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Toward a taxonomy of men online

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It’s the masculinity matrix we want and deserve

President Trump And First Lady Hosts State Dinner For French President Macron And Mrs. Macron Photo by Aaron P. Bernstein/Getty Images

It is an indisputable fact that, online, there are Dads and there are Sons. Lesser known, however, is that there also exist two additional categories — Uncles and Nephews — that together explain the temperament of any man. These four categories are axes that can be used to plot the matrix that categorizes the energies of most male-identified persons online. They are, basically, alignments. Think of this as astrology, but specifically for men.

Let’s start with the basics. Sons are the product of fathers (not to be confused with Dads, which we’ll get to in a moment); they’re generally Large and Adult. As The New Yorker writer Jia Tolentino put it in her excellent description of Sons online:

The large-adult-son meme takes wing from the idea that men overcompensate when they are humiliated, and that a primary source of this humiliation is interdependence—sons act out when they are defined by their fathers, and fathers are disgraced by the oafish flailing of their sons.

That oafishness is the primary characteristic of Sons online; they generally can’t do anything without just fuckin’ beefing it in some way. Tolentino takes the former Governor Mike Huckabee’s boys as the platonic ideal of Sons. “David, notoriously, once killed a dog at summer camp, and John Mark once acted in a low-budget film in which he smoked cigarettes while assuring a female character that it was normal to ‘suck a little dick to get a part,’” she writes. “This is classic large-adult-son behavior: alarming, with a whiff of the surreal.”

I’d propose President Donald Trump’s big, moist boys as similarly ideal. They’re confirmed oafs who, like their father, love saying the quiet part out loud, and who make themselves into fools jockeying for his attention. To be a Son is to be defined by your failures, and to have those failures loom larger than any success; it’s a blundering kind of energy that tends toward the Lawful — a doofus, say, or a galoot. Some Sons are happy and secure, but most of the time they’re lacking whatever it is that made their fathers the men they are, and this drives them to do the chucklefuck things they do.

The Nephew lies at the other end of that axis: He’s smaller and weaker and slightly drier, but much more competent. Donald Trump’s advisor Stephen Miller is a quintessential Nephew — and was recently made one in print by his actual uncle. “I have watched with dismay and increasing horror as my nephew, who is an educated man and well aware of his heritage, has become the architect of immigration policies that repudiate the very foundation of our family’s life in this country,” wrote Miller’s uncle David Glosser.

Where oafishness is the defining characteristic of a Son, then, wrongheadedness is the central feature of a Nephew. Miller’s Nephew-ness derives from his meanness: despite being five feet, 10 inches tall, he is a small man. Like sons, Nephews are Lawful; though they’re lurkers, they’re also metaphorically afraid of the dark. As a co-worker points out, a Nephew wouldn’t venture into a neighbor’s backyard to get a ball — they would have an Uncle do it for them.

The DUSN matrix
Chaim Gartenberg

Uncles, thus, define Nephews. They keep Nephews in line via public shaming. Uncles are chaos engines — they thrive on unrest, and are very good at the fine art of stirring things up. “Before Donald Trump had started his political ascent promulgating the false story that Barack Obama was a foreign-born Muslim,” Glosser wrote, “while my nephew, Stephen, was famously recovering from the hardships of his high school cafeteria in Santa Monica, Joseph” — a man who was conscripted into the Eritrean army, and was tortured until he deserted and eventually immigrated to America as a refugee — “was a child on his own in Sudan in fear of being deported back to Eritrea to face execution for desertion.”

Glosser’s public roast of his nephew in a national political magazine has both enshrined him in the Uncle pantheon and also ensured that he’s won Thanksgiving this year. You can think of Uncles as the axial opposite of Dads, as creatures with big bachelor vibes who never fail to bombard your inbox with the latest Twitter rant from Louise Mensch or Eric Garland. (Alternatively: the latest Infowars conspiracy, or the new Gateway Pundit bunk.) They are the undisputed kings of the chain-letter email forward; they are Chaotic Neutral — Dads gone wild. Approach with caution.

Dads, meanwhile, are easier to define, as simply harmless and corny — as basically dad jokes personified. Though it’s unclear what came first, the joke or the Dad, even if the jokes predated the Dad, the outcome would be the same. Dads are lawful creatures who gently hand down edicts intended to better your life; they’re good on the grill. Every FBI agent, for example, is a Dad. Dads are born knowing the phrase “man, it’s a hot one”; Dads never argue with the ref’s decision. Daddies, however, are very different. A Daddy is… well, you must know what a Daddy is. But if not, a Daddy is a sexual Dad. A man who can take care of you, haha. It’s Barack Obama. It’s Jeff Goldblum. It’s (for some reason) Mufasa. You get it.

The DUSN (Dad, Uncle, Son, Nephew, pronounced “DEW-son”) index is useful mostly for its explanatory power, but it also doubles as a useful critique of the patriarchy: Dads represent it, Nephews resent it, Sons are unaware of it, and Uncles are, somehow, unaccountable. But all of them benefit from it, which is why the DUSN matrix can so effectively describe American politicians in particular. This fact also explains why, when fans comment “mom” under a female-identified celebrity’s posts, it’s a totally different thing. (Whether they know it or not, those fans are invoking ballroom community tradition, where “house mothers” run their houses as alternative families.) DUSN is also a response, in a sense, to classic misogynistic female archetypes in literature and film — roughly: virgins (Sons) or aunts (Dads) or crones (Nephews) or spinsters (Uncles) — that have suggested for decades that a woman’s worth is tied to her desirability.

Donald Trump is a proud misogynist, and he’s also a man who believes that if the system isn’t benefiting him directly, it is fundamentally biased. That’s why it’s no surprise that while he began life as a Large Adult Son, his current alignment is an Uncle / Nephew hybrid: he’s a man who has every privilege, every advantage, and yet his decisions are still made at random, and he still screams like an infant the instant he perceives things aren’t going his way. While the DUSN index is a joke, it does seem to predict the president’s behavior — and the direction of our political future.

But that’s all kind of a drag. What’s really fun is putting DUSN to the test, given how much the system can predict — because fathers ruin sons, who ruin brothers, who ruin their sister’s kids. Try it yourself!