Monday, August 11, 2014

Action Man!

College classes, if they are any good, should make you think twice about your every day experiences. Video production changed how I watch TV shows and movies, and gave me an appreciation for how much work they are. And now my intro to masculinities class is changing it again.

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.

1 comment:

  1. Hello Sierra!
    I am not very familiar with this movie but I know I have seen it before and do recall it being ridiculous. I love the way you relate this movie to Kilmartin and the ideas we have learned so far throughout this class. I would have never thought of Tropic Thunder as being a movie to go against the grain and use enlightenment but you make some very good parallels and very good points as to how it actually does. I feel as though humor can be a cover up for some things and for others it is just necessary. We can learn a lot through making situations humorous and allowing ourselves a minute to unwind our minds and let them soak in the crazy. Yet at the same time people who aren't educated in the way we are about these issues may not notice the messages under the humor used. I do the same things when I watch movies, I notice racism and class standards and gender and so many things because of my education but when I have pointed them out to others I get a weird look. After I watched "Olympus Has Fallen" I was in an outrage. I did think the graphics and acting overall with the movie was great but the message portrayed was so damaging to our culture. If you haven't seen it is is truly a good movie to examine underlying meanings. To me though the racism in this movie was outright blunt and obvious but when I mentioned it to a friend she said she didn't notice anything wrong. This just goes to show how those who aren't educated in these issues and this knowledge have a hard time understanding what we do. It makes me realize, as I have said multiple times this quarter, that we need to educate society about these issues otherwise they go unnoticed and just a blip on the radar. Thank you for sharing!