Question the Narrative
I spent the last week on an unintentional break from the news, writing, media, etc. and spent the week streaming movies. I looked for various titles, but many times just looked through the visual catalog Netflix provided. Nothing demonstrates how inclusive the movie industry is like seeing white face after white face on your screen as you try to decide what to watch. But I didn’t let that bother me, I was sick and I wanted to feel comforted so I chose movies that made me feel nostalgic.
Now that I am more critical of what I consume, watching movies I previously enjoyed is challenging. I don’t see tropes as harmless anymore. Every single image, every choice, every character is a message. It is a way to influence our thoughts. So when I watch movies, I pay more attention to the messages being promoted. I am not the best at it. There are tons of nuance that I still miss, but it still makes a huge difference in how I see things that I once viewed as mere entertainment, and that scares and saddens me.
I watched Small Soldiers, a movie whose message I thought, in addition to being anti-war, was “just because something looks monstrous, doesn’t mean it is.” And while that message was still a big take away, there were even bigger messages about white saviorism and tolerating toxic masculinity that I’d missed. And I missed then because of how we are programmed to watch movies – the protagonist is sympathetic. They deserve our empathy. We should always seek to understand their motives unless we are explicitly told that they are evil. In Small Soldiers, the protagonist is a white teenager who’d been expelled from two high schools for illegal activities (downplayed as pranks) who cannot take “no” for an answer from a girl that he likes. The entire movie, he repeatedly asks his neighbor out despite her many refusals because who cares what she wants. He wants her to go out with him and he’s not going to give up.
This kid is a resentful teen, angry that his parents don’t trust him, despite his violating that trust at every turn. He lies to his parents. He convinces a delivery man to “lose” a shipment of toys that he plans to sell while his father is away on business – toys that violate his father’s deeply held belief against promoting violence. This kid, this criminal, who cannot abide simple rules and laws is the hero, and at one point I found myself actually sympathizing with this degenerate.
Movies are fucking insidious.
This movie presented the soldier toys as extreme examples of hyper-masculinity and then bombarded us with a less extreme version of toxic masculinity, masked as the hero, to soften our perspective. We see his persistence with the girl as a heroic quality – look at how he doesn’t give up. Why don’t his parents believe him about the toys? Sure, he’s lied in the past, but they should trust him! Why can’t they trust him? Look at him try to save his family from the problem that he created with his lies and machinations? He’s a hero!
And then there’s the peaceful toys that the degenerate works to save…the peaceful Gorgonites who he has to pressure into saving themselves. Toys who “sacrifice” themselves to save the humans. It’s pretty easy to see this storyline in so many narratives about people of color – that we appear dangerous, need to be contained and destroyed, cannot save ourselves and that in order to be redeemable, we must offer to sacrifice our very beings. Blah, blah, blah. It’s fucking gross.
So yeah, Small Soldiers sucked.
A couple days later I followed that shit up with Good Will Hunting and OH MY GOD that movie made me so angry!
That movie, which put the poster boys for white liberal Hollywood bullshit on the national radar, is the epitome of white male privilege. It is the magnum opus of forgiveness of toxic masculinity. It is the fuckshittiest of fuckshit when it comes to the hypocrisy of how people are treated in this country. We spend an entire movie learning to empathize with a man who is willfully violent, angry, dangerous, and destructive. We are taught to afford him opportunity after opportunity, to bend over backwards to help accommodate this white man who consistently rejected every overture. Yes, he’d been abused. Yes, he had a hard life. This man transformed himself from a victim to a predator. He picked fights. He treated people like shit. He lied, repeatedly. And yet, we were supposed to empathize, sympathize, understand, and forgive.
They talked to women like shit, treated them like shit, and fought over them like prizes to be won. And the entire movie, this grown ass man who made shitty, dangerous, violent decisions was referred to as a boy and forgiven his transgressions. And the take away? He’s just misunderstood. So when your boyfriend screams at you and beats on the wall when you confront him about his lies, when that man spits on the job interviews you set up for him and mocks you incessantly, just remember that he may be a misunderstood boy who always deserves the benefit of the doubt.
This type of messaging is why the Charleston shooter got a bulletproof vest and McDonald’s when he was taken alive after murdering 9 innocent people.
This type of messaging is why white men shoot at cops and are talked down.
This type of messaging is why people blame women for their abuse.
This type of messaging is why people blame Black people for racism.
We are continually bombarded with the message that white men deserve our trust, our forgiveness, our leniency, and our support and anyone who denies them these things is the enemy. White men feel entitled to these things, and when they are denied, the outcry reverberates throughout the land. This is white supremacist, patriarchal conditioning. And we are its victims.
Every time we turn on a television, watch a movie, and read a book, we are taught how to forgive white men and then men like GW Bush Jr, a man who was mediocre at best, become president for 8 years. Men like Bill Clinton fuck their interns and stay in power. Men like Trump lie, cheat, and steal but become viable presidential candidates. They are flawed. They made mistakes. They deserve our respect.
Except they don’t and that we give it to them is disgusting.
So, next time you find yourself watching a movie with a white, male protagonist, assess their actions. Take a long, hard look at the main character and ask yourself if what they are doing is legal and moral. Ask yourself if you empathize with them. Ask yourself if they earned the benefit of the doubt. Ask yourself whether you’d like this person in real life.
Ask yourself, does this person deserve your regard and respect, or are you entitling them to something they haven’t earned…and ask yourself why.
Always question the narrative.