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Ecotopia – Give your daughter a crown and your son a spear (and bandage)

January 29, 2010 2 comments

Ecotopia is about a utopian land established in the American North-West. It portrays a society built around the beliefs of social equality and ecofeminism (Ahhahahaha!).

Or, at least, that’s what it claims to do. While Ecotopia is a very pleasant little nation, fairly portrayed with both good and bad aspects, it is also a prime example of a social mindset which dictates that men and women are equal, but women are more equal.

To put this ‘idea’ more clearly: the genders should be treated as equal (egalitarianism), but women have special ‘needs’ and ‘skills’ above men(traditionally called matriarchalism or female-chauvinism, but those are just details). Apparently these extra benefits don’t count in the race for equality.

For example, in this supposedly equal world, women have various powers which men lack:

  • Political: The primary political party in Ecotopia is primarily composed of women, including the nation’s president, and women are encouraged to pursue politics.
  • Relationships: Women are obviously in control of relationships, from start to finish. There even seems to be some remaining ideas of chivalry (ie, ‘he shouldn’t hit a girl’).
  • Family: In Ecotopia, it seems everyone just calmly accepts the ‘fact’ that mothers are the masters of child rearing. They also seem to have more or less total control over the conception of children (paternity fraud?).

But surely men must have some niche in this world! And yes, they do. In Ecotopia, men are in charge of:

  • Violence

Yep, that’s right. Human blood sports. In Ecotopia, young men take part in ‘war games’ where someone is always injured (days in the hospital) and, on average, about one seems to die a week.

To say the least, this is an unfairly negative portrayal of male identity and societal function.

As I have said before, I believe that men have a natural (or at least deeply rooted) ‘warrior instinct’ not possessed by women. However, Roman-style blood-sports are not about being warriors. They are not fighting for anything real, except maybe a night with a random woman. Seriously, that seems to be the only reason for the Ecotopian war games. Where I come from, a woman who likes to sleep with a murderous brute is usually considered unhealthy.

The Ecotopian ‘war games’ don’t even serve any political function. They aren’t part of endemic warfare, as has evolved in some human cultures as a way of maintaining power balance. Nor are they used as a means of personal conflict resolution (like duels). They seem to have no function except as displays and for personal pride, which leaves only one reason for them: the men want to fight because they are inherently violent.

This idea seems to pop up disturbingly often in feminist media as a reason for increased female power, but it is usually unfounded. The fact that women have not commonly made war does not mean they will not make war. I think the truth is that men don’t have a stronger ‘urge’ for battle than women, but rather a stronger willingness and understanding for the need of battle. If you ask any war veteran, combat isn’t fun. No normal person really wants it, not if they actually understand it.

The overall message wrongly paints men as violent and generally uncivilized, and the story’s ecofeminist (Ahhahahaha!) side not-so-subtly blames men for the earth’s ecological problems.

For a story of a supposedly equal society, there seem to be a lot of inequalities. To ‘be a man’ you have to enter mortal combat. To ‘be a woman’ you just have to sleep around.

Nice.

Now, it is important to look at Ecotopia in the context of its own time. In 1975, many of these ‘advances’ in the goals of feminism and ecofeminism (Ahhahahaha!) had not yet happened, but by today many of them have. At least in terms of human relationships, Ecotopia has actually turned out to be somewhat predictive.

That means we should be due to see gladiator combat (all male) in the Olympics by 2020.

I’ll bring the sponge.

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The Incredibles: Dash – A boy in over-drive

January 27, 2010 1 comment

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The Incredibles is a fun and frantic family adventure which focuses on the quest for self-worth of Mr. Incredible (see my post on it here), but it also has a subtle message about young boys, as shown in the character of Dash.

There are two children (of speaking age) in The Incredibles, Dash and Violet, each with their own sub-plot. Violet’s is about her own self-esteem and her courage to be more open and forward.

Dash’s, on the other hand, is more buried in the main plot but is also more complex. He is endowed with the power of super-speed, and with it apparently came super-competitiveness. However, his parents (or at least his mother, depending on Bob’s mood) will not let him go out for school sports because of his lack of control.

What this represents, or at least can represent, more than overly controlling parents is the trend in American education to suppress the natural behaviors of boys in favor of a more conformist and often feminine system of behavior.

