Sunday’s New York Times featured an astute guide to male cinematic archetypes, written by A.O. Scott and Manohla Dargis. Their observations unfortunately ring true.
If any other bloc of Americans were consistently portrayed as negatively as men generally are — the backlash would be immediate and furious. But manhood is always fair game — no matter the consequences. And if Hollywood portrays men as rubes, married men get even worse treatment.
As Scott and Dargis observe, “Since the 1970s and women’s liberation the figure of the Husband has changed … To be a married guy — see “Hall Pass”and the “Hangover” movies — is to be henpecked and undersexed, but also to be protected from dangerous libidinous impulses.”
(This, of course, makes me wonder why in the world gay men would want to be a part of this institution — but that’s another issue.)
And while married singles don’t fare well in modern movies, married dads get even worse treatment. As Scott and Dargis note, “Oddly, being a father, which is, technically, the result of heterosexual you-know-what and therefore, symbolically, proof of manhood, is looked at in movies as a state of emasculation.”
Ironically, they note that, “A man rearing children in partnership with a woman is barely a man at all, but a man raising kids by himself is perfect.”
If one wonders why marriage rates are plummeting — or why modern women must wade through a generation of commitment-phobic suitors stuck in an adolescent/adult-hybrid — this might serve as a clue.
“Ideas,” as Richard Weaver famously observed, “have consequences.”
Companies and politicians, after all, spend millions of dollars to purchase advertisements (product placement is perhaps the most effective) in order to influence public opinion. And if Hollywood can help sell soap, it stands to reason they can also sell ideas.
But while the cultural implications are concerning, as a movie lover, I’m equally outraged by the predictability of these tropes. In the patriarchal 1950s, if might have been avant-garde to create films portraying henpecked husbands.
Today, it’s just a cheap and predictable laugh.