I’ve been thinking about celebrity this week, what with the recent launch of Esquire’s Life of Man project, which features one guy for each of the 80 years Esquire magazine has been published. The editors made some interesting selections — Dr. Dre, Kevin Bacon, Peter Dinklage, Stephen Colbert — but of course this got me thinking about the guys I would include on such a list. I also saw a survey of celebrities that guys in the United States and United Kingdom admire, in The State of Men, a report from marketing communications agency JWT. I wrote a bit about this report earlier in the week.
What did I expect when it comes to who guys admire? That dapper, athletic, successful dudes would top the list. The U.K. didn’t disappoint — 37% of the men surveyed said that they admired soccer (or football, as the case may be) star David Beckham, husband of Posh Spice. He’s got the traditional male signifiers for success: a strong physique that he’s unafraid to show off in underwear ads, prowess on the field, money, a beautiful wife. And yet I wouldn’t want to invite him to a dinner party.
Sean Connery fared well too, ranking number 2 on the U.S. list, with 32% of American men admiring him. Why so high? Sure, he was dapper as Bond, but what has he done for us lately? Besides ham it up in a handful of movies, that is. (Finding Forester, anyone? “Punch the keys, for God’s sake!” Yes, sir, Mr. Connery!) I guess old style icons still hold power for today’s men. Witness the continued popularity of Frank Sinatra (whom 19% of American men admire). Old Blue Eyes looked and sounded great, yes, but the man was reportedly a big jerk.
What surprised me was the strong ranking of men like Bill Gates, who tops the American list and comes in second on the U.K. one. Then I gave it some thought. Gates is uber-rich, has a long career, appears to be genuinely in love with his wife, and does amazing philanthropic work. He also pursued a dream — of creating affordable desktop computers — that seemed risky back in the day, which can be hard to remember now that we can hold sophisticated technology in the palm of our hands. He is indeed an admirable figure.
So are the last three presidents, all of whom appear in the top of the U.S. list in this order: Barack Obama (29%), Bill Clinton (26%), and George W. Bush (24%). Say what you will about their policies, I think most Americans would agree that reaching the Oval Office takes a lot of work and a certain way with people. All three of these guys have charisma.
Some of my favorite male stars – Brits Russell Brand, Ricky Gervais, and Jamie Oliver — hang low on the U.S. list and only in the middle of the U.K. one, and only 5% of American men admire Jay-Z, whose hustle I gotta respect. As with the Esquire list, The State of Men one started me thinking. Who are the guys I admire, and, more importantly, hope that my son Felix will too? They’re artists, scientists, intellectuals. Men who are successful but follow their own path.
And so, I humbly present to you here, The Gresko Eight: