this, that, and the Other

identity, alterity, and everything in between

Month: May, 2012

an anecdotal review of a film i saw on a weekday once

It begins at a mall with my father and youngest brother. It is interesting where we begin, or rather where we find ourselves beginning to speak. And it’s a mall, across the street from yet another mall, and it’s my father who says it’s a fun movie which I doubt, and it’s my younger brother who tells me I probably won’t like it. We pay. We watch previews and advertisements respectively which, given their ordering, I am assured are discrete things. Welles was obsessed with the camera as an eye. As a view and an ordering of things. Cinema is an answer. Maybe the questions are always asked after the fact, but what you walk into a film asking seems salient at any rate. And when walking in, and yes, paying, paying to be let in, and see The Avengers, one asks questions or presumes them.

The ultimate feeling one gets before the giant vision of a screen of men is an comforting finitude.  There is a woman somewhere in the film who thrives on the insecurities of less heroic men. Some have made mention that this is a radical statement about the subjectivity of being a woman or maybe it’s a radical statement about the movie industry or maybe it’s an ironic critique of the sidelining of women or how sexuality is always a failure. Maybe we are all black widows to the corporate America we are led to believe S.H.I.E.L.D. fails to be. Tony Stark succeeds and we know this because he is an all American heterosexual white male hero—a category the slightly flaccid Rogers reminds Stark he fails at. Supposedly the ending of the film disproves Rogers because Captain America fails to have wings or a jetpack or anything really other than nationalistic virtue and a proclivity for sticking around. Tony Stark due to presumably not going public or by dipping into the company pocketbook bravely teaches us that only CEO’s can enter the void of the universe. This is what the film means by vengeance.

On more than one occasion the film whispered to me I was Banner who is perpetually avenging himself against himself which gives him definite contours of self-reflexivity. Banner is something of a William Burroughs without conviction. Perhaps the most relatable in his awkwardness, which is yet another failure, but also most complicit in his passivity, Ruffalo plays a sort of Kubrick Joker or Alex or whatever Tom Cruise’s titular male porn star character in Eyes Wide Shut was called. This is perhaps why Mark Ruffalo makes so many romantic comedies. In both his romantic comedies and The Avengers, Ruffalo’s nudity plays a prominent role.

Stark wants you to think the Hulk is the real Banner or that Banner is some alter not-Hulk, meaning the dissonance or resistance to capital is a sort of negative narcissism. To be angry is to succumb. Unless of course you smash which is something sadly Banner never quite does to Stark or S.H.I.E.L.D. but who knows what will happen in the next movie or two. For now he dares not destroy our big American submarine-boat-helicopter, but of course we do with our imaginations, if not for justice ,at least for the spectacle of justice. And this is why they chose Loki as the protagonist of the film—an honestly corrupt fellow with nude paradoxical limbs rendered seamlessly explicit.

And here we have these various men who bring with them worlds, both literal and metaphorically literal, and politics and ideologies and general mythos to bear on our protagonist’s oedipal problems. We are led to like this or that particular instantiation according to plot and whim.  These moments of dissonance, world scraping world, seem the most pleasant—who doesn’t love the frottage of a Captain America and Iron Man after all? Of course we know the phallus of corporate America will win out in the end, the flaccidity of post-WWII America having become an overstated albeit nostalgic fact.

I must tell you at some point in the center of the film I left to use the bathroom and I don’t think I missed too much or rather I experienced something other people in the theater probably didn’t get to. There is a fight near the end and some extra stuff if you stick around through the credits which, as an exercise, is meant to lead us to believe is not part of the film. When I saw Thor eating a sandwich it was the closest I came to sympathy with any character throughout the film. Oh and someone died near the beginning which was sad because he was being paid by the government to make guns.

