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kottke.org posts about Maureen Ryan

Ted Lasso, a Model for the Nurturing Modern Man

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 14, 2020

Have you watched Ted Lasso? If not, you should — it’s probably my favorite TV thing of 2020. (It’s ok if you don’t care for sports. It’s not about sports.) Maureen Ryan’s excellent review of the series gets at why people are finding it so compelling.

A few weeks ago, I stumbled across this 2016 essay by Nora Samaran, who later expanded it into a slim but transfixing book called Turn This World Inside Out. It addresses a number of persistent questions I’ve had with lucid, thoughtful prose.

As Samaran puts it, “the men I know who are exceptionally nurturing lovers, fathers, coworkers, close friends to their friends, who know how to make people feel safe, have almost no outlets through which to learn or share this hardwon skill with other men…. Meanwhile, the men I know who are kind, goodhearted people, but who are earlier on in growing into their own models for self-love and learning how to comfort and nurture others, have no men to ask. … The answer to all of these difficulties is to openly discuss nurturance: how it looks, how it feels, how men can learn to practice it from the men who already know how.”

Ryan argues that Ted Lasso is an outlet that models the type of nurturing that Samaran is talking about.

Ted Lasso does a lot of things well — I adore the budding friendship between Rebecca and marketing whiz Keeley (Juno Temple) — but one of the things it explores wisely and well is what it looks like when men engage in (sorry for using these dreadful words) nurturing behaviors.

It’s a sprightly, well-constructed, enjoyable comedy about sports, sure, but it’s also about men who — like the many good men I have known (even in Hollywood!) — take responsibility for the example they set, for their emotions and for the actions they take. Ted Lasso will remain deeply valuable into next year and beyond, because it is also about a bunch of very different people who display fulfilling, conscientious confidence and leadership — not the bullying, toxic, arrogant, violent, condescending domination that has, in this country, has too often masqueraded as “leadership” and “confidence.” In evolving and supporting each other through those changes, these characters form friendships and communities that are truly meaningful.

Watching the show and reading this, I can’t help but think of another person who modeled kindness, goodheartedness, and nurturing male behaviors on TV for decades: Fred Rogers. (See, for instance, soaking in a kiddie pool with François Clemmons.) Ted Lasso co-creators & co-stars Jason Sudeikis and Brendan Hunt are right around my age; I’d be shocked if one or both of them didn’t watch a bunch of Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood growing up like I did. The two shows are obviously very different but Rogers’ brand of radical empathy is all over Ted Lasso. As I’ve grown more conscious over the past decade about the type of person I want to be in the world and the type of example I want to set for my kids, Rogers has been a guiding light and I’m happy to add Ted Lasso to the list as well.

Update: I forgot to add: another aspect I appreciate about the show is it demonstrates how you can be competitive without being toxic. Lasso is a very competitive guy who cares about winning, but he goes about it in a constructive way, not a destructive way. It’s the kind of energy their mom and I are always trying to impart to our kids, who are both competitive (albeit in pretty different ways).

See also Building Belonging at Summer Camp.