Their chest measurements rival Dolly Parton's. Their brains would embarrass a squid. They ballyhoo Maidenform undies, do nude scenes and are wildly popular with both girls and boys. They come in two varieties -- greased and armed-to-the-teeth or moussed and undressed-to-die-for. They're bombshells with a Y chromosome.
Bimbo begone! Hollywood has blessed us with the Himbo.
From Arnie Becker to Arnold Schwarzenegger, America has said yes to testosterone. We're drawn, as to lodestones, to men who pump Uzis and iron. We can't get enough of guys who take their shirts off or guys who think with their pants down. Give us thighs and whiskers.
"After all the millions of words written by feminist authors," says Harvey Greenberg, clinical professor of psychiatry at Albert Einstein College of Medicine, "we have to respect that these perennial images have been heaved from the great mulligan stew of the collective unconscious." Translation: We need these archetypes.
"America always thinks might is right, and somehow violence is an affirmation of personality," says Suzanne Gordon, now at work on a tome called "The Masculinization of America." That would explain Schwarzenegger's enduring popularity. "But a segment of the male population is struggling to change that." Thus, Phil Donahue, Hooperman and Becker.
Type A: Himbo Erectus
You'll never find these guys in real relationships with women. They're infantile Neanderthals -- hunks with the sexual awareness of 11-year-olds who worship the Incredible Hulk. Flex, not sex, is the issue. The thought of kissing a girl is yucky. For that matter, any woman who kisses Rambo meets not a handsome prince but a sudden death. She serves merely as a ritual sacrifice that frees Rambo from his anima and turns him into pure male essence. From then on, he's less a character than a hormone. In Schwarzenegger's case, the woman is a second banana who laughs at his jokes. Included in this category: Joe Piscopo, Hulk Hogan, Chuck Norris, the late Bruce Lee.
Himbo erectus tends to dress like a dominatrix who shops at Sunny's Surplus. Fatigues draped with ammo belts, a bit of camouflage makeup. But in "III," Rambo looks almost like an aerobics instructor with a headband roguishly holding back his shag -- the only hair visible on his person. RULE NO 1: Himbos must be free of body hair, a secondary sexual characteristic that women accept but don't embrace. Hair would only detract from those hard-won ripples and bulges.
Stallone, Carl Weathers and Schwarzenegger all are depilated, and for all we can tell might even have had loincloth waxes. When freshly oiled, they gleam like chromed engines. They're not men, they're machines, and what we get is a peek under the hood.
In "The Terminator," Schwarzenegger, as a cyborg, actually stripped down to a metal skeleton. But in the glasnost vice-cop romp "Red Heat," he makes his entrance wearing nothing but an apron. Like Mel Gibson in "Lethal Weapon," he does a dorsal. The man's got buns of iron. The scene is a Siberian health spa where Soviet body builders reenact "Muscle Beach Party" as drama. Schwarzenegger, as a cop under (very little) cover, holds hot rocks (must be symbolic) to prove himself to the Soviet he-men. With all the pumping and posturing and soft lighting, nobody even notices the naked women strewn around like languid statues in the pool. It's Nietzsche on steroids.
"Red Heat" director Walter Hill says the character's not gay. "He just doesn't have a girlfriend right now. Sometimes men get so masculine they get insecure about that."
As Schwarzenegger once said, "a good pump is better than sex."
There's always the exception that proves the rule. "To be a hero, it's nice to be vulnerable," says the newest screen strongman, Jean Claude Van Damme. Known as the "muscles from Brussels," Van Damme had a surprise hit here this spring with "Bloodsport." "Stallone and Arnold, they are too much," he goes on. "You need a woman to have a baby, right?" We'd almost forgotten.
And, as the song goes, some women "like them big and stupid," which may explain why 40 percent of Rambo fans are women, according to Tri-Star. Even the company's new ad campaign -- "You don't have to be macho to love 'Rambo' " -- is pitched at little old ladies and career gals. Is this simply Stallone's calculated attempt to have his beefcake and eat it too? Yo, no. Apparently he aims to become a lady killer, to evolve into: Himbeau sapiens.
Type B: Himbeau Sapiens
If, as the bumper stickers tell us, "Life's a Beach," it follows that we're getting sand kicked in our faces on a daily basis. We're ready to go off like an exploding arrow. As the career gal in the Tri-Star ad says, "I believe in self-reliance, being aggressive and expressing anger openly. Kind of like Rambo."
The women's movement put her in her power suit and shoulder pads. The men fought feminism with himboism and headed to the gyms to bulk up their sternocleidomastoids. This coincided not only with the fitness craze, but with the rise of the wimp. If Alan Alda was the new male prototype, clearly something had to be done.
Two things happened. Himbo erectus took up the chivalric creed, picked up his sword and went looking for dragons, then commies, then dope dealers. He satisfied the fantasies of the cholesterol-prone; others, mainly of the female persuasion, sought heroes a trifle more civilized. And Himbo-hood spawned Himbeau-hood. These guys picked at their quiches, bought blow-dryers and pretended to understand women while retaining their chauvinist charms. Such as: the Sheen dynasty, Richard Gere, Mark Harmon, Ted Danson, Tom Selleck. Oh, go ahead, throw in Gary Hart.
