The ideal male body has a dorsal fin.
As a young boy growing up in the mid-90s, I spent many an afternoon preoccupied with the fantasy of transforming into an anthropomorphic shark.
While Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles might have been the era's predominant "group of teenage animal-man crime fighters" cartoon, turtles aren't nearly as cool as sharks. Why would any kid want to mutate into a slow, boring turtle wearing a bandanna when they could mutate into a powerful, vascular shark oozing sex appeal in skin-tight pants?
These are the thoughts that 6-year-old me didn't possess the language to express but undoubtedly understood on a primal level.
My first exposure to Street Sharks was in the KB Toys (remember that, '90s kids?) at the Freehold Raceway Mall in Freehold, New Jersey, and yes, I do agree there's something profound about discovering Street Sharks in a New Jersey mall. There in the boys' toys aisle, hidden amidst the Power Rangers and Transformers, I caught sight of a box designed to look like a cage with the bars bent open and a warning label that read: "WARNING: JACKHAMMER HEADBUTT!" In retrospect, that was not a warning. That was an invitation.
There in the box stood a particularly jacked shark-man with pants patterned like the "Jazz" paper cup graphic, 6-pack abs, and, well, the head of a hammerhead shark. Pushing down on his back fin caused his giant shark teeth to gnash, and pulling his arm extended his hammerhead in a JACKHAMMER HEADBUTT, just like the warning label promised. It didn't matter that my soft, undeveloped brain had never heard of "Jab" until seconds prior. In that moment, I knew that I needed to own him with every ounce of my being.
Street Sharks, like most major kid-oriented franchises of the '80s and '90s, revolved around the prime directive of selling toys–and sell toys, they did. The back of Jab's box introduced me to the rest of the Street Shark crew. There was Big Slammu, the whale shark in football pants; Blades, the tiger shark with roller blades; and my personal favorite, Ripster, the great white shark who wears tight black jeans. There was also a lobster man named Slobster, but he looked like a loser, so I didn't like him as much. In time, I would come to own them all, even Slobster, because the Street Sharks needed someone to beat up.
Street Sharks as Ideal Masculinity
For many children, the toys they play with during influential periods of development can have a huge effect on their understanding and expression of gender. Little girls who spend their formative years playing with dolls and cooking toys are more likely to internalize stereotypical female gender roles regarding cooking and parenting. Meanwhile, little boys who spend their formative years playing with Street Sharks are more likely to form their notions of masculinity around the desire to transform into a very buff shark.
To this day, I actively suffer from the repercussions of my upbringing. I hate to admit this, but in my addled brain, this is what I believe the ideal male body looks like:
With enough hard work, the lower half is achievable. But what use is a ripped core and form-fitting black jeans when I can never develop the face of a blue great white shark? Logically, I realize my desire is absurd. In fact, I'm fairly certain that most people would find me visually repulsive if I were to actually transplant a great white shark head onto my face. That said, the physical ideals we hold on a pedestal are not necessarily dictated by logic or reality. After all, Barbie doesn't have realistic proportions either.
As such, it's fair to say that I have a crush on the Street Sharks, albeit not a sexual one. Rather, my crush on the Street Sharks is ideological and aspirational. Kind of like a man-crush.
When I look at Ripster, I don't just see a cool teenager who was turned into a shark-man by an evil gene-splicing scientist (this was the official canon, which I later discovered in the one, admittedly very bad, Street Sharks VHS tape I owned: Street Sharks: Gene Slamming Begins). In a much more real sense, I see an example of everything a man can be–perhaps even a father figure.
My human father and I have always had a difficult relationship. As I've gotten older, I've come to realize that I spent much of my childhood latching onto powerful male cartoon characters as a coping mechanism for feeling like I was missing a loving father. While some kids looked up to their dads as they developed their interests in sports or fishing, I looked up to a hairy mutant in bright yellow spandex, a tremendously buff anime space alien, and, yes, a man-shark wearing tight black pants.
Through these fictional characters, I found a beacon of the warm, masculine energy I so strongly desired. Here were men who cared about justice and protected the weak, who supported their loved ones in spite of their rough exteriors. They didn't need to be real to be real to me. And so, as many men carry their father's lessons throughout their lives, I carry Ripster's with me, too. I aim to lift up those who have been pushed down. I keep my loved ones close. And sometimes, I think about how cool it would be if someone genetically spliced me with a shark.
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He could do so much better.
Justin Bieber's musical career and public image have become inseparable.
Earlier this year, the Canadian pop star released Changes, a shallow collection of sex-tinged R&B songs that served as the singer's first album in five years. The album was explicitly dedicated to his wife, Hailey Bieber, which was perhaps the only interesting thing about it since the duo's tumultuous relationship was already established as an inescapable part of pop culture.
The Biebers' 2019 Vogue cover story illuminated what the publication called an "All-In" romance; it was filled with bizarre anecdotes, including that the couple married quickly to break their year-long celibacy. Bieber–an openly devout Christian whose close ties to the controversial Hillsong United Church have remained problematic throughout his career–had seemingly reentered the public eye as a changed married man of God who sang exclusively about making love to his wife.
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We're all finding ourselves; Fenne Lily just seems to be a little better at it than most.
Fenne Lily's sophomore LP, Breach, is out today on Dead Oceans.
It's an ambitious and fine-spun collection of indie songs that sound like they were channeled through the cosmos.
Like much of the music coming out today, the album stems from isolation, though not the enforced kind: It was written during a period of self-imposed solitude before COVID-19.
Hailing from Dorset, Lily garnered a great deal of attention for her debut LP, On Hold, which debuted when she was just 18. Now she's returned with a sophomore album about growing older, coming into one's own, and confronting the wilderness of one's early 20s.