Back in 2006, I wrote an optimistic article for American Thinker in which I saw some hope in Hollywood’s approach to manliness. I’m going to quote here at some length from my earlier article, because I want to make the point that I was lauding an enormously successful movie because it celebrated traditional male virtues:
The Narnia Chronicles: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, is a wonderful film, with Christian themes intact. I therefore went to the film prepared to be impressed — and I was. The big surprise for me, though, and something I haven’t seen discussed anywhere, is the movie’s positive depiction of its male lead, Peter (played by 18 year old William Moseley).
As the movie begins, Peter is a young man who is casually kind to his sisters, painfully impatient with his brother, and loath to take on responsibility. Once in Narnia, of course, Peter has responsibility thrust upon him, for he quickly learns that he is the High King of prophecy. It’s important to note that he’s not simply one of two kings, or one of four royal children — he is the High King, the leader among leaders. Although he is at first appalled, once he realizes that he cannot avoid this destiny, he swiftly grows into his role.
The pivotal moment for Peter comes when he, his sisters, and their talking beaver companions are stranded on rapidly cracking ice, with a frozen waterfall above them about to burst, and hostile wolves surrounding them. To add to the pressure Peter faces, one of the beavers has a wolf poised above his throat. Up until this point in the movie, he has merely been reactive. This crisis forces him to be proactive.
Peter has few options. He can kill one of the wolves, but this is unlikely to save him and his companions from melting ice. With imminent disaster facing him, and everyone screaming different advice to him, Peter is forced to make his decision alone, and quickly. At the last moment, he plunges his sword into the ice beneath him, causing the entire ice pack beneath the companions and the wolves to crack.
While the wolves slip into the water, Peter’s sword creates a pole to which he and his sisters can cling as their block of ice races downstream. (The beavers, of course, run no risk from their icy plunge.) Peter’s rapidly developing courage and resourcefulness reappear when Lucy slips off the ice floe, and he dives under water to rescue her. It’s a gripping scene, made more so by the fact that dire circumstances have forced Peter to leave the boy behind and become a man.
Once Peter has crossed his personal Rubicon, from boy to man, his old—fashioned manly virtues develop swiftly. He displays principled honesty when he confesses forthrightly to Aslan that Edmund’s failures can be traced back to Peter’s own impatience with him; he shows magnanimity when he welcomes Edmund back into the fold, even though Edmund’s treachery almost destroyed them all; he demonstrates brilliant tactical skills when, in Aslan’s absence, he creates a masterful battle plan; and he acts with incredible gallantry when, despite his sheltered upbringing in Finchley, he leads his troops into battle against the witch and her foul warriors.
In the remainder of the article, I contrasted the Narnia movie to the anti-male nihilism in Brokeback Mountain, which came out at about the same time. When I considered that Narnia was a huge hit, while Brokeback was something of a big joke, beloved by critics but laughed at by ordinary Americans, I hoped that I was seeing a positive trend regarding boys and men in movies. I have to admit, though, that I got a little worried when the Narnia sequel, The Chronicles of Narnia : Prince Caspian came out. In a major departure from the source book, the filmmakers presented Peter as whiny, jealous, suspicious, and foolishly impetuous. The heroic, moral character from the first book had disappeared and in his place was a petulant teenager. Still, compared to the movie I saw last night, a movie that starred yet another character named Peter, this impaired Peter in Narnia was still a virtuous man.
And what did I see last night that cast me into such despair about pop culture and the attack on traditional manliness? It’s a “comedy” called I Love You, Man, which came out some months ago, but which I only saw yesterday on DVD. The premise is simple: After eight months of dating, Peter Klaven (Paul Rudd) and Zooey (Rashida Jones) decide to get married. It turns out, though, that during their eight months of being together Zooey had never noticed that Peter didn’t have any guy friends of his own. Her girlfriends, however, point this out as a threat to the marriage (he’ll be whiny and clingy) and as a threat to the wedding (lots of bridesmaid, no groomsmen). Overhearing this conversation, the panicked Peter decides to do some guy bonding so that he can stand tall at his wedding and be independent afterward. For the next hour and a half, we watch Peter deal with a series of truly disgusting guys in an effort to bond with one of them. His ultimate pick as is “guy friend” is a man that any woman would recognize instantly as a dangerous narcissist or a sociopath, and it is this character who gleefully introduces Peter into a modern man’s world.