We left shortly thereafter and argued about this and that about the film but really we were talking about each other and how afraid and guilty we all are. If we could truly love each other I bet I would’ve liked the movie a lot more. If I had to remake the movie I think I’d cast Jack Kerouac as Captain America, Esther Newton as Tony Stark, GWF Hegel as Thor, Teddy Roosevelt as Hawkeye, Bjork as Black Widow, Loki played alternately by Michel Foucault and VI Lenin, Leonard Cohen as Bruce Banner, and Nina Simone as the Hulk. Of course Samuel L. Jackson would reprise his role.

We would film on location at the edge of the universe and the earth respectively and I imagine we’d shoot on an iPhone. I’d then project it on my breast, film it with my webcam, and upload it in segments to youtube. Naturally, I’d sue any theater or distributor who dared play it for copyright infringement (and maybe something about distributing pornography as well). No one would die though and we’d open with everyone eating sandwiches and end with a shot of Charlie Chaplin as a marine alternatively crying and trying on outfits but sort of smiling in between. If you stuck around until the very end you’d get to see a special little scene where we show you the names of all the people who worked on the film.

There are No Good Men, No Not One

I’ve been having a fun little back and forth with a friend’s post over at the The Evangelical Outpost. You can find the whole of the post as well as my comments here. The gist of the article, which you should really read if you want more than my bad summation, is that it’s offensive to refer to men as boys or to treat them like boys. If a man is guilty of boyish behavior, one should treat him like a man, that is, address the responsibilities he is failing at, rather than resort to inaccurate name calling. My last comment summed up my position I thought pretty well, so just for the hell of it I thought I’d repost it here:
After some basic criticisms of this idea of a “man” and why I think self-identified “boys” or “bois” should be called what they want to be called (cause it’s nice), Nathan (the author) responded,

Whatever semantic labels you prefer, the fact is that people gain responsibilities as they age and sometimes they shirk those. I hope that in talking to people who turn away from responsibility we can show them that they do not have any semantic hiding places that will save them from what they are doing.

To which I wrote as follows [edited for spelling and grammatical error],

Yeah. I’m pretty sure I get the broader point about responsibility. And I agree about semantic cubbies and hiding places. But also semantics shapes the cubbies. It’s the mountains to the valley–complete with snowy peaks and potential landslides. It’s important to periodically stroll through and maybe close down an unsafe road or two.

It’s this correlation between being adult, masculine, strong, and virile with responsibility that I guess I was trying to push back against. Of course we give children responsibilities and we should be forgiving towards adults. If it’s a question of responsibility, all fine and dandy, but children have taught me a lot about responsibility and adults have at times been disappointingly repressed, irresponsible, and narcissistic. It’s not so much how to balance these two (adult/responsible with child/irresponsible) but more unlearning the ways we’ve been taught to privilege adults and trivialize children.

It seems like the source of frustration for you was this category “boy” and how it was implying you weren’t fit for or outside of certain responsibilities. I agree with you–it’s trivializing and dismissive. Yet it’s not just trivializing and dismissive to you, but to boys and children in general, while also assuming adults are way more secure and essential than they are. Just as the male who dismisses someone as a “boy” positions himself as a firm and solid “man,” so too joining in with calling all boys irresponsible positions you and I and all males into a comfortable category of “man.” It becomes this very sort of semantic hiding place–a means of coping by bullying those we’d like to think weaker and smaller than ourselves. It buttresses our own insecurities with a safe semantic and social shell, shirking responsibility of ourselves while scapegoating others.

So I guess my problem is a binary that’s so neat it pretends boys, and children in general, are irresponsible and men/adults are responsible. Like childhood is some bit of ash we must pass through to really, truly, finally be born. But children were born and are people and no less real. We give children responsibilities according to what they can and can’t do just like we do for adults. We expect them to follow through just as much. They have voices and stories worth telling and it’s nothing shy of narcissism to turn a deaf ear, thinking ourselves to have come much farther then they. After all, the kingdom belongs to such as these–a kingdom where there is no “man” or “woman.” I’d like to think St. Paul wasn’t just thinking about gender or birth-sex but birth, growth, maturity, aging, and dying. Ultimately, I think The City of God might be a little less “mature” and “civil” than we think, and just a bit more like Neverland.