Bang Moms, But NOT Dads: 5 Weird Lessons From Movies
Making movies is hard. You have to cram a coherent plot, well-rounded characters, and up to three flashbacks of Bruce Wayne's parents getting murdered into 90 minutes -- or three hours if you're Zack Snyder. That's why filmmakers tend to use stock characters and recurring cliches, so they don't have to waste 15 minutes explaining that the guy in glasses is a scientist. He's got glasses, what else could he be? But some of those tropes say a little more than they mean to ...
Congress Is Evil, Presidents Are Awesome
There are more evil politicians in movies than there are lower back tattoos at a Saliva concert. And yet none of them ever seem to be the president. Seriously, every movie with a shady politician somehow manages to limit their offices to senators and congressmen, with the occasional CIA director thrown in to keep things spicy. Operation Treadstone is always created and run without the president's knowledge or involvement.
Movies like Iron Man 3, X-Men, the Star Wars prequels, Bob Roberts, Mr. Smith Goes To Washington, The American President, and others revolve primarily around conspiratorial senators, vice presidents, and the like abusing their power. But why? Wouldn't it make more sense to have an evil president? After all, isn't that a scarier proposition?
Then films like Air Force One, Independence Day, and the bizarrely interchangeable Olympus Has Fallen / White House Down combo take it a step further, depicting the president as a gun-toting ass-kicker who's immune to the seductive charms of stupid "politics."
So What's The Deal?
Americans tend to see Congress as a bunch of old, out-of-touch white men deep in the pockets of special interests. We don't agree on much these days, but we do agree on how much we hate the people we elected to office. In real life, the American government is protected by a system of checks and balances that don't allow any one branch (or person) to completely take over. But an efficiently run bipartisan commission doesn't readily lend itself to shootouts with M16s or badass one-liners.
Americans hate their congressmen because they are, by definition, members of a large body that have to compromise to get things done. We don't want limitations or compromise; we want them to deliver on their campaign promise of making Taco Bell the national religion. All the backchannel dealings and political doublespeak isn't very heroic. We want to see a hero make a grand speech before shooting an undead fascist reptilian in the neck, and we don't want to see it get held up in committee.
Banging Moms Is Awesome, Banging Dads Is Horrifying
A surprisingly large number of movies draw humor from a character's mom being attractive. This embarrassingly good-looking mother flits about, giving her child shame and everybody else throbbing erections. Stifler's mom in American Pie was the first woman in pop culture to be reverently referred to as a MILF. Barney from How I Met Your Mother (hilariously) loses his virginity to his friend's mom, Rhonda "The Manmaker" French, and "becomes a man" because of it. And pretty much all the guys in Always Sunny have had sex with each other's moms. Screenwriters love mining the humor potential of young men and older women lusting after each other. Sometimes it's supposed to be gross, but it's never seriously wrong.
On the flip side, there's nothing more horrifying than a younger woman with an old man. Every woman in a relationship with an older man is forced into it -- like in Beetlejuice, Lemony Snicket, or Mad Max: Fury Road. Or else they're a seriously screwed up and broken person, like in Adventureland, White Bird In A Blizzard, and American Beauty. If a young woman is involved with an older man, there's sure to be some kind of problem in the relationship, and it's a big deal and a huge driver in the plot of that movie.
So What's The Deal?
In the real world, it's older men who most frequently date and take advantage of younger women. In many cultures, women are valued primarily for their youth and sex appeal. Sometimes the use of this trope can be an attempt to call out that paradigm, but often it ends up reinforcing it instead.
By suggesting that it's hilarious and ridiculous for an older woman to be into a younger man (or for a younger man to be attracted to her), they're still enforcing the idea that young men can and should sexually conquer whatever woman they feel like. When Fez and Kelso (falsely) believe Eric slept with Donna's mom in That 70s Show, they worship him like a god. That isn't exactly empowering Donna's mom.
Even when it's not played for laughs, older women dating young men is almost always a score for the man. Big, 17 Again, and Blank Check all involve minors winning the affection of women at least 15 years their senior. Despite the statutory rapiness of these relationships, we as the audience are led to believe that everything is cool, because women couldn't possibly take advantage of men. That's something only creepy old men do.
And with old men and underage women, it's still the same power dynamic, even though the ages are reversed. The older men are dominating young women, and while some movies do depict this as a bad thing, they still act like women are essentially powerless. No matter how you slice it, men are still the sexual instigators and hold all the power in these relationships, whether by forcing the young women to do what they want or seducing them with their irresistible, disturbingly boyish charm.
