To a hammer, everything is a nail. Currently, I'm hammering away at the idea of manly men. I did so yesterday in a post that alluded to early posts and articles I've written. Today, I'm doing it in connection with a New York Times article about Paul Greengrass's United 93. It turns out that there've been some murmurings of discontent from family members who think four male passengers have been given too much credit for the events on that flight:
As the courageous behavior of passengers and crew members who battled the four hijackers on the plane that crashed in a Pennsylvania field on Sept. 11, 2001, became public, some families grew troubled that four former athletes who made phone calls from the plane — Todd Beamer, Mark Bingham, Tom Burnett and Jeremy Glick — received almost all the sunlight of media exposure. Many others aboard were left in shadow.
It's not that other victims' families discounted or resented the valor of those men. But the families resisted early attempts by politicians to honor only these four. There was concern that bravery aboard United Airlines Flight 93 not be made into a kind of Olympic sport, where some passengers received a gold medal for gallantry while others had to settle for silver or bronze.
That's a very personal fight the families are having with a media that likes to focus on individuals the media deems more charismatic than others. I'm not going there, because deep emotions such as these are beyond the realm of argument or analysis.
The fact is, though, that when making the film, Greengrass decided to hew to this popular version of events on the plane, and he did so for what I believe is a very compelling reason: he felt it was more likely that these traditional, manly men, would assume leadership roles and personally lead the charge against the terrorists:
Relying on logic and evidence from phone calls, if not the safety net of proof, Mr. Greengrass concluded that the passenger rebellion was propelled by the youngest and strongest men.
"Sitting in a real airplane with actors who are roughly the same age and build as the passengers, you notice who the young men are and how many there are," Mr. Greengrass said. "Pinned in the back, your eyes automatically go to the biggest men."
In the movie, it is Mr. Glick, a former national collegiate judo champion with an outsized body and the skills for close-quarter fighting, who leads the revolt, leveling a hijacker with a running kick. Later, he appears to break a terrorist's neck.
I don't think Greengrass's decision denigrates the others on the plane. As I noted, I knew one of the passengers personally and, knowing her energy, optimism, courage and superb physical fitness, I have little doubt but that she was an active participant in saving the Capitol from the terrorists. However, acknowledging the undoubted bravery of the other passengers doesn't mean ignoring reality. And reality is that, in the small amount of time remaining to them, these passengers were not going to have a touchy-feely, egalitarian meeting, with everyone weighing in with an opinion, and debating the finer points. The events could only have happened if leaders stepped forwards immediately and Greengrass is right: The leaders were most likely to be the fit, traditional males on the plane.
Manly men — true manly man who embody all male virtues, from bravery through compassion — are an asset to a healthy society. We forget that at our peril.