Monday, 14 March 2011

Rant: Does A Great Film Need To Be A Masculine Fantasy In Order To Be Great? : Male Feminist Panic

Being a man, feminist issues are inevitably a catch-22. Particularly a middle-class, twentysomething male. Either You're a sackless traitor or an ignorant chauvinist and often both. I think for many of the men who would call themselves feminists, it can be a pose. It can be pretending to be dissatisfied with the privileged position us men hold, in which everything from movies to literature to everything else is geared to our taste, in which our opinion carries more weight and the world works to our convenience. We can say we resent it, we can say we'd rather things were equal, but there's as much truth in that as the lottery winner who says he wishes he could share his winnings with everyone who bought a ticket. Its hard to a fight a broken system when it favors you, and when a more equal system would mean you'd have to work for a living, metaphorically speaking. Its certainly not the Darwinian thing to do, to throw away advantages in the name of altruistic fairness. I think women should be suspicious of men crying feminist because the truth of that statement relies entirely on one's better nature conquering one's impulses. And how does that fight usually go?

And yet at the same time, its something I have always tried to be. I call movies out a lot for crimes of sexism and misogyny, often at the expense of reviewing a movie in a credible journalistic manor. Saying that Transformers 2's plot derailed because the camera was distracted by Megan Fox's boobs or the rampant self-hating misogyny of a Piranha 3D say, in which women are for looking at and ogling, but if they get to close to actually touch you, better kill them horribly because Don't let them take your masculine purity because that shit is sacred and you will BURN IN HELL. Or something like that. These thoughts I reckon kept the apologist feminist in me happy, and meant I could watch Die Hard in absolution. But these days I'm beginning to think my attitude to movie sexism mirrors that of a movie studio's attitude to quality. Just enough to get by and to keep the 'critics' off your back. And I don't think this is just my problem. Sure its to be obvious to say that guilty pleasure cinema has and always will be about male fantasy, tales of adventure and glorified violence that practicality and morality don't allow for. What man doesn't pray for the day he can use righteous violence to solve his problems, the day he can kill something and not have to take the horror and guilt of the act into account, That's what Die Hard, Rambo, Point Blank, The Dirty Dozen, The Big Sleep and The Adventures Of Robin Hood do, they allow us to play this out in a way that removes consequence and we love them for it. Hey, its called guilty pleasure cinema, what else do you want from it. But I don't think it necessarily stops there.

If you look at what the mass voice calls the best movies all time, particularly in regards to mainstream taste, then the one thing that links many of the greatest films of all time is that they are still some rendition of the same masculine fantasy. The kicker being they're self aware. They examine it, call it out. Say how terrible it is, all whilst still fundamentally playing it out. The Godfather for example, is for all its commentary on The American dream and break-up of the American family, still about an innocent man turning to violence to solve his problems, and emerging victorious. We the viewer are meant to see it as tragic, but yet are still encouraged to enjoy the ride, so to speak. Citizen Kane is about a man finding success through the ultimate masculine body, capitalism. Again it points out how tragic it is but not before enjoying Kane's rise. Fight Club is explicitly about a man finding his identity in violence, There Will Be Blood is about the consequences of greed and furious competitiveness, again the male fantasy of crushing one's opposition. You could go on. Its called having your cake and eating it storytelling, in which you justify your transgressions by condemning them. But at the center of all these films is the masculine ID. What we deem to be interesting, what we deem to be fascinating and what we deem to be quality seems to depend on how much something skews male.

Amongst my favorite films are Fight Club, The Good, The Bad And The Ugly, Pulp Fiction, Platoon, City Of God, Apocalypse Now, The Big Lebowski and Vertigo to name some at random and without exception they have a male lead, and I'd say a good 80% of those film push a world where no women exist at all, at least not in any real capacity. And I think its fair to say these films would be in many people's lists and they are universally deemed to be quality. Yet every one is an examination of male fantasy. It gets to the point, Perhaps because criticism is not entirely an intellectual exercise, and many times it can be simply verbalizing gut reactions to things. But this implies that instinctually, I find the male experience more interesting then the female one.

And I don't agree with these findings, intellectually anyway. And deciding whether something is good or not has to leave base subjectivity at some point otherwise it nullifies the whole process. Traditionally men react to situations with force and women with consideration. Even with this simplified, reductive view of both sexes This makes women much more interesting characters, at least on screen and because I am more familiar with male experience, I should find female characters more interesting, more mysterious and more fascinating. To my mind they are the unknown, and thus more worthy of exploring. Yet cinema and even television tells me the most fascinating characters are those who push masculinity to its limits in any context. Why isn't Volver or Heathers on this list, why not Breakfast At Tiffany's, Spirited Away or Heavenly Creatures. I could barely fault these films (Well, I guess excepting Tiffany's racism toward the Japanese) and yet they don't connect with me in quite the same way. It seems that Intellectual consideration can't compete with gut reaction, and as great as something could be, if it doesn't fulfill that particular ID, that kid who wants to play cops and robbers and annihilate Goldeneye on the N64 and fervently believed that girls had cooties, if he doesn't get what he wants then it can't be mind-blowing in quite the same way. Is that kid secretly in charge of every reaction I have, what I decide is great or awful. Is the only role I perform to justify his likes with long words and an amusingly cynical world view? I'd like to say no.

If only it were just me, but the fact that this is so frequently the case implies that this is everyone. Every male viewer is going to partial to the have its cake and eat films because the service both the boy and the man, whereas Antonia's Line can only ever serve the man. The proto-feminist can fight as hard as he wants, but he is a lie, an imaginary creation made of nothing but air and good intentions. I guess there's the hope that you repeat a lie enough eventually it comes true, that if you keep telling yourself you believe something enough times eventually you'll cave and suddenly Boys Don't Cry will be the best film of the 1990's. But alas, me and the rest of the world of the Y chromosome are probably destined to be biased forever.

I think this is a critical version of survivor's guilt, perhaps because I get what I want whilst women get to tell so few of the amazing stories I have no doubt they could tell, so I'll turn and thrash until my conscience is satiated and then go back to cheering on Commander John Matrix. One can dream.

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