all the while saying that it was the book that somehow launched them down this path toward undying devotion to Trump.

Turns out, I am right. The obituary published in the Washington Post includes the views of Robert Bly himself on the book’s reception:

“I think the men’s seminars were not threatening to the women’s movement at all,” he insisted, often emphasizing that his purpose was in no way to return to chauvinistic or misogynistic models of the past. “A lot of the critics of Iron John missed the point.”

Apparently, a lot of fans of Iron John missed the point too.

Photo: Nic McPhee/Wikimedia

Unfortunately, art and literature do take on lives of their own beyond the control of the artist or author. I’d like to believe that Iron John will not become some kind of bible for this bizarre subculture of American male, but only time will tell.

Quick Note on Conspiracy Theorists and Iron John

I just finished reading a Washington Post article about, in essence, the deep connection between the new-age men’s movement and the idiots who mobbed the U.S. Capitol on January 6.

The gist is that at least some of the thick-brained Trump worshipers got their ideas from their reading of the men’s movement of the 1970’s and 1980’s. One guy in the article says it all started for him with reading Iron John: A Book About Men, by Robert Bly.

In the article, this guy praises the book and how it lead him to conclude, among other things, that “fierce protective men have been noticeably absent, and the women are standing up stronger and more vocal,” apparently a negative thing.

And I just have to say, I read Iron John–I have a copy in fact–and I would never vote for Donald Trump for president even if you paid me to do it. I wouldn’t elect him to the local school board, for that matter. And I certainly wouldn’t commit treason in his name.

So I’m missing something here. I just don’t see how someone could read a book about reaching a deeper understanding of masculinity beyond drinking beer, being violent, and having sex, and then claim that it leads to this QAnon bullshit.

Clearly, these White guys are searching for more meaning in their lives–aren’t we all?–but I would think that the absurdity of whatever falsehoods they think they believe in would sooner or later trigger the rational thinking alarm bells.

And to trace it back to a book where the intent was to fashion a more caring, more self-aware man is just nonsense. Or maybe they read a different Iron John than I read.