Sweating into his fluffball of jewfro, a heavyset, facially-hairy young man with glasses stepped to the microphone during the Q&A portion of the New Yorker festival event featuring film critic David Denby in conversation with writer-director Judd Apatow and his protege Seth Rogen. Seth called on him to begin speaking: "Yes, me?" This joke got the second-biggest laugh of the night. But it had some stiff competition.
Seth and Judd are, obviously, very funny guys. But also, they were preaching to a choir full of, yes, Rogen lookalikes, but also a choir so faithful that all it took to get them to start applauding were words like "Steve Carell" or "Second City." At one point, the audience LOLed for a solid twenty seconds after Judd retold the "when you're feeling a girl's breasts and they're like bags of sand!" joke from "The 40 Year Old Virgin."
So obviously nobody was really about to ask a difficult question during the Q&A. The closest anyone came was the professor who, on behalf of his students, asked Seth whether the character "Seth" from his recent movie Superbad was "unbeknownst to himself, homosexual." (The character is obsessed with dicks, talking about them and even drawing them compulsively, and also there is a touching, uncomfortable, hilarious scene towards the end of the film wherein "Seth" and Michael Cera's character exchange "I love you"s and he does a little "boop!" to the tip of Michael's nose with his fingertip, a scene which we would pay money to reenact with Michael, but that is neither here nor there.)
"Well, everyone's a little bit gay!" Rogen said. He'd sort of already covered that material earlier in the evening, when he'd talked about how ridiculous it was that so many critics seemed hellbent on finding a homosexual subtext in "Superbad." We'd tend to agree with him— the fact that two drunk teenagers in sleeping bags can't drunkenly embrace without our thinking they are about to start making out is the byproduct of a profoundly heterosexist popular culture, and also of 'The OC.' But there is a secretly good question trapped inside the professor's bad question, and I think it is, "What is up with the very specific variety of masculinity Apatow and Rogen are recording and popularizing?"
This is not a particularly original question. But it's one I keep coming back to as, out in the world, I meet a certain specific kind of straight but urbanely not-jockish boy. He isn't a metrosexual, though he does make sure to present himself, appearance-wise, in a way that, while it may seem untidy to the casual observer, betrays a certain studiedness. Like: maybe there will be a really affected hairstyle, or one big accessory like a medallion necklace or a skull ring or a loud watch. These boys are usually smart, and maybe they got teased a lot about being gay for a period of their lives. They are the grown-up version of the "geeks" from Freaks and Geeks. Well, they're not entirely grown-up—they're too determinedly goofy for that. They're not Steve Carell in "The 40 Year Old Virgin," but they're somewhere between Paul Rudd and Seth Rogen. They seem to be proliferating like (hallucinogenic) mushrooms (openly taken by adult men) after a rainstorm.
"In a sense, your movies represent the nerds winning. When will women catch on that the jocks grow up to be used car salesmen?" David Denby asked Seth and Judd at one point. Seth treated this like the stupid question it was. "The nerds have been winning for a while now," he said. "Any nerds out there getting laid?"
The audience laughed, and clapped, unprecedentedly hard.