SO ANYWAY, ME AND THE GUYS WERE down at Hooters the other night, and... hold on a second. Before you get the wrong idea, I was just there to look at the girls--not eat the food, okay?? Actually, it was my first Hooters-going experience, and though I'm not ashamed I went, my only regret is that I entered the establishment with a heaping helping of that most horrible of attitudes: pre-millennial irony. See, me and the boys are what's commonly referred to as "college dandies." Slightly effeminate with degrees in the liberal arts, we can speak at length on subjects as varied as philosophy, the latest Bertolucci film, and the dubious merits of a California merlot. However, when it comes to discussing other topics, like that guy who throws the ball for the Mariners, that thingy in your carburetor that won't stay open, or the latest issue of (what I believe is called) Juggs magazine, we are woefully inadequate.

Anyway, me and the dandy boys decided we were gonna have us a "real" man's night out, and that meant going to Hooters. And I swear to God, we honestly tried not to be ironic. We were gonna go in there, stare at the waitresses, get a big boner, and eat some chicken wings--and that's all. NO discussions of the restaurant's feng shui, NO whining about how the menu lacks fare from Singapore, and absolutely NO snide comments about the exploitation of women (unless we were the ones doing the exploitin').

Well, to make a long story short, it was a bust (and not of the booby variety, either). We looked as comfortable in Hooters as a dog in a tuxedo. Unable to engage in any loud, boisterous sports talk, we made half-hearted, embarrassed attempts to gawk at the waitresses' ripened body parts--and failed miserably. We were fops in the house of jocks, and slunk out of there, doilies tucked between our legs.

Now I wouldn't even be bringing up this wholly pathetic story, except for the numerous TV shows that, like us dandy boys, have recently gone out of their way to prove how manly they are. Three have debuted in the past few weeks, each attempting to fill TV's gaping hole that is apparently begging to be filled with male-oriented programming. The Zappa Boys (Ahmed and Dweezil) host Happy Hour (USA, Saturdays, 9 p.m.), a variety show featuring a bunch of has-been celebrities singing karaoke and bouncy booby go-go girls. Meanwhile, over on the FX Network, Mark DeCarlo (formerly of the unfortunately entitled Studs) leads a bunch of knuckledraggers on The X Show (Sundays, 11 p.m.), an all-male discussion group that is kind of like the all-female chat show The View--except with lots more poop jokes. The best of the bunch is Comedy Central's The Man Show (Wednesdays, 10:30 pm), featuring Loveline's Adam Corolla and the very funny Jimmy Kimmel (Win Ben Stein's Money). The Man Show gleefully dips lower than the lowest common denominator to parody all the things men supposedly enjoy: girls jumping on trampolines, shot-gunning beers, monkeys farting.... Yep, that pretty much covers it.

Of course, the problem with all these shows (even the parodies) is not so much their incessant sermons on manliness, but rather that they act as if men are some sort of oppressed minority who are justifiably fighting for their inalienable right to make monkey, poop, and booby jokes. Though I doubt they realize it, this sort of "rah-rah-I'm-a-man" posturing bespeaks a pretty basic insecurity and hard truth you won't hear on any of these shows: Most guys really don't know who they are, and have a hard time fitting into a world filled with so many expectations. Places like Hooters thrive on these insecurities (which is why you'll never find a decent merlot on their menu), and if there's any exploitin' going on, it's not just aimed at the gals.

So listen up, fellers! Don't be fooled into thinking you have to act like "one of the boys." Whether you like sports, the vocal stylings of Dan Fogelberg, farty monkeys, or a fine California wine, just remember: We men are more than just our dangly bits. And whether you're a dandy boy or a jock, life ain't a beer commercial.