American schools are full of examples of boys being forced into learning environments which are not suited to them, and this includes often blatant disdain for the naturally physical nature of male competitiveness. Sports are the last place of release for boys, but even this is obstructed in some cases, and the Incredibles shows an example of how a boy can be left with no outlet.

In the end, Dash is given the chance to go out for the track team and he does well and stays in control.

The resolution is subtle, I didn’t even notice it until recently, but it clearly states the idea that boys need to be allowed to compete and that they shouldn’t be held back. It recognizes the societal blocks placed against boys and shows that these blocks can and should be knocked down, allowing the young man to express himself as a young man, even when that means being different.

Really, the stories of Dash and Violet show an interesting reflection of our world. Violet is held back by herself, while Dash is held back by society.

Simple subplots, or truth in fiction?

The Incredibles – A super-man, but is he a super-dad?

January 26, 2010 2 comments

The Incredibles is one of my favorite Pixar movies, employing a great visual style to tell an eternally entertaining story which puts some great twists on the superhero genre.

At its core, Incredibles is a family story which centers on the father of that family, Mr. Incredible (I’ll call him Bob for short).

As so many men do (and as so many films portray), Bob is going through a mid-life crisis. The only problem is that he is a retired superhero, so he naturally wants to get back in the hero game.

The hero motif allows Incredibles to really dig into some of the issues of a man’s mid-life crisis in ways which less fanciful movies can’t. The major theme is Bob’s quest for ‘strength’, metaphorically shown through his urge to be a literally-Strong superhero once more.

However, as the film goes on it becomes clear that this is much more about inner-strength.

Bob needs to prove to himself that he is still worth something, that he can still be a hero for his family. What it really comes down to is self-esteem, a topic not often discussed in regards to men. While some men have a mid-life crisis mostly for themselves, Bob’s is really more about his family. Although he is suspected of it, he never cheats on his wife and he does genuinely love his family. He is seeking to be worth something to his family, not just to himself.

Toward the end of the movie Bob shows a nicely emotional side, undergoing great distress when he thinks his family has been killed. He wrestles with grief and rage, until he is finally and lovingly reunited with his family. He finally gets to see them as heroes too as they all work together to overcome the challenges before them, the love between all the family members deepened because of it.

Men are often taught to try to do everything themselves, and Incredibles touches on this in its conclusion, but not in a critical way. Bob tries to protect his family from all harm, possibly at the cost of his own life, because he cannot bear to ‘lose them again’. However, his family stands by him and his wife insists that they face all the dangers together, as a family. Bob isn’t criticized for wanting to fight alone, he is just lovingly offered help.

The Incredibles is a fun family adventure about a superhero’s struggles for identity and self-esteem. It shows a sincere, believable and loving family who stand by each other, including a wife who truly loves her husband and is determined to stay with him and a husband who must grapple with his own self-image as he tries to be there for his family.

Night at the Museum – Men through history

January 21, 2010 2 comments

Night at the Museum is an example a movie which I didn’t really appreciate the first time I saw it. The first time, I wasn’t yet a masculist, so I wasn’t looking at media from the perspective of men’s issues. But now I am, and I can now say that Night at the Museum is a fun adventure about a father, also with several other masculine messages mixed in.

The main character, Larry, is a divorced dad with partial custody (Wednesdays and every-other weekend) of his 10-year-old son, Nick. Larry is a schemer who goes from job to job, but he is also a loving father who eagerly spends time with his son, takes an interest in his activities and will do anything to not lose him.

By the end of the movie Larry is strong, in control and intelligent (he even studies!). His son loves him and both are confident about themselves and Larry’s work. Nick trusts his father and Larry doesn’t let himself be pushed around.. He is a good role model for his son and for young viewers alike.

On the topic of fathers, the movie makes a strong case for the importance of fathers to their children. Larry is very important to Nick. He isn’t just someone who can come and go without notice. Then there is also Attila the Hun. In a brief scene, he is revealed (or at least implied) to be so violent because he didn’t have a chance to spend time with his father. This helps establish the importance of paternal involvement, and it even does it without overly blaming Attila’s father. It is said the Hun-senior was off plundering and pillaging, but Larry also adds that he was “doing his job”, thereby not overly blaming the father for his absence, as so often happens.

