Shirtless, in hard hat and work boots, he is toiling on a prison chain gang or insulating a gated community. He is borne aloft on a cherry picker, or on his knees in the dirt. He is (and, as it stands today, 97 percent of the time the construction worker is a he) a sex god and a sex devil, occupying an archetypal role in both the public world and our private consciousness. He is the catcaller with a predator’s relentless gaze; he is Narcissus in jeans, inspiring lust (and endless pornographies) when gazed upon. He builds up and tears down the worlds we live in. Jesus may well have been a stonemason, and one can compare his plight to the men who serve life sentences today—some of whom are employed as construction workers at the same prisons they reside in, poetically building the bars to their own cages.
Our contemporary construction worker was born on the cusp of village life and urban development. In The Making of the English Working Class, writer E.P. Thompson depicts the rhythm and rituals of preindustrial life, filled with a kind of joyfully insular tumult: fighting and working and drinking and fucking. But after the Industrial Revolution, these same rowdy village craftsmen became employed tradesmen, and were tasked with a heretofore-unknown propriety: the officious, scheduled, monitored life of the new world order. “Working people discovered in the Industrial Revolution a moral rhetoric…which seems stilted and inadequate when applied to personal relations.” Faced with an ever-more circumscribed Edwardian world—a time when up to 2,000 “morality patrols” were employed in England—the working man perhaps felt that “even animalism might be preferable to cold and guilty sexuality…”
Oliver Mellors, D.H. Lawrence’s gameskeeper in Lady Chatterley’s Lover—though not a builder—is perhaps the first (and certainly the most well-known) working-class literary hero to reveal a defyingly irresistible libido. “She wanted me, and made no bones about it. And I was pleased as punch. That was what I wanted: a woman who wanted me to fuck her. So I fucked her like a good un.” When Mellors recalls his sexual liaisons, he neatly details the effects of the ultimate mental Viagra: namely, bodily intuition coupled with a lack of fear or contempt around sex. In other forays through literature and film, the construction worker takes on roles less noble, more savage. Sam Peckinpah’s 1971 film Straw Dogs illustrates an increasingly barbaric struggle between a bookish American mathematician, his attractive English wife, and the village builders employed to make repairs on the couple’s Cornwall home. French novelist Robert Merle’s 1974 Les hommes protégés presents the sardonic inverse: a dystopian world with catcalling female construction workers who sexually attack the male narrator.
In later decades, the polarizing identity of the construction worker became more exuberantly libidinal. Rock star Bruce Springsteen made the sexually secure, working-class identity his own, and depicted his own distressed-denim-clad ass on the cover of his 1984 album Born in the U.S.A. A 1994 Diet Coke commercial portraying a lusted-after construction worker twists accepted stereotypes: the rugged worker drinks a “girl’s drink,” and a gaggle of office gals possess their own objectifying “male gaze.” Channing Tatum’s Magic Mike infamously works his days in construction and his nights on the pole, presenting a gender-bending update to the already gender-bent Flashdance. In the 1983 film, the lead character is a steelworker whose visor obscures both her tumbling brunette curls and her secret life as an exotic dancer.
Perhaps where the construction worker resides most indelibly is in our real-life encounters. In his 1979 essay “Sado Machismo,” Edmund White offers him as a sexual signpost: “The children of the middle class grew up without seeing any signs of sexuality emanating from their daddies, those corporation drudges who never whistled at women…The only bare chests were those of construction workers.” Some 33 years later, in a conversation with White for the Huffington Post, writer Felice Picano admits to making this boyhood fantasy a reality: “Down in Key West where I lived a few months I had construction workers coming and going. My gay roommate marveled.”
In a 2010 interview with New York Magazine, actor Paz de la Huerta—lounging in a bath—does her own confessing: “I needed this…This construction worker I’ve been fucking has really been keeping me up late.” Refreshingly, De la Huerta presents her construction worker’s advances as entirely wanted. A recent essay by the young writer Nico-Lou Monheim Carrasquillo describes another seldom-admitted desire—the yearning for catcalls: “I don’t hate being catcalled…some days I find myself purposefully looking into the eyes of men on the street and daring them to do a double take. Some days I feel like I actually need these comments, for whatever reason, which is embarrassing to say.” In her honesty, the author approaches a truth that is uncomfortably obvious: we often need someone else to give us permission to want what we want. In this way, the archetypal construction worker offers the world something it cannot offer itself: the pure, transcendent lack of sexual hypocrisy.END
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createdAt:Thu, 27 Apr 2017 13:24:04 +0000