Will Watching the Lego Movie Turn Your Son Into an Idiot?

I recently watched The Lego Movie. I enjoyed The Lego Movie because it’s hard to actively hate a movie about Legos, because they’re a bunch of toys, but also I was like, damn, Lego Movie, first of all I just watched a whole movie that was an ad for motherfucking toys, and second of all, why are the Legos a tool for some dumbass to go on his Campbell’s Journey and seduce his infinitely superior lady companion with the power of being A Protagonist? I get that this movie is mainly an ad for older guys to buy their kids Legos, but damn, does it really have to end with the main female character being handed from her ex to her current boyfriend because that is her fate?*

I am being harsh on The Lego Movie, because it is not the only film that follows this plot. Plenty of movies out there star a male protagonist who is thrust into circumstances in which he is massively inferior to his peers, especially his female peers. Yet he manages to save the day after all others have failed, and the most attractive, most skilled woman inevitably falls in love with him.

Back in the day, male characters were just smarter and stronger than female characters. Mighty swordmasters saved maidens whose main talents were hair braiding and turning up their pert noses at anything not hot pink or sparkly. When faced with any sort of problem, these ladies started trembling and shrieking for help, fulfilling their destiny as living, breathing, fuckable proof of the male protagonist’s awesomeness. That was just The Way it Was.

In the name of “role models” and “strong female characters,” these creatures have mostly disappeared. Today’s maiden can wield a sword, build an airplane, cast spells, and do god knows what else. Yet she’s still not the protagonist and often has to be saved by a much less competent male. The unfortunate message is that a girl’s efforts don’t matter because however good she is, there’s inevitably a prophecy floating about and that prophecy only applies to the Bepenised Ones.** The man will earn the recognition and the glory, while the woman earns said man as her reward. He’s the “hero she deserves,” but she still can’t be the hero herself.***

One genre exists in which girls without any particular talent or beauty are protagonists: young adult fantasy literature aimed solely towards females, where “nobody” girls are chosen to save the world and also score hot, mysterious men. However, these stories are classified as childish, silly fantasies–guilty pleasures at best, mind-warping at worst. I can’t remember how many times I saw women vow to keep their daughters, real or hypothetical, away from Twilight or some such series because they’re afraid that said daughters will start thinking that they, too, are special snowflakes and run off with vampires or sexy werewolves or whatnot. All right, these women probably don’t actually believe that vampires are real, they just don’t want their girls running off with the first boy they meet. But fangs or no fangs, these women thought that girls couldn’t handle these books, that they would affect the girls’ real-life behavior in a negative way. Women need strong female characters so they will grow up to be strong females themselves. So if a girl is watching The Lego Movie, she is receiving the wrong lesson.

But nobody thinks of keeping boys away from stories about insipid young men who, despite their lack of learned skills or innate talent, save the entire world and earn the praise of adoring masses of people. These stories teach boys that they can be the biggest idiots possible, completely uninterested in their surroundings or improving themselves in any way. As long as something glowing/an old dude full of wisdom/a glowing old dude full of wisdom “chooses” them for some mysterious task, they’ll become mighty warriors who save the world and get the girl.

movies-the-lego-movie-vitruvius

Sometimes it’s a glowing old black dude full of wisdom and also he’s a Lego

If you’re one of those people who believes that stories have effects on readers, this is a lesson that is dumb as hell, unless you want your boy to grow up to be Babycakes, waiting on the ditch wizards to take him to the hidden land of awesomeness accept treasure and accept love.

Love is a spell

But there’s two assumptions here: first, that the idiot storyline is an OK storyline for boys to process, and second (and this is perhaps the more interesting assumption) that boys grow up to be what they are without storytelling getting through their thick skulls; if a girl sees a Strong Female Character, she’ll use her as a positive role model for the rest of her life, but a boy can see a male character do practically anything and not identify with it in any way, good or bad. So even if a future guy sees a male character succeed through no positive action of his own, it’s ok. Manhood is innate, womanhood is learned.

Do men have a stronger moral compass (for lack of a better term)? Do they have a greater field of action (the range of action for a “good” woman is smaller than that for a “good” man, so it’s OK to have a range of character flaws in a male hero)? Do boys need better role models? Do girls need to rely less on role models?

*  And Will Ferrell and his sad-eyed son hugging it out in their basement full of toys while their wife/mother cooks them dinner?

** This raises the question: Why not just shriek and pout like a ninny? It’s less work and the ultimate outcome is the same.

