TIME Opinion

Confessions of a Lumbersexual

Jordan Ruiz—Getty Images

Why plaid yoga mats and beards are the future

Several years ago I was riding in a van with two female friends in the front seats when one of them pointed out the window and yelled “Wait! Slow down…is that him?” We were passing the bar that employed her ex-boyfriend.

“I don’t know,” said her friend who was driving. “A guy in Brooklyn with a beard and a plaid shirt? Could be anyone.”

I looked down over my beard at my shirt and both girls looked at me and we all laughed.

I’ve had a beard most of my adult life and my wardrobe is comprised largely of cowboy cut, plaid shirts and Wrangler blue jeans. On cold days I wear a big Carhartt coat into the office. In my youth in Oklahoma I did cut down some trees and split firewood for use in a house I really did grow up in, but in those days I dressed like a poser gutter punk. I nurture an abiding love for outlaw country and bluegrass, though, again, during my actual lumberjacking days it was all Black Flag, Operation Ivy and an inadvisable amount of The Doors.

After a decade living in urban places likes Brooklyn and Washington, I still keep a fishing rod I haven’t used in years, woodworking tools I shouldn’t be trusted with, and when I drink my voice deepens into a sort of a growl the provenance of which I do not know. I like mason jars, and craft beer and vintage pickup trucks. An old friend visiting me a few years ago commented, as I propped a booted foot against the wall behind me and adjusted the shirt tucked into my blue jeans, that I looked more Oklahoma than I ever did in Oklahoma.

I am a lumbersexual.

The lumbersexual has been the subject of much Internet musing in the last several weeks. The term is a new one on me but it is not a new phenomenon. In 2010 Urban Dictionary defined the lumbersexual as, “A metro-sexual who has the need to hold on to some outdoor based ruggedness, thus opting to keep a finely trimmed beard.” I was never a metrosexual and I’m actually most amused by Urban Dictionary’s earliest entry for lumbersexual, from February 2004: “A male who humps anyone who gives him wood.” But I do think defining the lumbersexual as a metrosexual grasping at masculinity gets at something.

It doesn’t take a lot of deep self-reflection to see that my lumbersexuality is, in part, a response to the easing of gender identities in society at large over the last few decades. Writing for The New Republic nearly 15 years ago, Andrew Sullivan observed “many areas of life that were once ‘gentlemanly’ have simply been opened to women and thus effectively demasculinized.” The flipside of this happy consequence of social progress is a generation of men left a bit rudderless. “Take their exclusive vocations away, remove their institutions, de-gender their clubs and schools and workplaces, and you leave men with more than a little cultural bewilderment,” writes Sullivan.

If not a breadwinner, not ogreishly aggressive, and not a senior member in good standing at a stuffy old real-life boy’s club, what is a man to be?

On the other hand, the upending of gender norms frees men in mainstream culture to do things verboten by a retrograde man-code once enforced by the most insecure and doltish among us. We carry purses now (and call them murses, or satchels, but don’t kid yourselves fellas). We do yoga. That the ancient core workout is so associated with femininity the pop culture has invented the term “broga” only goes to show what a sorry state masculinity is in. The lumbersexual is merely a healthier expression of the same identity crisis.

Which is, I think (?), why I dress like a lumberjack (and a lumberjack from like 100 years ago, mind you; real lumberjacks today, orange-clad in helmets and ear protection, do not dress like lumbersexuals). As a 21st-century man who does not identify with the pickup artist thing or the boobs/cars/abs triad of masculinity on display in most 21st-century men’s magazines (Maxim et al), is not particularly fastidious or a member of any clearly identifiable subculture and who is as attracted to notions of old-timey authenticity as anyone else in my 20s-30s hipster cohort (all of you are hipsters get over it), I guess this is just the fashion sense that felt most natural. I am actually fairly outdoorsy, in a redneck car-camping kind of way. Lumbersexuality just fit right, like an axe handle smoothed out by years of palm grease or an iPhone case weathered in all the right places to the shape of my hand.

There is a dark side to this lumbersexual moment however. It’s an impulse evident in Tim Allen’s new show Last Man Standing. Whereas in the 1990s, Tim the Tool-Man Taylor from Home Improvement was a confident and self-effacing parody on the Man Cave, complete with silly dude-grunting and fetishizing of tools, Mike Baxter, played by Tim Allen in Last Man Standing, is an entirely un-self-aware, willfully ignorant reactionary. The central theme of the show is Baxter in a household full of women struggling to retain his masculinity, which is presumed to be under assault because of all the estrogen around. He does this through all manner of posturing, complaining and at times being outright weird. In an early episode, Baxter waltzes into the back office at his job in a big box store modeled off Bass Pro Shops and relishes in the fact that it “smells like balls in here.” The joke is a crude attempt at celebrating maleness but it rings distressingly hollow to anyone who has spent any time in rooms redolent with the scent of actual balls. In later seasons the show softened but the central concern of a man whose masculinity is under assault because he is surrounded by women speaks to this moment in our popular culture.

