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THE EXAMINED LIFE

It's a man's man's man's world

``WHEN FLAGS STARTED waving and exotic villains started appearing after 9/11,'' recounts Adam Parfrey, head of the Los Angeles-based publishing concern Feral House, ``men's adventure magazines of decades past seemed, somehow, weirdly pertinent once again.''

This, at any rate, is the excuse Parfrey offers us for having personally assembled and published ``It's a Man's World,'' a lavishly illustrated investigation into Escape to Adventure, Man's Daring, Men in Conflict, Peril, Fury, Action, and over 100 of the other testosterone-soaked ``slicks'' that gave tamer men's titles like Esquire a run for their money from the 1950s through the early 1970s.

In the text accompanying wow-'em illustrations of sweaty, shirtless hombres grappling with Arabs and terrorist-like octopi, not to mention wildcats and scantily clad hellcats, Parfrey notes that men's adventure periodicals of the period reveal ``an American dream distressed by fear.'' A cursory glance at their sensational headlines reminds the reader that our current fears–job insecurity, military quagmire, state secrecy, indefinable dark-skinned enemies–are not so far from our Cold War demons. Likewise, the post-Sept. 11 deification of macho blue-collar types harks back to the heyday of such anti-sissification periodicals as All Man, Real Men, Rugged Men, and Man's Prime.

Parfrey, the publisher of such politically incorrect books as ``Extreme Islam'' and ``Hot Girls of Weimar Berlin,'' is more amused than dismayed by the kitsch imperialism and what he calls the ``sadistic burlesque'' of some of these publications. He's also cynical about what their significance might be. In times of widespread psychic confusion, he writes, ``fear, and the pleasure that comes from fighting and overcoming that fear,'' sells.

The February 1953 issue of American Manhood. The February 1953 issue of American Manhood.
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