The issue of male aggression is also approached by the Jed and Octavius characters. At one point, Jed says that they are fighting because they are men, and because that is what they do. This is an old tune, sung often, but Night at the Museum takes it a step further. Jed and Octavius go on to work together, laying aside their anger to help save the museum. Their wish to fight is pinned on their will to see their people thrive, showing them to be good leaders. Without even saying so, the movie quickly overturns the idea that men just want to fight for no reason by showing these two warriors teaming up and even becoming road-trip buddies. It’s easy to miss, but it is a welcome message.

Over all, night at the museum is a fun adventure movie about a strong father, and it also touches on other male issues as well. Larry is a strong male lead who is in control and focused, but also has a sense of humor and a more sensitive side which gleams through on a  few occasions. He is one of the rare examples of a ‘cool dad’ who isn’t a soldier, isn’t rich, isn’t a scientist and isn’t a stooge to his wife. He is a real cool dad.

The Astronaut Farmer – Space cadets and spectacular dads

January 19, 2010 Leave a comment

Astronauts are cool.

But do you know what’s even cooler?

Half-crazy ranchers who want to be astronauts and whose families help them build real rockets so they can go into space.

That’s cool, and so is The Astronaut Farmer, one of the most touching, sincere and heartwarming movies I have seen in a long time.

The story is about Charles Farmer (just called Farmer by everyone) and his family (wife, son, two daughters and grandfather-in-law). He is a would-be astronaut turned rancher after his father committed suicide. Now he is building a rocket in his barn

The story of Farmer’s trip into orbit is a truly touching one. Here we see a man desperate to follow his dreams, always with the support of his family. The Farmer family is beautifully portrayed as a small-town American family, not always totally functional but wonderfully loving. Farmer is supported by his family the whole way (except for a few spats), even after financial setbacks and rocket accidents almost put the whole endeavor out of commission.

Farmer himself is a surprisingly human character. At first he seems to just be a crazy dreamer, but he develops to be shown as a feeling individual who has sustained great hurt and now needs to prove what he can do, both to himself and his children. This was mostly caused by the death of his father, but something that is very nice about Astronaut Farmer is that Farmer still has great respect for his father, the whole topic obviously being very sensitive. It is an old tradition to not think poorly of the dead, but you don’t see that very often. Here we see Farmer hurt by the loss of his father, but he doesn’t resent him for committing suicide, he just decides to do better.

Besides his own father, Farmer himself is also a wonderfully portrayed father (and husband). He is loved by his children and loves them deeply in return. It is clear that he draws great strength from the enthusiasm of his two daughters; their childish, unconditional love of their father a truly touching sight. He is a remarkably strong and intelligent male figure. He cares deeply for his family and refuses to allow anyone, even his wife, to say otherwise. He stands up for what he believes in as only a father can, and his wife stands by him.

This movie shows a married couple who truly respect and love one another, without any of the self-obsession and fear of commitment which is so commonly seen in American couples (on the screen or on the street).

It’s nice to see a move where the wife doesn’t take the kids and leave the husband at the first sign of trouble.

Then there is Shepard, Farmer’s oldest child and only son. At 15 he is the ground crew for Farmer’s planned rocket flight. He helped put the rocket together, but he also helps keep his family together. Shepard has a deep but quiet relationship with his father. He shares his father’s dream and is as emotionally tied to it as his father in a beautiful, yet subtle way which is quite touching. He is a strong young man who goes for what he believes in.

All in all, The Astronaut Farmer is a beautiful portrayal of an American family, through all its ups and downs. Farmer is a loved part of his family, his dreams embraced and his weaknesses accepted. He is strong but human, as reliant on his family as they are on him. His wife loves him, not unconditionally but truthfully. His daughters adore him as only young daughters can. His son loves and respects him, although he needs few words to say so, as is so often true for fathers and sons.

Astronaut Farmer is one of the most touching stories of family, dreams and fatherhood that I have ever seen and I would recommend it to anyone. It shows a fascinating husband-wife relationship which is far more loving, and more honest, I think, than most of what we see elsewhere in the media.

Up – Condemned without trial

January 13, 2010 5 comments

Up is the latest release from acclaimed Pixar Animation Studios. In many ways it is one of Pixar’s most unique films, being quite different from most of their other movies. One such way is that it’s the first to feature an absent father as a plot element. That also makes it the first to unfairly portray an absent father.

