6 Backward Ideas Hollywood Still Has About Men
Men are complicated, nuanced beings. No two men define masculinity the same way, and each of their boners hides its own precious secret. Many are desperate for every woman to love them, while at the same time compelled to explain their own jokes to them on Twitter. But despite the vast and wondrous spectrum that is man, Hollywood seems to have extremely specific ideas of what a man is supposed to be. And it's not super great.
If You're Less Than 6 Feet Tall, You're Not A Real Man
You can be the most handsome, witty, charismatic male on Earth, but if you're one inch below average height, then tough shit. Hollywood will desperately avoid revealing that awful truth to the audience, lest they vomit in the aisles with disgust. Such is the life of a short action star.
If shortness is acknowledged on screen, it's as a punchline -- a hilarious inadequacy that either leads to constant, desperate attempts at comedy or a life of crime as a bad guy's sidekick. Movies would have us believe that short people live a life of existential struggle, that they are nothing more than incomplete souls crying out from children's clothes.
The average height of an American male is 5 feet 9.5 inches tall. (Strangely enough, surveys reveal this is the exact same length of the average American penis.) Tom Cruise is famously 2.5 inches shorter than this average, but we only know that because our own insecurity demands we find a flaw, any flaw, in this 54-year-old man with 2 percent body fat and chiseled features that become only more handsome with age. Yet you'd never know he was a tiny man from watching his movies. For example, Ving Rhames is over 6 feet, but he's shorter than Tom in that picture up there. How? Is he sitting down? Forty yards behind him? Take look at another shot from Mission: Impossible ...
Mark Whalberg is 5'8 and Zac Efron is 5'8. Sylvester Stallone is barely two apples high. And yet every time they're in a movie, they are looking all the normal people in the eyes, filmmakers forcing them to stand on little boxes to hide that they are grotesque, undersized genetic failures.
And god forbid we reveal that the 5'9 Robert Downey Jr. is in fact 3 inches shorter than Chris Evans. We could do this all day!
Question: Do you think this weird prejudice is with filmmakers or audiences? Do you really think we'd refuse to be inspired by a hero who possesses every other positive trait on Earth -- courage, humor, charm, muscles, wealth, confidence, sexuality -- if they can comfortably ride in the back seat of a Civic? It's not like we're expecting the hero to solve every mystery and defeat every bad guy with slam dunks. Although now that we think about it, that sounds like a pretty sweet goddamn movie.
So if you're a short (or even average height!) male watching, then guess what: The only trait that apparently matters is the one you can't do anything about.
You Can't Just Be Smart; You've Also Got To Kick Ass
Back in the 1980s, we didn't care if our burly action heroes could say anything coherent. Arnold Schwarzenegger talked like a moose trying to describe the peanut butter in its mouth, and Sylvester Stallone sounded like that same moose gently lowering itself onto a whoopee cushion. We didn't care, though, because their swollen pecs and rattling M60s did all the talking for them.
In an '80s action movie, diplomacy was a dick-measuring contest with a stick of dynamite, and Jean-Claude Van Damme always won. Heroes weren't paid to be smart; they were paid to strangle mooks and walk silently away from exploding gas stations.
We're obviously so much more sophisticated these days. The good guys in movies can't be musclebound meat sacks anymore -- they have to hold multiple PhDs and have a particular set of skills for every occasion. Ethan Hunt can speak 75 languages while maintaining the sexy abs of Instagram's douchiest bro. Jason Bourne can predict his opponents' every move ten steps in advance. Even the biggest, dumbest superhero, the Hulk, spends most of his movies as one of the planet's leading scientists.
It would be nice to think that the message is "Even nerds can be cool!" But these guys don't win by being nerds. In nearly every case, the real heroism comes in the form of a punch to the throat.
Remember those Robert Downey Jr. Sherlock Holmes movies, in which Sherlock uses his brilliant mind to beat the shit out of guys in shirtless pit fights? That was weird, right? But at least it shows him fighting as a hobby, to get good at it -- the BBC version also wins every fistfight he's in and can easily out-dive exploding bombs. You also might remember in the new Star Trek movies, wherein Mr. Spock uses his Vulcan logic to form plans like "Hold my beer, I'm going to go fuck that guy up."
