The other day I spotted a gleaming white, seemingly unused golf tee laying in the rundown parking lot of a faltering department store in the murder-y part of Virginia Beach and I thought, what a great symbol for Michael Fassbender.
Michael Fassbender is obviously a very cool guy. He’s handsome, debonair in a suit but just as comfortable casual or disheveled. Somehow he’s from, like, most European countries. He tends to walk around with this smirk on his face like he’s thinking something hilarious but keeps it to himself because wisecracks are for people in need of attention and he doesn’t need attention, he just receives it. Oh, and he’s also a talented and seemingly fearless actor.
He basically hits all the tried and true markers for cool classification. But I don’t think those things really nail what makes Fassbender cool, or maybe what I’m thinking is that what makes Fassbender cool is the way he transcends the traditional definition of the term, or maybe how his career and persona at this point illustrate something interesting in this particular cultural moment.
So, that golf tee. The golf tee symbolizes all that’s hoity-toity and humorless, this carefully engineered tool meant for lush green grass trod upon by men and women with stock portfolios who even in their leisure time seek out a game that requires expensive equipment, endless lessons, and a dress code. Take a golf tee and toss it down outside a Kohl’s with a broken automatic door, let it skitter around with discarded bags of Andy Capp Hot Fries and cigarette butts…what better symbol could there be for a guy who has played both Edward Rochester and Magneto? Who you’ll see as both Macbeth and in the Assassin’s Creed movie in the next twelve months? And if that leap seems as jarring as, say, going from playing a robot in a horror movie to starring as a lawyer in an existential study of morality written by a Pulitzer prize winning author, keep in mind that Fassbender has done that, too. He alternates role to role in either the kinds of movies embraced by snobs who bemoan that Hollywood only makes adaptations, sequels, and remakes, and the very adaptations, sequels and remakes they are bemoaning.
It almost seems like someone should call him out, doesn’t it? But no one does, and maybe part of the reason is that he seems to have very little ego. Sometimes he’s got a jaw line like something Milton Caniff spent his entire career trying to get right and piercing eyes, and then the next time you see him he’s grown a scraggly beard and his eyes are all red-rimmed and raw. He could so easily join that George Clooney/Will Smith club, become one of these movie stars who always end up playing some aspect of themselves, but he’d rather play a mentally ill man who warbles gibberish from within an enormous papier-mâché head or a sex maniac obsessed with his sister in Shame.
To be fair, those last two could be him playing out aspects of his personality for all I know.
I know it seems like what I’m saying here is that Fassbender is cool because he sometimes stars in weird, fun junk and pulp. Listen: even typing the name Edward Rochester bores me to the point where having to do so makes me wonder if I really want to finish this column. I’m someone who thinks about the X-Men between twelve and twenty times a day. If I’m choosing sides in the culture wars, I’m reporting for duty in a regiment commanded by Stan Lee. This is not a point of pride, this is a matter of fact. What I’m thinking is that what makes Michael Fassbender so cool is that he doesn’t play Rochester like it’s art and Magneto like a contractual obligation, he plays both with the same level of commitment. I’m saying, if this makes sense, that I look at a golf tee in a parking lot and see the misplaced accouterments of a lifestyle I’m embarrassingly drawn to and unable to achieve, and Michael Fassbender sees a golf tee in a parking lot. I don’t think he differentiates between high and low, or if he does he hides it well.
And that, I think, reflects where we’re at and where we’re going. Being a nerd used to mean being super obsessed with something esoteric and niche, now because of the internet everything is niche and nothing is esoteric. Nerd is no longer a slander or a state of being, it’s a synonym for hobby. Personally I can’t handle that. The X-Men are my thing, my refuge, and it’ll piss me off to see people in the stands at baseball games, of all things baseball, the sport who’s fans are, in my experience as a one-time nerdy, timid middle schooler, the most judgmental and opposed to flights of fancy, wearing shirts with Wolverine on them until the day I die.
I’ll leave it to people alternately more intelligent or boring than I to explain if all this is good or bad, I just know it’s how things are, that Michael Fassbender seems cued in, and that everything else aside nothing is cooler than someone on the cutting edge.