Next, an ironical British ad man named Michael Wilcox explained his agency’s “Wear the Pants” campaign for Dockers, with the look of someone who’d grossly misread an invitation. No, Mr. Wilcox answered a questioner, he did not think that ads depicting men being struck in the groin were one of the culture’s most pernicious and ubiquitous evils. Another panel member asked him whether the anchor in the Dockers logo was a penis.
From the back row, looking at the sea of shiny pink scalps, it was easy to chalk up the whole scene to a category error: Someone mistaking the biographical decline of a man—namely himself—for a historical Decline of Men. Yet, strange as it may sound, grown men still have influence—if only on not-grown men—and should perhaps not be cut the slack reserved for the subjugated and infantilized.
Mr. Garcia concluded the conference with the story of an email he received from a young man. All his life, this young man wrote, he felt different, out of place at home or school. Then he read Mr. Garcia’s book and the problem was clear—a society that “has deeply betrayed the modern male.”
The young man, Fabio Botarelli, sent Mr. Garcia a poem, and Mr. Garcia read it out loud, wiping away a few tears in the process. It ran for about a dozen stanzas and was called “The Plight of the Modern Man”: “The plight of the modern man/ Curtails the yang ambition/ For if a man says that he can/ He’s mocked into submission. Nothing he does is ever right/ His own society hates his guts/ No matter how he tries to fight/ He won’t escape this prison rut …”
What is to become of Mr. Botarelli? Despite the poetry and the correspondence with men like Mr. Garcia, the boy doesn’t seem entirely lost to learned helplessness. Just graduated from Trinity College in Hartford, he has a job in real estate, a head full of brown hair and, one suspects, the first inklings that what’s for him just a phase becomes, in adulthood, a lifestyle.
“I especially took a half-day off from work to come to this,” Mr. Botarelli told The Observer. “But I told them I was going to a creative-writing class.”