If my beard is a trend-inspired attempt to reclaim a semblance of masculinity in a world gone mad then so be it. Beats scrotum jokes.

TIME intelligence

New NSA Privacy Chief Promises Transparency

NSA Surveillance-Privacy Report
The National Security Agency campus in Fort Meade, Md., June 6, 2013. Patrick Semansky—AP

In a Q&A online, Rebecca Richards promised a new era in transparency at the United States’ eavesdropping agency

The National Security Agency’s newly appointed Civil Liberties & Privacy Officer Rebecca Richards said Monday in an online Q& A she hopes to inject a sense of transparency into the secretive spy agency.

“Until somewhat recently, relatively little information about NSA was public. And the information that was made available rarely discussed the safeguards in place to protect civil liberties and privacy,” Richards said. “One of my goals is to share what NSA does to protect civil liberties and privacy. This will take time, but we must start somewhere.”

Richards conducted an online question and answer session Monday through the website of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence. Richards position was create earlier this year following recommendations from the White House on privacy reforms within the NSA. Those recommendations were made in response to revelations of privacy violations contained in documents leaked by former NSA contractor Edward Snowden.

Much of her Q&A was little more than a defense of the agency but Richards did identify her four primary goals as privacy chief.

  1. Advise NSA leadership including the director.
  2. Build systematic and holistic civil liberties and privacy processes.
  3. Improve civil liberties and privacy protections through research, education, and training.
  4. Increase transparency.

Richards also revealed that the NSA is preparing to launch a privacy and civil liberties internship or work exchange program as part of its privacy initiative.

TIME Music

Country Artist Ty Herndon Comes Out as Gay

Country and Christian music singer Ty Herndon arrives at the 53rd annual Grammy Awards in Los Angeles, California, February 13, 2011. Danny Moloshok —Reuters

“I’m an out, proud, and happy gay man”

Nashville country singer Ty Herndon said in a new interview that he is gay.

“During an Anthony Robbins seminar, I realized I had an incredible story that could possibly help someone’s son or daughter or grandchild’s life not be as difficult as mine has been,” Herndon told People magazine. “Maybe they wouldn’t have to go through as much pain and suffering. It’s time to tell my truth.”

The 52-year old singer first began coming out to close family members at age 20 but has kept his sexuality under wraps in his country music career.

Read more at People

TIME Bizarre

Monty Python Song is the Brits’ Funeral Favorite

Baby Boomers in the UK play “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” more than any other track

Correction appended Nov. 22.

Who gets the last laugh? The British, it seems, after a study out Friday revealed that Monty Python’s “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” is the most-played song at funerals in the United Kingdom.

The relentlessly optimistic song was written by Eric Idle and first appeared in Monty Python’s biblical satire Life of Brian in 1979. The song tickled the funny bone of a generation with the juxtaposition of its lyrics—“If life seems jolly rotten, there’s something you’ve forgotten, and that’s to laugh and smile and dance and sing”—and the characters singing it in the comedy classic, a chorus of people being crucified on a hillside.

The findings come from a survey of more than 30,000 funerals in the UK by The Co-operative Funeralcare.

The irreverent track pushed out more traditional songs for the No. 1 spot, including “The Lord is My Shepherd” and “Abide with Me.”

The song lyrics do strike a particularly comforting note for a funeral.

For life is quite absurd
And death’s the final word
You must always face the curtain
with a bow
Forget about your sin – give the
audience a grin
Enjoy it – it’s your last chance
anyhow.

So always look on the bright side… of death.

Other hit classics to make the Top 10 Most-Played list in the humor category include “Another One Bites the Dust” by Queen, “Ring of Fire,” by Johnny Cash, “Bat Out of Hell,” by Meat Loaf, and The Trammps’ “Disco Inferno”—“Buuuurn baby burn!”

Well played, Britain. Well played.

Here’s a video of the folks from Monty Python singing this very song for one of their own.

