The Little Guy
Don't listen to him!
Woman Seated on a Naked Man (1942) by Leonor Fini
Some of us have a little guy problem. Have you noticed? The world is wide and bright and limitless, packed with strange, brilliant creatures with big ideas who embrace joy and listen with an open mind and love to discover new paths to the the truth, every day. But some of us keep getting tripped up by the little guy instead.
You know the one. You’re headed somewhere and you’re in a hurry but there’s some little guy blocking your path. Sometimes the little guy is holding a big microphone or standing at a podium. But other times, he’s just standing on the sidewalk, yelling into a bullhorn aimed at your face. And even though you know in your heart that he’s kind of a dick, you can’t help but stop and listen anyway.
When you listen for a while, you start to realize that the little guy thinks that everyone should be doing the same things in the same way, every day. Everyone should follow the same clean formula for victory. But when you try to follow the little guy’s instructions, you’re always doing it wrong. You can’t get it right!
Of course, the little guy is more than willing to give you helpful suggestions on what you’re doing wrong. The little guy can see exactly how you fail. The little guy likes to tell you that you love to get in your own way. “You’re too smart for your own good,” he’ll say. (The little guy has a curious way of turning every strength into a weakness.) The little guy doesn’t want you to be who you are. He wants you to be an even more mediocre version of him. Your strengths are a threat. Your power looks menacing to him.
I’m not saying the little guy knows that. He doesn’t even realize that he’s afraid of you. You just make him angry. The little guy is not insightful in the least. He has a certain swagger that makes you believe that he’s reflective. You might even prefer to imagine that there are ten thousand leagues under that sea. Because otherwise, you’re just someone who listens to little guys! That can’t be it! Why would you act that way?
Because the world is packed to the gills with little guys.
Because little guys have been getting in your ear for decades now.
Because little guys are in charge of a lot of stuff. Maybe your dad is a little guy. You might work for one. You might even be married to one.
I was watching Billions last night because I like to observe the behavior of little guys in the wild. Even though Billions is a strange cartoonish replica of Little Guys in the Wild, it’s also quite accurate in its depictions of certain subsets of men from the greater tri-state area around NYC – how they talk, how they move, what they value, how head-spinningly shitty their music is.
But let me be clear. Even though I hate-watch Billions -- which should really be called The Little Guys! – I also enjoy it. I admire the vast and multifarious permutations of dick measuring that exist in the world of little guys. Dick measuring is not just about speaking in a macho whispered directive – YABBA YABBA GOT ME BY THE BALLS YABBA NABBA – though that is clearly one of the primary formats that dick measuring takes. There’s also Making The Veins in Your Neck Stick Out and Almost Coming to Blows Over Nothing and Working Way Too Hard On Holidays and Getting Fall Down Drunk on Tequila and Saying Lewd Shit to Random Chicks and Wearing Old Rock ‘n’ Roll T-Shirts Unironically and Doing Everything Unironically but also, incredibly, Fucking Ironically (because you’re above fucking!).
Actually, The Little Guys! needs a lot more fucking in it. It started out as a show about being very rich and angry and fucking a lot. But little guys are just so into themselves and their shitty music that they seem to have forgotten about fucking entirely. To them, flying to Miami and bringing back stone crabs from Joe’s is better than fucking. (Look, I’ve been to Joe’s and it’s perfectly fine but if it’s better than fucking to you, you need to up your game substantially.)
Little guys don’t think they have to improve themselves at all, that’s the thing. They just want to improve you. If there is a problem, they immediately imagine that you are the source of the problem, not them. So they want to give you more information about how to fix the problem, how to be better, how to please them more, what they want on their sandwich, which song by Huey Lewis and the News is the best one of the album, hands down.
Bottom line: The world is big and bright and boundless but in order to notice that, you have to block out the little guy. But don’t overthink your little guy thing. Focusing on the little guy is just a bad habit of yours, that’s all. You have to train yourself not to see or hear or smell the little guy. You have to recognize that the little guy is just not it. He truly, deeply doesn’t get it.
I know Billions is part comedy. I like the comedy part! And I did like that one scene where Bobby tells Wendy the exact moment when he knew that they’d be partners forever. That was romantic, even though I don’t buy that Bobby really wants Wendy to hold him to account for his actions. Bobby is too corrupt and too little of a guy for that. The last thing that asshole wants is someone – least of all a woman -- calling him out for screwing up.
In other words, Bobby is a fantastical creature. That’s what makes Billions so irresistible to those of us with a recurring little guy problem. Bobby plays on all of our imaginative illusions around little guys. He’s the personification of the decorative layers we emboss onto the blank slate of little guys in order to make them more palatable and tolerable to us, since they’re fucking everywhere and we have to deal with them either way.
I’d imagine that some of the show’s writers are actual little guys, while other writers are guys who were raised (and therefore tormented) by little guys for decades. These writers are obsessed with little guys and they’re also in love with little guys and they also feel enraged by little guys. These little guys are all mixed up over little guys!
But there’s nothing little guys love more than watching other little guys measure each other’s dicks. That’s why they set up Bobby as the romantic one and reveal Chuck as the leaden, unimaginative manipulator, because that way, we feel unsteady about which little guy is littler. And that way, we want Wendy and Bobby to get it on, which is good since wanting two people to fuck is like 90% of the motivation for watching TV.
But look, even when you’re just enjoying the ride and digging the comedy and sneering at little guys along the way, there’s still a price to pay for that. In the episode I watched last night, that price came in the form of a tossed-off comment, I don’t even know who said it. Some of Bobby’s stooges were talking in a Scooby Do semi-circle about doctors and one of them mentioned his doctor was a woman and another one said, “You trust a woman to be your doctor?” And they all chuckled and agreed that it was fucking impossible to trust a woman doctor.
I’m sorry, but that’s not the sound you make when you know a wide variety of women and men and human beings in general really well, like you truly know them and how their minds work and how they make decisions and how much care they take with the people around them. I’m not saying that women are better or worse doctors than men. I’m just saying that this comment reflects the enormous ignorance of actual human beings and how they function that lies at the heart of the little guy experience. It’s not just that little guys aren’t that smart. It’s not just that little guys don’t remotely understand women and don’t experience them as fully human. It’s that little guys are utterly allergic to new ideas and perspectives, because those things make little guys feel even littler. So little guys stay tightly focused on reinforcing their preexisting assumptions. That’s what they were raised by other little guys to do. That’s how we got a little guy running a whole country full of little guys. Little guys aren’t just ignorant about the fact the their music is stunningly bad and they don’t know how to fuck right. They’re ignorant about every single thing under the sun. They literally don’t know what’s happening around them.
So have your fun with how adorably sad the little guy is, but try to train yourself to tune him out completely, or else you’ll hobble yourself with two little guy ankle weights and some little guy saddlebags full of rocks for the entire stretch of your days on earth. Unless you want to feel slow and dumb and miserable, you’ll remind yourself every single day that little guys are good for a laugh, but that’s it. You cannot afford to listen to the actual words coming out of their little mouths. They’re simple beasts from a JRR Tolkien novel. They’re bolts rolling around in an empty drawer. They’re cement blocks in the middle of the sidewalk. Don’t slow down. Jump over them. Little guys don’t get it and they never will. They don’t see and they don’t listen and they’ll never learn, and that’s why they’ll be the death of us all.
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