From start to finish, the men — and the women — in the movie are repugnant. Peter, who is sweet enough, is so emasculated that, although heterosexual, he is an anti-man. To the extent he has any virtuous behaviors, they exist because he’s abandoned manliness. He is a lesbian in men’s clothing. His father and mother enjoy embarrassing him about his sexuality, such as it is. His brother is a gay man who has become so bored with picking up other gay men that he’s begun preying on straight men. Zooey, while a fairly decent, straightforward woman on her own terms, hangs with a group of gals who discuss sex in the crudest terms, and who genuinely seem to dislike men. One of her closest friends is married to a man who is so disagreeable it is impossible to tell why his wife wants to become pregnant with him. Played by Jon Favreau, he’s not only hostile to everyone around him, his “guy” friendships focus on gambling and binge drinking. Peter’s efforts to bond with Favreau’s character end with the vomiting scene that seems to be obligatory in all modern movies.
Peter eventually gravitates to Sydney Fife (Jason Segel), who is not gay, who is not a binge drinker, and who is not a lonely old man seeking friends by posting “young man” pictures on line (as one character does). The scenes that follow the developing Peter-Sydney relationship play out like a parody of a traditional chick-flick, with a nervous, tongue-tied Peter trying to woo the cool Sydney (only in a nervously non-sexual way).
What kills any comedy potential in this parody of chick-flicks is the fact that Sydney is unspeakably repugnant. I’ll freely concede here that it’s entirely possible that all guys, outside the company of woman, have a special living room chair in which they masturbate, complete with accessories; haunt open houses to pick-up divorcees; track other people’s farting patterns; inquire into the explicit details of their friends’ sex lives and then broadcast those details to others; encourage their dogs to poop on heavily trafficked sidewalks; and aggressively attack people who “insult” them. Even if it is true that this is just how guys are, that does not mean that these are virtuous behaviors. Peter, however, is simultaneously intrigued and repulsed, with attraction dominating. Sydney, therefore, becomes the eponymous man of the “I love you” title.
The movie’s message is clear. Men are either epicene or revolting. There is no middle ground. Ordinary male behaviors involve projectile vomiting, public defecating, impulsive violent behavior, obsessive (and often deviant) sexual behavior and, if they’re not amongst the “nice” guys, you can add on brutishness, gambling and binge drinking. The concepts of decency, kindness, honor, and bravery are conspicuously absent. Real men — men who have integrity, who honor women, who protect those weaker than they are — simply do not exist in this Hollywood universe.
What’s even worse than the misanthropic nihilism of I Love You, Man, is the fact that the critics thought that this little movie was just great. At Rotten Tomatoes, it’s got an 82% on the freshness meter. Scan through the reviews and you’ll find words of love for Rudd’s charm, Segel’s comic timing, and the funny sexual predicaments — all of which is true if you don’t mind the fundamental premise, which is that guys are crude, disgusting and amoral. As the mother of a lovely 10 year old boy, I mind that premise a great deal. I don’t like the way our culture demeans men. I want men to be able to honor themselves. Movies such as this one render them as nothing more than figures of ridicule. They are perpetually gross, sex-obsessed jokes.
I should add here that I have a pretty loose sense of humor. I’ll laugh just as hysterically as the next person at the peeing scene in The Naked Gun, at Lucy Ricardo’s endless antics, at the Three Stooges’ eye pokes, and at the existential zaniness in Groundhog Day. There are few cows too sacred for a good joke. Systematically demeaning an entire population group, however, ceases to be funny. Additionally, hen one looks at the statistics about boys and education, and about men and crime, this systemic degradation begins to seem destructive and downright dangerous.
Vote with your feet. Avoid movies that, rather than laughing at the human condition, aim to destroy the soul of half of our population.