***  Tasha Robinson has a good article on part of this problem over at The Dissolve, although I’m not sure why female characters (or male characters, for that matter) have to come up to an aspirational standard–does every protagonist have to be a cutout for the viewer and their desires? Is every viewer supposed to have the same aspirations?

 

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To Someone Who Never Had to Share a Home

You will never arrive home tired and with the knowledge that there is some time-consuming task that you still have to do, only to find out that someone else’s needs are more important than your own, no matter how unimportant their task or how capable they are of doing it on their own.

You will never make breakfast quietly because you know that someone is angry at you and you can’t alert them to your presence or they’ll attack you.

You will never have to worry about somebody barging into your bedroom without knocking.

You will never have to worry about somebody barging into the bathroom without knocking.

You will never have your cat or dog mysteriously disappear because “something was wrong with it.”

You will never be distracted from what you are doing because someone just walked into the room to say that your outfit is ugly, or that you are too fat, or that you are too skinny, or that your face is too pimply, or that your eyelashes look weird, or any of the other million ways that a person can tell you that you look really bad today.

You will never plant a garden, then have it destroyed because it “looks sick.”

You will never lie awake on your own bed in the middle of the day, afraid that someone will start screaming at you or hitting you.

You will never spot someone attempting to kill you or kill themselves.

You will never drop a glass and have someone respond like it was the meltdown of Chernobyl because that glass was irreplaceable and you’re so stupid and clumsy and why do you have to exist.

You will never surprise someone by cleaning the house, then have them tell you that you messed it up and really shouldn’t have bothered.

You will never spend hours in therapy, on the street, or in a mental hospital because you’ve been forced to live with someone who makes all the mundane parts of daily existence into a living hell.

(sorry to Debbie Downer all over Chimaera’s post, I’m not hating on you, just abusive folks)

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Taking a break for Lupin studies

General radio silence for a bit, but I’ve just finished Lupin III: The Woman Called Fujiko Mine, and really enjoyed it, and also really wanted to link to Vrai Kaiser’s discussion of the series. I’m not that familiar with the Lupin-verse, but if you are you will enjoy Vrai’s knowledge of the older series. And if you aren’t, then you get to learn about a sexy thriller series with amazing art and a leading female character who’s a grown woman and not a martyr or an evil witch! It’s not about 13-year-old schoolgirls with gigantic breasts and short skirts and the nerds who love them!* Because every other anime is about that!

Except maybe My Neighbor Totoro. Maybe.

* OK, that’s not true. Some of them are about 13-year-old schoolgirls with smaller breasts. And the nerds who love smaller breasts.

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How to Be a Male Psychopath for Fun and Profit, and a Digression on Evolutionary Psychology

Why would a man want to label himself as a psychopath? At least self-proclaimed female psychopaths or sociopaths or whatever are sexy and less likely to go to jail. And no, please do not bring up your crush on Hannibal Lecter to me because Hannibal Lecter isn’t real. Real-life male “psychopaths” are upper-middle-class pasty white 20-year-olds who murder schoolchildren after playing too much World of Warcraft. That’s what CNN tells me, and that’s what I’m sticking with, OK?

Meet Dr. James Fallon, the good psychopath. How does James Fallon know he’s a psychopath? He’s a neuroscientist, and he’s found that psychopaths’ brains “light up” in certain places during an MRI scan, and Fallon’s brain lights up in the very same place, so he is a psychopath. Or at least he can go around telling people he is a psychopath, like M.E. Thomas, only with a set of scan results. And a penis.

And in fact, Fallon’s narrative isn’t much different from Thomas’s on first glance, although he doesn’t go on as much about sex. Presumably this is because the image of the overweight, middle-aged Fallon mid-coitus is less of a popular draw than the image of a mysterious lady psycho in the sack. I suppose it’s also because sex is considered a more risky activity for women than for men, so a male psychopath needs to go further into the realms of questionable human behavior to qualify.

However, just like Thomas, Fallon doesn’t admit to anything particularly awful. He stole some booze from his friends’ parents as a boy and made a few pipe bombs. As an adult, he’s even less wicked. In every interview of his that I’ve read, he says that he’s a psychopath because he took his brother to an African cave where the Marburg virus was found, but that sounds more like a boast about being tough enough to be a white hunter in darkest Africa than a boast about being psychopathic enough to kill your own brother, what with his brother not actually dying and all. According to the Amazon reviews, if you read the book you also find out that Fallon flirts with women other than his wife and drinks too much. This is bona fide hurtful behavior, unlike the Marburg incident, but it’s pretty common and isn’t as exciting as wandering around a spooky death cave so Fallon leaves it out of his publicity.

