Monday, August 22, 2016

Rape and the Internet Vigilante Mob

Controversy has forced comedienne Amy Schumer to distance herself from a writer on her Comedy Central show Inside Amy Schumer who defended a fellow comedian against allegations of sexual misconduct. The writer criticized “internet vigilantes” for condemning the accused without any evidence, and now is himself being slammed as a “rape apologist.” The whole sordid affair is emblematic of the dangers of the social media mob mentality, particularly in a time of hyper-sensitivity to the pervasive conception that we inhabit a rape culture.

The controversy began when comedian Aaron Glaser apparently was banned recently from the famed improv theater Upright Citizens Brigade after an internal UCB investigation into allegations that he had raped one or more women. He spoke out about the incident, which he referred to as a “witch hunt,” in a now-deleted Facebook post: “I know these are serious accusations, and I know they are untrue.”

Glaser went on to write that UCB banned him based solely on the word of the women without providing him any details of the accusers or accusations or any opportunity to defend himself. UCB is “asking me to prove to them that I’m not a rapist,” he complained, and said he has now been banned from other comedy clubs, “not one of which contacted me to ask whether the allegations were untrue.” “I am being deemed a sexual predator,” he wrote, “and my life is being ruined by accusations, not findings.”

Amy Schumer got dragged into the issue when, in a subsequent series of hyperbolically sarcastic and angry Facebook and Twitter rants, her writer Kurt Metzger defended Glaser’s right to be treated as innocent until proven guilty. The social media mob immediately swarmed, labeling him a “rape apologist” and urging Schumer to fire him. She washed her hands of it by declaring that though she was “saddened and disappointed” by his comments, he is not her writer anymore because her show is ending and “there are no writers.”

It is doubtful that Metzger’s profane ranting won any converts to his side; neither did his apparent history of misogynistic social media volleys, which The Daily Beast detailed. In a Facebook post, he later apologized for using inflammatory language and stressed that he was not being dismissive of actual victims of sexual assault. “I was talking to the perennial social media mob who, without knowing victim or accused, GLEEFULLY want to be part of social mob justice.”

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Donald Trump and American Masculinity

Love him or hate him – and he refuses to give us any other option – presidential candidate Donald Trump has become the embodiment of whatever extreme we feel we need to impose on him: deliverance or damnation, freedom or fascism, truth or, well, trumpery. The media, confounded by his political popularity, are obsessed with coming to grips with The Meaning of Trump. He is the culmination of reality TV culture, goes one interpretation, or the harbinger of the end of democracy, or the apotheosis of America’s supposedly racist underbelly. In the latest unflattering analysis, The Atlantic’s James Hamblin declares that what The Donald really represents is the apex of American masculinity – only not in a good way.

“Trump is both a product of a masculine culture and a beneficiary of its musky tenets,” states Hamblin. He doesn’t feel the need to define the notion of a “masculine culture” (or a “musky tenet,” for that matter); he simply considers it a given that we live in one, that it is a problem, that Donald Trump is the “climax” of it, and that we need to “stop valuing it, stop accepting it.”

Hamblin continues:

Masculine culture is both a reason that Trump does what he does and a reason that people accept and trust it. His classical brand of masculinity becomes toxic and feeds tribalism and violence and entitlement among his followers—those who prefer fighting to talking, walls to bridges, grimaces to smiles.

Of course, it is anti-Trump protesters – not his supporters – who are guilty of a disturbing degree of tribalism, violence, and entitlement at Trump rallies throughout the country. But that is an inconvenient truth for Hamblin, who displays a racist, sexist, elitist contempt for the “white men without a degree” whose “classical brand of masculinity” he declares “toxic.”

Monday, August 15, 2016

Are Male Superheroes on the Way Out?

Screenrant recently declared that this year “is shaping up to be a breakout year for female heroes (and villains) of every sort.” The online magazine profiled “15 Characters Who Will Make 2016 the Year of the Female Superhero,” including such popular figures from the comics as Harley Quinn, Scarlet Witch, and Supergirl. That’s fifteen this year alone – superheroines who are taking the cinematic wheel and forcing the male Old Guard like Batman and Superman to take a back seat. What does such a role reversal mean? Is it just a temporary trend or are we witnessing a cultural shift in our perception of heroism? And why does it matter? 

In recent decades Hollywood has increasingly presented strong female characters who can hold their own in action flicks, thrillers, and sci-fi epics. The dramatic difference now, though, is that Hollywood feels the time is right to give such characters their own movies, bucking the traditional wisdom that female leads can’t put enough people in cinema seats. Whether that risk will pay off financially remains to be seen, but in any case, the sense is that the culture is ripe for women to step into butt-kicking heroic movie roles that once belonged entirely to men.

It’s not that male superheroes are in danger of becoming extinct. There is no shortage of them already, and Marvel seems to pluck more out of its bottomless magician’s hat at will. But their female counterparts are now poised for world domination. Oscar winner Brie Larson, for example, will play Captain Marvel, the first superheroine to headline a Marvel Studios film, in a flick that may actually be directed by the first woman to direct a superhero movie. Wonder Woman is finally set to break out on her own next year in a highly-anticipated film. The President of Marvel Studios has revealed that, of all the previously minor Marvel characters who are likely to get their own films in the coming decade, the studio is “most emotionally and creatively committed” to one starring Scarlett Johansson’s Black Widow. And although The Rocketeer was not technically a superhero, Disney is planning a sequel to the 1991 film which starred Billy Campbell; but in the follow-up, to be called The Rocketeers, the jet pack-wearing pilot this time will be an African-American female.

Meanwhile the more traditional superheroes don’t seem to know what to do with themselves anymore. They’ve been reduced to battling each other, as in Captain America: Civil War and Batman v. Superman: Dawn of Justice, as often as they fight their evil nemeses. Many consider Wonder Woman’s debut in that latter film to be the movie’s high point. And in the upcoming Thor: Ragnarok, Chris Hemsworth’s Norse god has even shorn his long locks; is it too much of a stretch to suggest that this is symbolic of how the rise of superheroines is draining him and his cohorts of their power, a là Samson at the hands of Delilah?