The Red Pill: Us Versus Them

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I went into The Red Pill, a documentary on the Men’s Right’s Movement directed by self-identifying Feminist Cassie Jaye, fully expecting my eyes to roll right out of the side of my head halfway through as I was largely prepared for the vitriolic, infantile babble that can often be found on Reddit, the comments section of YouTube, Facebook, and elsewhere whenever there is some women only screening of a movie or a female actress cast in a traditionally male role but something odd happened about five minutes in that I did not anticipate and it’s the same thing that seems to have happened to Ms. Jaye herself; I found they were making some interesting and often valid points.

*ducks incoming projectiles*

To be clear, a lot of the metaphors being used by some of the MRAs were inherently flawed, if well-intentioned. The first had to do with lumping all MRAs into the same group being similar to judging a snowdrift by analyzing one individual flake within it. Now. I understand the comparison, there is clearly a broad spectrum within this relatively fringe group and a few of the men interviewed were obviously educated and rational but when they start giving examples of, let’s say, gender inequality within the justice system with regard to custody battles and alimony, they end up using personal and, therefore, anecdotal evidence to describe a very large and complex system (like a snowdrift) that is unarguably flawed. This doesn’t necessarily invalidate their entire argument, as much as it encourages a necessary conversation on how gender biases can create injustices for all parties involved. And this is where Cassie Jaye does the thing that has not, to my knowledge or on a large enough scale, been practiced yet with regard to this movement: she listens. Rather than debate or try to deconstruct the logic of the men (and women) she interviews who identify and support this idea of Men’s Rights, she just sits back and pays attention to what they are trying to say. 

Having grown up with Michael Moore’s “documentary” style and The Daily Show since the Kilborn days, I can’t recall the last time I saw a piece on such a controversial and polarizing subject that was not in any way antagonistic or combative. If that’s the one thing that Cassie Jaye does best and most effectively in The Red Pill she also presents an undeniably skewed perspective that heavily favors the MRA side of the discourse. The men and women on the side of the movement are invariably its most grounded, well-spoken, educated supporters whereas the Feminist movement is represented by its most aggressive, shrill, disruptive agitators, the folks that carry signs to speaking engagements and chant ‘fuck this person’ on public streets and pull fire alarms as an act of civil disobedience. And this is an unfair representation of both sides because not all Feminists are total assholes, as the examples shown absolutely are, and not all MRAs are grounded, well-spoken, and educated; a whole lot of them are exactly as misogynistic, vile, and rape culture-y as they are depicted. But the idea that I think Cassie Jaye is trying to get across, and understand herself over the progress of the documentary, is that this concept of ‘sides’ is the first mistake that everyone is making, in particular with regard to Feminism.

At a later point in the documentary, Cassie interviews a woman who identifies as ‘Big Red’ who is, for all intents and purposes, an offensive caricature of an Angry Feminist/Social Justice Warrior come to life, she’s the embodiment of everything that the movements are known and, often, hated for and there’s a good reason for this: she’s a fucking idiot. Big Red is loud and curses a lot and not in a cool way, in a ‘Will you shut the fuck up while I’m talking again for, like, the billion-jillionth time…‘ (actual quote) and refers to the person she’s debating as a ‘dipshit’ among other things. After she tries to make the case that her Feminism is about gender equality across the board, her defense of why women are disproportionately favored in custody battles regardless of extenuating circumstances consists of, essentially, ‘Well, uhm, women have vaginas so, of course, their going to almost always be the more appropriate choice to be the caregiver.” Which is an argument in support of gender roles.

The point that is trying to be made, and something I am 100 percent guilty of contributing to, is that when the phrase Men’s Rights is used it is immediately perceived as being an attack on everyone who is not a man, it has a inherently aggressive connotation, and when I first heard it I thought the same thing as some of the more intelligible Feminists in The Red Pill. I thought, PATRIARCHY, and ‘men make more money than women’, and ‘oh boo hoo men are getting their feelings hurt’. Which is insensitive and reductive. And while I’m not agreeing with the entire premise of the movement itself, I failed to recognize the simple fact that I was perpetuating the ultimate problem behind, well, pretty much everything wrong with humanity; I was refusing to listen first and then formulate a thought. Because the assumption that I was making is that the MRA movement was somehow about fighting back against rights that were being taken away by the Feminist movement. I assumed that it was an attempt to reverse the progress that has been made to get everyone on equal footing and I incorrectly associated internet trolls with an actual message that was trying to be shared.

That message is just this: gender inequality is bad, period. And some times it swings the other way with regard to domestic violence, false paternity, alimony, child custody, and the odd circumstance where women are always evacuated from a sinking ship first. And that while it’s absolutely important to continue trying to advance equality for both genders it’s not exactly fair to say my issues matter and yours do not. Or more accurately as it is almost always phrased, my issues matter so fuck you, you little crybaby for bringing up your own, how dare you complain at all. The Red Pill also does not explore the darker side of the Men’s Rights Movement, the doxxing, the rape and death threats, the truly misogynistic crazies that misappropriate the entire concept who are sincerely afraid some kind of Amazonian Matriarchy is coming for our video games (absolutely fuck Gamergate while we’re on the subject) and if not acknowledging them was a conscious decision to avoid validating that aspect of it, I understand, however in not doing so the documentary fails to be as illuminating as it could have been. Instead, it feels cherry-picked which is not the worst thing considering how polarizing the subject matter is, it’s not meant to be the definitive article on MRA. Rather, it’s an introduction, the beginning of a conversation, one that I’m surprised to be more interested in and much more prepared for, now that I remembered how to stop trying to win every argument and just listen to what the other side has to say, even if, at first glance, they seem like a bunch of nut jobs. 