Take Tony Stark out of the Iron Man suit, and he can still beat the hell out of a mansion full of henchmen in Iron Man 3. When Transformers 4 needed a nerdy inventor protagonist, it cast this guy:
In fact, if you're in a Hollywood film and you realize you're only brilliant, we have some bad news for you: You're not the hero. In fact, you're probably the obnoxious sidekick nerd. Check to see if you're Simon Pegg or Seth Green. If you're not, we have more bad news: You're probably the villain.
The message is clear, boys: Brains are fine, but only if you use them to invent better punching. And if you use your mind exclusively for non-punching endeavors, you're either ridiculous or evil.
Broken, Tortured Men Are Sexy
There's something sexy about a dead-serious man willing to do anything to get the job done. The Batmans and Liam Neesons of the world, men who ruthlessly cut through criminal organizations while brooding about the atrocities they've been forced to commit. Even the supposedly goody-two-shoes Superman now scowls as he struts out of exploded court houses filled with charred corpses and jars of pee. Is any of this sexiness getting you hot and bothered yet? Too bothered?
They are almost never seen eating, but always drink. If they're in bed, they're having nightmares about those they've lost (or, you know, having sex). They are emotionally cold and distant when they're not being glib. This is all done in the name of emotional complexity, but can we still call it that when every character is the same?
For example, why does Hollywood refuse to accept Superman as simply a morally sound hero who genuinely wants to help people? Struggling to protect those weaker than him is a perfectly legitimate problem. Did they think we couldn't relate to him unless he cried in an ice cave like he's in an Evanescence music video? Did they think he'd look like a "pussy" if he didn't destroy an entire city and snap Zod's neck in front of two children?
Every action movie and show seems to be in an arms race to give their stars the most severe PTSD or the highest number of dead loved ones. It used to be we that showed how grizzled a cop was by how old the Chinese takeout was in his filthy refrigerator. Now it's measured by how many times he flashes back to his family getting tied to chairs and set aflame.
It's not like this is making these characters more relatable to young males. ("See, he has problems just like you!") After all, it's not like they are heroic despite their tortured psychology, or that it's something to overcome. The psychological damage is the source of their power -- John Wick is a boring retired dude until a pair of tragedies utterly destroy his life, at which point he expresses his grief through numerous therapeutic sessions of gun-fu. Mad Max's defining character trait is that he never smiles, jokes, or shares anything about himself -- telling a comrade his name is treated as a shocking breakthrough.
At every turn, the message is the same: You're not a true, sexy badass unless you're a tortured shell of a man.
Movie Princes Are Non-People
A lot of analysis has gone into movie princesses, specifically the ones Disney has been cranking out for most of a century. That's because for decades, they were the only lead female characters in kids movies, which put a lot of pressure on them to be positive role models. They taught young girls how to believe in themselves and be courageous, but also that a woman's greatest virtues are good looks and shutting up.
We're not paraphrasing; that's literally a verse in a Disney song.
Still, no matter who you are, there's a solid chance you can name ten Disney princesses off the top of your head. On the other hand, can you name more than two or three Disney princes? Probably not, because most of the movies don't even bother giving the poor bastards names. The characterization of the princesses might send mixed messages, but the princes are forgettable handsome shells containing zero personality and a fetish for teen girls. They exist only to rescue the women.
Cinderella's dream husband? He doesn't have a name. Beast from Beauty And The Beast? Aside from that mean nickname, he has no actual name. Snow White's prince? Maybe he's a Trevor? Could be a Graham or a Tony. We'll never know, because the writers didn't think the character was worth naming. These movies give names to the horses and the mice, but not the princes.
The main characters are supposed to spend the rest of their lives with these guys, and the only thing we know about them is that they're single, heterosexual, and not child molesters. Except wait -- we don't know any of that. The only thing we know about Disney princes is that they fall in love easily and have no problem putting their mouths on sleeping strangers. Finding a girl in the woods and licking her awake isn't a great contribution to a relationship.
The point is that when it comes to royal romances, a princess brings dynamic character and a sense of adventure. A prince is handsome and has nothing better to do. We suppose the rebuttal is that these are fantasies for little girls and not boys, but that doesn't make it any better. What's the message for them? "Some day you'll meet a walking mannequin who will be perfect for you for one reason: He's a prince."
