Monday, August 11, 2014
Comedy Central was playing Tropic Thunder back-to-back yesterday, and I couldn't help but watch some of it with my husband. However, a few things stood out to me that hadn't before and I felt a better appreciation for the satirical comedy and underling commentary on war/action movies, the Vietnam War and masculinity. The degree of over-the-top action and violence exposes just how ridiculous and unrealistic action movies truly are, yet many young boys re-enact this genre when they are playing with other boys.
Action drama tropes also show boys that there are only a few acceptable times to cry, such as when a close friend has died and you are completely alone. Sometimes, the characters endure extreme pain and even torture without shedding a tear. This reinforces stereotypical masculine gender roles, which "often encourage men to resist the awareness of affect, avoid emotional vulnerability, and disguise their feelings" (Kilmartin, 2009, 157). Something I appreciated about this movie is that there is a moment when Tugg character finally "learns" how to cry, and that throughout this traumatic experience, each man has a moment of self-disclosure, revealing something personal about themselves to the group. For example, Jeff reveals his drug addiction and Alpa is becomes comfortable enough to be open about his homosexuality after the experience.
Kirk also has an interesting journey in learning to embrace his true (white) self. There is an interesting parallel between Kilmartin's description of normative male alexithymia, where men have become to used to suppressing their emotions that they cannot properly identify or express them (170). Kirk has become so obsessed with "becoming" his character Sergeant Lincoln Osiris, who was black, that he has undergone surgery and constantly imitate the speech and behaviors of a black man. Alpa finds his behavior offensive and constantly calls him out on it, until Kirk finally has a breakthrough and returns to his real personality and appearance. This parallels the other male character's emotional breakthroughs during the film.
The character of John/Four Leaf is also interesting in his development through the film, which is based on a book he wrote about his experiences in Vietnam. He has described a clearly traumatic experience of war, watching everyone in his troop die and facing his own mortality, and plays the role of a tough old vet. However, Four Leaf later reveals that he made the entire book up and was never actually involved in combat, which highlights the pressure to appear hyper-masculine to live up to gender role expectations. There seems to be a sense of relief that comes from the moment of self-disclosure about his real experience during Vietnam, and the others seem disappointed that Four Leaf lied to them, not that he isn't as "tough" or damaged as he pretended to be.
All of these situations are presented in such a funny way that it is easy to miss the positive message beneath. However, showing how utterly ridiculous situations and characters in war/action movies are can hopefully help male viewers apply this to their own lives, and feel that they don't have to fear the consequences of being their true selves.
Posted by Sierra S. at 12:19 PM