Correction: The original version of this story misstated the movie in which the song “Always Look on the Bright Side of Life” first appeared and the year it was released. It was Life of Brian in 1979.
TIME Hong Kong

Hong Kong Protest Sites Slammed By ‘Largest Cyberattack Ever’

Pro-democracy activists join arms as they face off with police outside the Legislative Council building on Nov. 19, 2014 in Hong Kong.
Pro-democracy activists join arms as they face off with police outside the Legislative Council building on Nov. 19, 2014, in Hong Kong. Chris McGrath—Getty Images

The company that protects the independent media outlets said the attacks are unprecedented in scale

Media websites connected to the Hong Kong pro-democracy movement have been slammed in recent months with what has been described as one of the largest cyberattacks the Internet has ever seen.

The attacks have been leveled against websites for Apple Daily and PopVote, which held a mock-vote for Hong Kong chief executive. One of the protestors’ key demands is a free and open election for chief executive of the onetime British enclave.

The content delivery network Cloudfare, which services the sites, says the Denial of Service—or DDoS—attacks are the largest in the history of the Internet, by far. An attack in Europe brought 400 Gbps in attack traffic against an unidentified victim—the Hong Kong attacks are 500 Gbps in scale, Forbes reports. “[It’s] larger than any attack we’ve ever seen, and we’ve seen some of the biggest attacks the Internet has seen,” Cloudshare CEO Matthew Prince said.

“It’s safe to say the attackers are not sympathetic with the Hong Kong democracy movement,” Prince told Forbes, “but I don’t think we can necessarily say it’s the Chinese government. It could very well be an individual, or someone trying to make the Chinese government look bad.”

[Forbes]

TIME Immigration

Arizona’s Sheriff Joe Arpaio Sues Obama Over Immigration Plan

Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio speaking with the media in Phoenix on Jan. 9, 2013.
Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio speaking with the media in Phoenix on Jan. 9, 2013. Ross D. Franklin—AP

The Arizona sheriff has been investigated by the Justice Dept for alleged abuses of power

Joe Arpaio, the Sheriff of Maricopa County, Ariz., and a vocal foe of illegal immigration, announced Thursday he has filed suit against President Barack Obama over his announced plan to use his executive authority to offer legal status to roughly five million illegal immigrants in the United States.

“This unconstitutional act by the President will have a serious detrimental impact on my caring out the duties and responsibilities for which I am encharged as Sheriff,” Arpaio says in his formal complaint. “Specifically, it will severely strain our resources, both in manpower and financially, necessary to protect the citizens I was elected to serve. For instance, among the many negative affects of this executive order, will be the increased release of criminal aliens back onto streets of Maricopa County, Arizona, and the rest of the nation.”

In an address to the nation Thursday, Obama announced executive action to give roughly five million immigrants currently in the U.S. illegally—primarily the parents of U.S. citizens and legal residents—the option to register with authorities and receive protection from deportation and work permits.

Arpaio gained national attention in recent years due to his aggressive—and some say illegal—crackdown on illegal immigration in Arizona, one of the states most heavily burdened by the influx of undocumented people into the U.S. from across the border with Mexico.

A years-long investigation by the Department of Justice ended without charges due to insufficient evidence to surmount the burden of proof, but records obtained by the Arizona Republic reveal that FBI agents reported finding probable cause to recommend felony charges for obstructing criminal investigations, theft by threat, tampering with witnesses, perjury and extortion.

House Republicans also announced plans on Friday to sue the President over his unilateral actions — but on the healthcare reform law, not the newly-announced immigration plan.

TIME Food

‘Food Chains’ Doc Sheds Light on America’s Farmworkers

Forest Whitaker narrates documentary produced by Fast Food Nation author Eric Schlosser and actress Eva Longoria

A new documentary about the farmworkers who pick America’s harvest was released Friday in selected markets.

“Food Chains,” produced by actress Eva Longoria and Fast Food Nation author Eric Schlosser, primarily tells the story of a labor dispute between tomato pickers in Immokalle, Florida, and the Publix supermarket chain. That dispute is the origin of the Fair Food Program, a voluntary initiative to raise wages and working conditions for farmworkers.

“What we bring with the Fair Food Program is not another model of corporate social responsibility, because the goal is not to make any corporation legit,” says farmworker and organizer Gerardo Chavez in the film. “The goal is to address human rights and labor rights that exist in the fields. The creation of the program comes directly from the participation of the workers in the program and the ideas of our community. That’s what we call worker-led social responsibility.”

TIME film

Steve McQueen to Make Paul Robeson Biopic

Paul Robeson planned
Oscar winner Steve McQueen, who is planning a film about the life of American singer and actor Paul Robeson. Issue date: Wednesday November 19, 2014. Ian West—PA Wire/Press Association Images

The acclaimed filmmaker of 12 Years a Slave also announced a film version of the UK TV series "Widows"

Director Steve McQueen has announced he is working on a biopic about American actor and civil rights activist Paul Robeson.

