Politics of masculinity and violence in cinema

A lot of people can easily pick out the politics of films regarding things like rebellion, corrupt governments, power struggles, technological advances, racial or sexual commentary, and many others. There is another political message (that I actually just studied in one of my other classes) that is subtle and much harder to even detect because it is SO ingrained in so many cultures (although American culture really demonstrates this well). And that is the politics of masculinity and violence in cinema.

Essentially, there is an underlying political and social message in ALL sorts of media (not just film, although I’ll concentrate on that) that reinforces the idea that “real men” are violent and aggressive. Take an action film as a logical example, like Terminator. Schwarzenegger embodies the essence of manhood, stoic and strong, able to take pain without a wince (I mean yes, he’s a robot, but that’s not important in the message being sent), and shooting, killing, maiming without a second thought. Or what about a film like Braveheart? He  fights back with violence, enduring physical pain like a “real man.” Or Fight Club? Brad Pitt, the manly half of Edward Norton, is also the violent half. Real men participate in fight clubs, it’s masculine and strong. Or, think about all of the coming of age movies where young boys are told to “man up” or “be a man” when confronted with adversity, pain, or their manhood being challenged. This is true across many cultures. Think of the people being violent in Gangs of Wasseypur. Who are they? They’re men!

Men are portrayed as violent and aggressive if they are “real men,” and “sissy men” are the only ones who aren’t as violent or aggressive when they are portrayed in films. This, I believe, reflects STRONGLY on our culture (and other cultures, as I said), and could possibly be the bigger contributor to things like mass shootings, rather than guns or radical Islam. Think about it, how many mass shootings were committed by women? How many terrorist acts? How much gun violence? It’s not that I’m saying women are better, that’s not at all my point, but rather that men are on the receiving end of really, really high standards regarding what it means to “be a man,” and some men as a result nurture their aggressive and violent tendencies.

I got this idea from another class of mine, and we watched a video on it. It’s a full length documentary called Tough Guise 2, and it’s VERY interesting and lays out the points much better than I have here. If you have time, I highly suggest you watch it.

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