Prison Rape Is Hilarious
Jokes about female rape are still circulating out there (though not as many as were a few years ago), but it was always rare, if not unheard of, to see a movie play a violent male-on-female sexual assault for laughs. But if the victim is a male and doing time? It seems there is nothing funnier.
It's this reprehensible nightmare of a thing -- the worst thing happening in the worst possible circumstances -- yet Hollywood cannot get enough of prison rape jokes. To show you how easy going we are about it, realize that every time anyone ever joked "Don't drop the soap!" they were hilariously referring to a criminal raping you. Jokes about it are so acceptable they show up on SpongeBob SquarePants. They refer to it in Naked Gun and Guardians Of The Galaxy, and they hang the entire plot of Get Hard on it. If Will Ferrell and Kevin Hart had negotiated their contract to get paid $15 per rape joke, they could have tripled their multi-million-dollar salaries. This is a real, horrible phenomenon that's happening to someone, somewhere, right now.
The unspoken implication is that these victims deserve it. Really? Is that what we're going with -- that our civilized society has built a justice system in which one of the punishments for selling weed or stealing a car is the possibility of being violated? Even if Congress codified that into the law, even if we decided that rape is a suitable punishment for tax evasion, it would still be super weird to joke about it. And if the victim is himself a rapist, so what? You're trivializing the very thing he's guilty of.
This is, in fact, part of a larger trend ...
Men Are Cannon Fodder
In the real world, human life is a precious thing to be protected by all means. In a movie, lives are snuffed out as punchlines. Human bodies get blasted into pieces any time a film needs to pick up the momentum, and when we say "human," we specifically mean "men's."
Yeah, we talk about how filmmakers and moviegoers are desensitized to violence, but that's not true -- it's only violence against men. Let's look at an example. In this fleeting moment of awesomeness from Batman v. Superman, Batman bursts up through the floor and pounds the shit out of a group of thugs.
He's still working through the sting of not getting a Best Director nomination for Argo.
It's pretty fun, right? Now imagine it was a warehouse full of women. Everything else is the same. They're still armed, still up to no good, but every time Batman crushes one of their collar bones, it's a woman's voice screaming out in pain. Turn up the sound on that clip -- imagine every painful grunt is a female voice. Imagine if the heads Batman smashed into the floor had ponytails and eye shadow.
We're not even sure that sequence makes it into the theater -- somebody at the studio would get Zack Snyder some counseling as soon as they saw the script. It's not because women would be no physical match for Batman; nobody is a match for Batman. He is tearing through those guys like a rat terrier loose in a hamster cage. The fact is, that kind of violence toward women would hit you in the gut. When it's dudes, it's either awesome or hilarious.
You can do this with any action movie. Imagine watching Return Of The Jedi, only every time a Stormtrooper head is bashed in by an Ewok, you hear a female scream. It would be chilling -- the cops would kick in George Lucas' door and assume he has a crowd of female corpses in his freezer. It'd be equally weird if he had, say, given the battle droids in the prequels Jennifer Tilly's voice. And remember in The Two Towers when Legolas and Gimli are whimsically counting out their kills? Can you picture that being the same kind of fun if those were female orcs?
In fact, find any movie in which a human death is treated as slapstick, make the victims female, and you are left with a video suitable only for a serial killer's crawlspace. Indiana Jones once comically shot three Nazis with a single bullet.
If you can't watch the clip, there's a little comedy music cue that plays as their bodies slump aside. Imagine all three are women; at the very least, it becomes deeply uncomfortable. ("Uh, was Spielberg going through a rough divorce when they made this?")
And no, we're obviously not demanding Hollywood show more women getting butchered to make it equal. We're not demanding they show us fewer dead dudes. We're just saying that we've definitely been conditioned to react a certain way to on-screen brutality, and the difference between dread and hilarity is usually whether or not the victim has a penis.
That's weird, right?
Guy Bigel is a professional flute player, and he uploads fun arrangements to his YouTube channel. Check out his stuff here. Jordan Breeding has a blog, a Twitter, and wishes Hollywood would portray him as a super nerd with biceps the size of basketballs.
For more horrible ways Hollywood influences us, check out 6 Obnoxious Assumptions Hollywood Makes About Women and 6 Insane Stereotypes That Movies Can't Seem to Get Over.
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