“His life and legacy was the film I wanted to make the second after Hunger” McQueen said on stage at the Hidden Heroes awards in New York. Hunger was his debut film about an IRA hunger striker. “But I didn’t have the power, I didn’t have the juice,” he said.

The son of an escaped slave, Robeson led an extraordinary life as a lawyer, actor, singer and activist who supported causes such as the Republican in the Spanish Civil War and unemployed Welsh miners. Harry Belafonte is involved in production of the movie, the Guardian reports.

Though the Robeson picture is in the works, McQueen revealed that his next film after the breakout success of his 12 Years a Slave will be a full-length adaptation of the British television series “Widows,” according to the Hollywood Reporter.

Read more at the Guardian

TIME Television

Watch Stephen Colbert Question Jon Stewart’s Patriotism

“Are you a blame America first?” the show host asks his former boss from the Daily Show

Television worlds collided Thursday when Jon Stewart appeared as a guest on Daily Show alumni Stephen Colbert’s show, The Colbert Report, to promote his new film Rosewater.

“How does it feel to know that your entire career could have been shouted into a sock and thrown over an overpass?” Colbert says, needling his old boss.

Colbert calls Stewart his “friend and nemesis.”

“Rather than killing everyone else what if we were to…coexist with them in some kind of fashion,” Stewart asks the reactionary conservative Colbert.

“You mean like the bumper sticker?” asks Colbert.

Colbert praised Rosewater, a film about a journalist jailed in Iran after doing an interview with a Daily Show corespondent.

“It’s a beautiful film and that offends me. Why is it that you can do your show,” Colbert says, “and you do it well, and now you’re doing something else well.”

Read next: Jon Stewart Admits He Wants to Rip Off Benedict Cumberbatch’s Clothes

TIME energy

A Brief Guide to the Keystone XL Pipeline Debate

Construction Along The Keystone XL Pipeline
Workers move a section of pipe during construction of the Gulf Coast Project pipeline, part of the Keystone XL Pipeline Project, in Atoka, Okla. on March 11, 2013. Daniel Acker—Bloomberg/Getty Images

A handy explainer

What is the Keystone XL Pipeline?

It is a proposed extension of a pipeline that transports oil from Alberta, Canada to a major petroleum exchange in Cushing, Okla., and from there to the Gulf of Mexico. The existing smaller pipeline takes a more circuitous route. The Canadian company TransCanada’s solution is to build a larger-capacity, more direct link from Alberta to the existing pipeline. That project is known as Keystone XL.

Why is Obama involved?

Because the Keystone XL link would cross an international boundary between the U.S. and Canada, the project requires presidential approval. Proponents say Keystone XL will reduce the need to move oil by freight train—which can lead to potentially dangerous accidents—and create perhaps tens of thousands of jobs. President Obama, who has not taken a public position on the project, has cited a State Department analysis that concludes the pipeline will create only about 2,000 jobs during construction and 50 around permanent jobs once it’s complete.

Why is it controversial?

Climate activists have rallied around the Keystone XL pipeline as an environmental litmus test. They worry that it will intrude on property rights—courts have allowed TransCanada to run sections of the pipeline over private land, despite objections from the property owners –and warn that it could be vulnerable to environmentally dangerous leaks along its proposed 1,700 mile route. But their primary objection is that the project will encourage the burning of fossil fuels and worsen climate change. The oil shipped through the new pipe would come from Canada’s so-called tar sands, which climate activists say is dirtier and worse for the environment than regular oil.

A State Department review released in January found that Keystone XL would have little effect on the planet’s environmental health because the oil in Canada’s tar sands will be extracted and sold through another avenue if the project is blocked.

What happens next?

The southern portion of the Keystone pipeline connecting Oklahoma to the Gulf of Mexico will open for business in 2015. The northern extension—the one everyone’s arguing about—has yet to be approved. But the Dec. 6 runoff for the Louisiana Senate seat of Democrat Mary Landrieu gave the project a jolt in Washington, as Landrieu and her Republican challenger, Rep. Bill Cassidy, jockey to claim credit for getting it built. The House passed legislation sponsored by Cassidy allowing Keystone XL on Nov. 14 and the Senate votes on a similar measure backed by Landrieu on Nov. 18. President Obama has signaled that he may veto the legislation, but he has not taken a public stance. No matter what happens at the federal level, Keystone XL is likely to face court battles in states through which it passes.

Your browser, Internet Explorer 8 or below, is out of date. It has known security flaws and may not display all features of this and other websites.

Learn how to update your browser