A Window into Life in the Suburbs

"Consider how the lilies grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these." Luke 12:27 (NIV)

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Those Magnificent Manly Men

There's a lot of talk on the internet about The Expendables, a dumb but fun testosterone orgy starring Sylvester Stallone, one of the lords of testosterone orgies from the 1980s, as a throwback to the good o'l days of onscreen uber masculinity... when manliness was an ideal to be attained not scorned. It assumes, of course, that there is such a thing as manliness... which sits, I'm assuming, in some kind of contrast to womanliness.
So it begs the question, what is a manly man? I suppose if I were to ask 100 people that question,, would I get a hundred different answers? I'm not certain... but I daresay that there will be overlaps... or common threads in some of these responses.

I like my manly movies, whatever that might mean to someone else... but I don't overanalyze my motives. It seems to me to be a waste of time wondering why I enjoy seeing muscle-ripped men brandishing wicked-looking hand weapons and killer martial arts moves taking down the bad guys with one fell swoop.
I daresay that there is a kind of catharsis to see justice done onscreen, even if it means lots of things get blown up in the process and lots of bodies are maimed.
Or it could be that I am psychologically disturbed.

Many, many moons ago, a film called The Seven Samurai was released. Now a classic, the story was a straightforward heroic tale of injustices redressed paid with the ultimate sacrifice. In it, a farming village, in the grip of famine, is being terrorized by bandits and so they elicit the aid of rogue samurai to protect them. They don't have much to offer by way of payment except the offer of rice but somehow, these warriors of old take pity on them and offer their services, pro bono.

Years later, Hollywood gives us The Magnificent Seven, boasting an all-star cast. The story, too, is simple. A farming village on the Mexican border is being terrorized by bandits, so they elicit the aid of gunslingers in the wild west, to rid themselves of the thieving thugs. Seven gunslingers, looking for self-redemption in varying degrees, come to the rescue and save the day. Now a western classic, Mag 7, showcases plenty of gunfire, punch ups and good looking men on horseback and spurs strutting their stuff.

In 2010, a lesser film in a similar vein, called The Expendables, has in its rollcall 5 highly skilled mercenaries, bound together by friendship and a gentleman's code, going to the rescue of a beautiful, young artist, a stalwart member of an oppressed people in an imaginary island off the Gulf of Mexico. As is expected with these things, there are plenty of explosions, furious hand-to-hand, explosions, knife throwing, dead bodies and did I mention explosions?
The Expendables is no great piece of film making by any stretch of the imagination. It's use of violence is epic no doubt but it the perception that this film celebrates a lost masculinity of a bygone era is clearly intriguing.

So what do these films have in common?
Men...well, yes... that's obvious. Lots and lots of men. But not a lot of women. Women are there... for romancing, even to protect and they could potentially be a distraction. But they play a secondary role.
These men are fearless doers... driven to action for gain... for self interest and when their better natures are moved, for good... particularly for those who cannot fight for themselves.
They are the unlikely de facto guardians of justice in a world that is unjust and if they have to, they will fight fire with fire. Such men thrive in danger.
Manly men, it would seem do not see a bipolarity between their instinct to love and protect against their well-controlled violent tendencies.

Clearly this strikes a chord with many young men who see the appeal of an exaggerated masculinity played out in a rescue fantasy. It may explain the popularity of console or online gaming, which allow these instincts to be played out in a safe environment.

Me? I don't care much for the aggressive competitveness of gaming. But as an action film enthusiast, I sit and watch in passive appreciation of age old themes of brave men, rising up and fighting against great odds for things they believe in like kith and kin.
More importantly, it's how I bonded with my father as an adolescent... I sat next to him and watched action films. While I didn't know it at the time but I think it helped me understand him just a little bit more.


  1. Two Words: Jason Bourne. HA! But I'm not really into most action movies (besides the Bourne saga). I find the exaggerated masculinity a little irritating. But I've watch quite a few in my time (none of the above though) because that is the only movie my husband will watch with me. He WILL not watch a chick flick. lol

  2. I have heard many of my friends say that. LOL But mine will, when we actually have time to watch anything. We've seen a few Austen things together. But that's probably because he likes the British wit.


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