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Wonder Woman: All The World’s Waiting

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Going into Wonder Woman, as I occasionally do, I was preparing an introduction or opening ahead of time that would address whatever rumors or controversy happened to be affecting a film at the time of its release which, here in Austin anyway, is this bunch of stupidity.  I had some snappy riposte, some witty insult prepared because I absolutely cannot stand this nonsense “Men’s Right’s” movement on the internet, I have nothing but contempt for it and its perpetrators. “Hmm, ….maybe not everything is about me.” – A quote from none of the people protesting a women-only screening of Wonder Woman.

But those thoughts and preparations evaporated from my mind about ten or fifteen minutes into the film for one simple and satisfying reason: I was having too much fun. Who cares what those folks think, the important thing is that DC and Warner Bros. have finally broken their streak of tepid, uninspired, soulless comic book adaptations and discovered the real joy that can be found in these stories and they did it with an unproven lead, an Academy recognized indie director, and a whole lot of moxie.

One of my favorite criticisms of Batman 5 Superman: Decolletage of Jurisprudence that perfectly and effectively cuts to the core problem with that film comes from comic book nerd, podcaster, and occasional filmmaker Kevin Smith, saying, “There seems to be a fundamental lack of understanding of what these characters are about. It’s almost like Zack Snyder didn’t read a bunch of comics, he read one comic once, and it was The Dark Knight Returns, and his favorite part was the last part where Batman and Superman fight.” Not being a particular fan of DC myself,  I was shocked to discover the animated incarnations of the Justice League on Netflix, such as Justice League: War and The Flashpoint Paradox were really fun and entertaining (here’s a lovely moment in the former that is directly lifted by the movie and is not a spoiler). The characters in DC comics actually have personalities and pathos and I wanted to see more. And unlike the Snyder interpretations, I didn’t feel depressed and exhausted after spending time with them. This is where Patty Jenkins, screenwriter Allan Heinberg, and Gal Gadot truly succeed with Wonder Woman: they figured out what makes her tick, what makes her naive optimism incredibly charming without it making her weak or foolish and that, despite being something of a fish out of water, her constitution or agency are in no way affected. She is, in some ways, analogous to Captain America in that way and the same thing I love about him I love about her. In an era of anti-heroes and tragic origin stories it’s incredibly refreshing to find a hero who does the right thing because it’s the right thing, who aren’t essentially trying to save themselves out of some misbegotten guilt complex but rather want to save the world simply because it needs saving.

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There is undeniably an undercurrent of inclusiveness running through Wonder Woman with an ethnically diverse cast that stands out anachronistically the same way as Steve Roger’s troupe did in Captain America: The First Avenger but there is also a casual self-awareness to it. The character Sameer (portrayed by Moroccan actor Saïd Taghmaoui) points out to Diana after her observation about gender roles, “I wanted to be an actor but… I am the wrong color (shrug). Everyone is fighting their own battle.” It also feels like the film wanted to say a lot more on the subject but was streamlined for wide release, which is understandable however I am hoping there will be an extended or Director’s cut that explores these characters in more detail. Ironically, although the inclusion of people of different ethnic and cultural backgrounds is a nice gesture, without taking the time to flesh them out they end up seeming to be exactly what was trying to be avoid: two dimensional stereotypes. Points for the effort, though.

Now for the bad, because make no mistake, there is bad and it’s all in the third act. Anyone familiar with the other films in the series, at this point, is going be able to precisely mark the line of demarcation where the unique, endearing origin story is awkwardly and forcibly shunted into the rest of the DC Cinematic Universe, where Zach Snyder (thoughts and prayers with his family, by the way, all commentary aside) gets his dumb, clumsy hands all over the story and turns it into a murky, smoky, noisy exercise in smashing CGI actors together in front of a green screen. Don’t get me wrong, the heart and soul remain intact but are largely pushed into the background so that the movie can turn into everything that was dull and visually exhausting about the final battle in BvS:DoJ. There is also a completely nonsensical and unexplained head-fake in the final act that really has no place or necessity that I can come up with other than to simply have a twist of the sake of itself. This doesn’t entirely ruin anything since the whole last act feels so incongruous with the rest of the film anyway, but it does somewhat distract from the real emotional impact of the finale during which someone in the theater was inexplicably chopping onions near or around my vicinity. Which was weird, but hey, that’s what Austin is all about, right.

I’m just kidding, I cried like a little boy whose balloon floated away. Because movie. 

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Bottom line, what is good about Wonder Woman more than makes up for its deficiencies, it is without a doubt DC’s best extended universe offering and a sign that Warner and company’s course corrections seem to be in the right direction. There is a real concern for me, however, that the Diana, Princess of the Amazons, the sweet, sincere warrior with the mega-watt smile and an indefatigable sense of duty I found in this film is not going to be the Wonder Woman we get in the upcoming Justice League, that she will be replaced by some grizzled, bitter, steely-eyed grimace in a superhero outfit without any of the charm or personality. And if that’s the case, I’ll be severely disappointed. And then I’ll go back and watch Wonder Woman again because there’s this one part where she FLYING KNEE KICKS THIS DUDE THROUGH A DAMN WALL and it’s like KABLOOOOOM and she goes flying out after him and the music is like BWAOOWEDDDY BWAAAAAAAAOOOOW and you’re like, “HELL, YEAH.” Girl power.