Lily Tomlin coined the term "stud muffin." The Chippendales replaced the June Taylor Dancers. Joe Namath, a proto himbeau, posed in panty hose. Dustin Hoffman dressed up as Tootsie, and people became hopelessly confused. Housewives went to work and missed their afternoon soaps, so nighttime soaps took over the Nielsens. And so did their heroes, such as Frank Furillo of "Hill Street Blues," cop by day, sex toy by night.
Steven Bochco created the prime-time himbeau in Furillo, and perfected him (with Terry Louise Fisher) in "L.A. Law." Here, the women practice assertiveness; the men dote on them. It's an "anything you say, dear" role-reversal show. The Gucci-clad cast is vulnerable to a fault, but Arnie Becker, the rake played by Corbin Bernsen, has pulled away from the pack. Mickey Kuzak (Harry Hamlin) is more sensitive than a fresh incision, but the women of America send their underwear to Bernsen. True, he's a Maidenform spokesman, but more to the point, he's a bad boy. Women are bonkers for bad boys.
And is Arnie ever naughty. When he was a schoolboy, he probably pulled braids. Now he's the Don Juan of the divorce court, but just a pubescent at heart. He's a sex machine, the sort of guy who could use a Velcro zipper. But he also knows that no means no. He's safe. But also kind of stupid, a dumb blond right down to his moussed platinum chest hair. RULE NO. 2: Himbeaux have chest hair.
Maidenform Inc. chose Bernsen (as Arnie) for their spokesman because "he is not overly sensitive, but there's something vulnerable there. He's the little boy who hasn't caught up yet. He's mischievous, but not threatening," said vice president for advertising Marilyn Bane. "You can play with him because you know what he wants, but he doesn't know what you want. And that puts a woman in control."
Women don't want Mr. T choosing their underwear. The very notion of the palooka perplexed over cup sizes strikes fear in the hearts of full-figured women everywhere. But the image of pretty, dopey Arnie trying to match lingerie to a woman's personality is sheer genius. Imagine a not-overly-sensitive-guy running his fingers through a rack of teddies in department stores everywhere. Gives a girl shivers.
Harper's Bazaar has taken the concept about as far as it can go in its current ad campaign, featuring a mannish woman in shirt and tie, squinting at the magazine while her cowboy lover irons in the background. Himbeau lovers note: He wears a ten-gallon hat and a bandanna, but no shirt.
Sensitive or What? Women are sick of sensitive guys; they'd rather just talk things out with their girlfriends. They prefer an honest sexist, like Bernsen or Bruce Willis, any day. Willis and Cybill Shepherd turned sexual politics into foreplay on "Moonlighting" -- he playing dumb to her smart. Then, Willis turned into a man right out of "thirtysomething" -- reading too much, working too hard, taking Lamaze classes and so forth. Gone was the thick-headed, joke-cracking, skirt-chasing himbeau. Here was a guy who could stand in for Phil Donahue. The ratings went limp.
Willis, who gets $5 million per movie, remains the roue' of the wine cooler crowd, and we can only hope he'll resume his old persona in his upcoming cop movie, "Diehard." Alas, one thing himbeaux have in common with himbos is that they're always trying to improve themselves, as Marilyn Monroe once did. Tom Cruise, who danced into our hearts in his underpants, has become a serious actor. Rob Lowe performed Chekhov; Schwarzenegger became a Kennedy; and Richard Gere has become the Dalai Lama's good friend.
If this kind of thing keeps up, we'll be asking "Where's the beef?" for real. When we want a little meat with our couch potatoes, we'll have to be satisfied with lean cuisine. They're even taking the cattle off steroids. As James Garner used to say before his bypass surgery, he was a real person and he wanted real meat. Cybill Shepherd backed him up on that. She was biting into a burger, but you could see in her eyes it was the old Bruce she was talking about.
Himbo: The Sequel "Rambo III" has not done half so well at the box office as "Crocodile Dundee II." The Croc clearly has something that Rambo has not. For one thing, a sense of humor; for another, chest hair; and for a third , women don't die when he kisses them. He's sensitive, but not overly. He grunts, but you can make the words out. And while he takes his sizable knife out now and again, he can just as easily knock a man out with a soup can. He is a confirmed sexist. A girl could spend the rest of her life trying to tame him, chasing him through the bush in her very high heels.
Croc is the future, himbo and himbeau fused. He's like Iron, that new fragrance for "tough, sensitive and sexy men."
"When we say Iron, we don't mean pumping. We don't mean macho. We mean a man's inner core of iron," said Coty spokeswoman Marjorie Ambrogio. "A man needn't look like he lifts weights or says 'what did you mean by that?' to wear Iron. It's the inner strength that we find so attractive in a man."