Up is about the adventures of the aged man Carl and the young boy Russell.  Just as any boy would, Russell loves his father and longs for time with him and approval from him. That is a good message, but where Pixar goes wrong is in their portrayal of the father himself.

Or rather, the non-portrayal.

What is unfair about Up is that this absent father is truly and absolutely absent. He never makes an appearance, not in dream, photo, flash-back or heartwarming closing montage. He never even gets named.

All we know from Russell is that his father is busy and misses out on doing things with Russell. We are never told why the father is not there, only that he isn’t.

Now, the feelings of children are important. If they feel neglected, their parents should try to be there for them more, but we also know that children do not always understand the world. Many absent parents are such because of conditions outside their control. The most common is obviously work. Many men, and also many women, work long and hard, far from home, all to provide a good life for their family. This can leave children feeling unloved, but wouldn’t it be unfair to dump shame and blame on this hard working parent?

Only if it’s a mother.

Just as in Up, the media tends to show hard-working fathers as nothing but absent bums, never there and never useful when they are there.

However, many movies conclude this problem by showing the parent reducing their long hours so they can spend more time with their family (see my post on Hook for how that can turn out).

Not Up, I’m afraid. The movie ends with Russell’s dad once more absent, so Carl takes his place, to the approval of Russell and his mom. Carl steps in as Russell’s father figure, but without any information about the real father having ever been shared.

Apparently being absent is totally unacceptable for a parent (or at least a father), no matter the reason for the absence.

I guess that’s reasonable. After all, some offenses are always wrong and deserve punishment/imprisonment…like assault with a deadly weapon, right?

But with all that in mind, what message does Up leave us with?

If dad ain’t there, get a new one.

The strange thing is that Russell’s dad got about the same treatment as a deceased father would (missed > replaced > forgotten).

What does that say about our media’s opinion of working dads?

Categories: Film Tags: , , ,

Fable III: Concept Art – The two sides to royal life

January 6, 2010 Leave a comment

Recently browsing the IGN photo galleries, I came across two pieces of concept art for Fable III which I find interesting.

Now, I’m a fan of the Fable series and am looking forward to the third installment, but there is something slightly off in these drawings which annoys me.

They are a pair of drawings, depicting the possibility of becoming a real monarch in Fable III. As in Fable II, you can choose to play a male or female character, so there is one drawing for a king and one for a queen.

However, that is not the only difference. In one image we have the unhappy monarch surrounded by their rampaging, trouble-making children and an unruly dog. Beside them is the monarch’s spouse, berating the crown wearer to their heart’s content, with no apparent reaction from the ruler expect a grimace.

In the second image we have a regal monarch atop their throne. Goblet held casually in hand, they rest their feet upon the back of a pleading servant/peasant as they hand out what seems to be an imperial decree. No sign of any family and no one to challenge the monarch.

Now, with that in mind, any guesses as to which is male and which is female?

If you guessed right, get yourself a cookie.

If you guessed wrong…well, you probably need to read up more on men in the media.

These drawing demonstrate a mindset which is all too common, even pervasive in modern media. That mindset is the distrust of male authority. In many areas of media you can see numerous attacks on any and all forms of male authority, for no reason other than men being the ones with the power. This can be fathers, bosses or national leaders.

Kings are not very cool nowadays (for the most part), so when one is shown their authority is usually undermined in a variety of ways:

  1. Dumb King: The king might be senile, or just plain stupid, undeserving of the throne.
  2. Spineless King: The king is weak, pushed around by those around him, including his wife (as in the above picture)

Then we have female rulers. They are often shown in a much more positive light, such as:

  1. Nature Queen: The druidic queen of the forest. Matriarch and de facto mother to all, she is truly beloved.
  2. Empowered Queen: A generally powerful female ruler, shown as such at least in part to encourage women’s empowerment.

Now, both male and female rulers are often shown as evil tyrants/warlords who must be slain by the heroes, but female monarchs seem to get nicer treatment overall.

The key theme to the Fable III art is control.

The king obviously does not have control, while the queen is clearly totally in control of her surroundings. The only difference which is supposed to be present in the images is the gender of the ruler, yet we see only the male monarch as a joke. I find it hard to believe that is an accident.

I also find the correlation between having no family and maintaining power interesting.

At least we know which one will actually have heirs to form a dynasty.

Categories: Gaming Tags: , , ,