Bostonian Men Are Emotionally Stunted
From The Departed to The Boondock Saints to The Town, movies would have us believe that Boston is the national capital of repression. And even though Leonardo DiCaprio infiltrates a murderous gang in The Departed, while Matt Damon infiltrates the ivory tower in Good Will Hunting, you'd be hard-pressed to find many other differences in their characters. Casey Affleck has built such a career out of his Boston accent and mopey face that he desperately tried to avoid using the accent in his Oscar-winning performance for Manchester By The Sea. To no avail.
So What's The Deal?
The idea of hard-hearted, angry Bostonian men is somewhat grounded in reality. Most of those characters are supposed to be "Southies" -- that is, residents of the predominantly Irish neighborhood in South Boston. That's always been a tough place, and was home to some big-time criminals (like Whitey Bulger, depicted by Johnny Depp in Black Mass) back in the '70s and '80s. Now throw in hundreds of sexually abusive priests who primarily targeted young boys, and you've got entire generations of men growing up terrified of showing weakness.
But obviously, there's more to Bostonians than deeply rooted anger and a funny way of saying "chowder." Not everybody from Boston is a white Irish Southie. Uh ... coming back to Casey Affleck: "I've run into people who say, 'I know what you're like: You're a Boston guy ...' That's so weird. This person who doesn't know anything about me thinks they know a lot because of the city I grew up in, which to me is a meaningless label. There are all kinds of people from Boston."
Contrary to popular belief, Boston is only 54 percent white, and only 32 percent angsty. Boston has a rich multicultural history, and there's no reason for movies to ignore that just because it also sometimes beats that multicultural history with a stick.
The Death Of A Woman Is Way More Important Than The Death Of A Man
When we see Bruce Wayne's parents murdered in Batman v. Superman, we watch his mother die so very, very slowly. This is a huge part of the film, and who Batman becomes. Stupid or not, the whole third act hinges around his mother -- specifically, her name. Oh, also his dad died too. Probably. Who gives a shit?
In Braveheart, it's definitely sad that Billy Braveheart's father dies, but when his wife dies, he decides to burn Scotland to the ground. Women are just inherently less killable than men.
So What's The Deal?
For decades, we've seen men killed in every imaginable way. Limbs are torn off, brains are blown out, and so many dicks have been punched that it's a wonder children are still being born at all. And yet it's usually "Oh no! He's dead! Welp, no use dwelling on the past!" We've been conditioned to expect men to escape from all sorts of harrowing situations using their wit and brawn, so it feels like a real man would have found a way to turn the tables on his fate. If a man dies, you don't want to rub it in by, like, making a big deal out of it. But women usually need saving. Having a woman beaten, murdered, or otherwise harmed is supposed to remind us that the stakes are high. To Hollywood, a woman's death simply means more. Not her life, though. Haha, don't be ridiculous!
People With Prosthetic Limbs Are Evil
You see a person with a prosthetic limb and think, I wonder what happened to that otherwise entirely normal person? Screenwriters see people with prosthetic limbs and think, What did those evil bastards do to deserve losing a whole limb?!
What is the final step in the loss of Anakin Skywalker's humanity? Getting all his body parts chopped off, forcing him to be remade as an evil magical space robot ... wizard. The one-armed man in The Fugitive was hired to knock off Dr. Richard Kimble's wife despite A) it being way harder to kill people with only one arm, and B) a one-armed guy being infinitely easier to trace. That leads us to think that in the world of The Fugitive, it's damn near impossible to hire a murderer with all his appendages. Bucky from the Captain America: The Winter Soldier isn't merely killing people; he's killing people with a robot arm. That's so much worse!
So What's The Deal?
"But there are examples of heroes having prosthetics," you scream at your phone, drawing odd looks from the other bus passengers. "Ever heard of Luke Skywalker?" There's a difference: He can "pass." Luke's hand looks and functions as normal, no matter how close you get, whereas Vader has that weird harmonica set-up when they take off his helmet.
Screenwriters think they're saving time by showing us a character's inner evil. Missing a chunk of arm is analogous to missing part of their humanity. That's why half the Bond villains replace body parts with weapons and every pirate captain is missing a leg. It's an easy way to tell the audience "Hey, this one-limbed dude is evil. You can tell, because he doesn't have a as many limbs as he should."
The problem is that by repeating this trope so frequently, it starts to feel like Hollywood actually has some kind of issue with handicapped people. And sure, some people with prosthetic limbs are probably housing some sort of ion cannon in there, but not all of them, certainly.
Jordan Breeding has a blog, a band, and is prejudiced against PG-13 thrillers. It's his cross to bear.
Also check out 6 Absurd Action Tropes You Never Noticed And Can't Unsee and 12 Specific Scenes That Superhero Movies Have Perfected.
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