I’m going to guess why Fallon suddenly became a psychopath in his annoying-yet-not-murderous middle age. It’s a way for him tell people about all the cool things he does, except that nobody would listen to him before because perhaps they weren’t that cool in the first place, er, because he wasn’t a psychopath. Neuroscience career boring people? Well, now those boring studies can be replaced with the story of how Fallon was this close to becoming an evil  murderer (but not really, thanks mom!) Nobody wanted to see Fallon’s pics of Africa? Well, now they do! Because spooky murder cave. Now Fallon has a book and everyone is paying attention to him. And if they find out about some of his worse behavior, well, he’s a psychopath! So it’s to be expected!

Now I don’t believe that Fallon isn’t doing anything shockingly harmful by pretending to be shockingly harmful. He’s twisting around a psychological definition that wasn’t very clear in the first place and which was already commonly misunderstood, and he’s getting people to listen to his blowhard stories. Nobody has to buy his book. You don’t have to subsidize Fallon’s life of non-crime.

However, Fallon is promoting a delusion much more dangerous than fake sociopathy. In order to find out what it is, you’ll have to watch Fallon’s TED video, in which he talks about something other than his self and his various diagnoses. That’s when things get odd.

OK, now–what do you think of the conflict between Israel and Palestine? And no, before you give me any opinions, I’m only going to give you two choices. Pick one.

A. It’s a conflict over a very small space of arable land in which one group lost the land within living memory, and the other group thinks the land was willed to them by God. This space is manipulated by multiple other entities which can use the conflict for their own purposes–so the longer it goes on, the longer they can reduce pressure on their own societies and put off examining their own beliefs.

B. It’s a conflict because 14-year-old girls are jumping on terrorist bones because terrorists are super hawt and manly, therefore breeding lots and lots of psychoterrorists who naturally conflict with one another.

If you picked A, well, you may or may not be right. If you picked option B, you agree with James Fallon and welcome to the magical world of evopsych.

In Wikipedia terms, evolutionary psychology aims to show how certain psychological traits evolved over time–genetic explanations for behavior. In popular practice, evopsych means just-so stories, a lot of which are about sexual behavior and a lot of which are kind of creepy.

Evopsych seems to be heavily intertwined with the men’s rights ethos, mostly as a justification (“Science says I don’t have to date fatties!”) but also as a form of anxiety–men wonder why women aren’t selecting them to breed with, and then conclude that there is something innately wrong with them. Some of them displace that fear by blaming women, saying that feminism has corrupted women, they’re all gross sluts anyway, etc.

Why is evopsych dangerous? Evopsych teaches dudes that genetics are destiny, sexual behavior has been constant through all time, and that the only important way of proving their worth is getting with a woman in a short period of time. If they don’t do that, then they’re nature’s failure. If you take the evopsych argument at face value, it’s almost like the “you’ll never conceive!” argument on steroids–women are failures if they’re not pregnant by 30, but men are failures if women aren’t “selecting” them by what, 25? It’s especially ridiculous because once a boy hits puberty, he technically can get a woman pregnant for the rest of his life. Granted, fertility falls over time and sperm gets wonky, but realistically there’s a 40- or 50-year span in which the odds are good. There’s no rush here, guys.

Still, jumping into the gene pool doesn’t mean that a person is our idea of a “winner.” If a 500-pound guy with buck teeth, pimples, and an IQ of -10 has a kid after having one sexual encounter in his entire life, he’s still evolutionarily ahead of George Clooney, just because his genes are passed on. His kid may turn out to be an evil, stupid son of a bitch, but he or she exists, and 99% of winning is just showing up, etc. His kid may also be a good, smart person, but then he or she gets hit by the truck that nobody saw coming, and that’s the end of that set of genes. There’s a lot of chance involved.

However, the reality of evolution raises a lot of touchy questions and doesn’t fit into our ideal of survival of the fittest, in which rich, good-looking people are “winners” no matter how many infants their loins produce. Also, it involves dealing with the end product of breeding, babies, who are tiny timesucking poop machines that you don’t see a lot in commercials selling products to make you attractive to the opposite sex. So being able to attract women becomes the goal in and of itself. with Richard Dawkins, of all people, which “proved” that survival of the fittest was real because young, attractive women were willing to sit with Dawkins at a party. I didn’t watch the whole thing so maybe I missed the part where they had Dawkins’s babies, but I’m going to take a stab in the dark and conclude that didn’t happen. I don’t know, maybe the old-timers are right and you can get pregnant if you touch too close, or maybe the “evo” in “evopsych” is total bullshit.

Evopsych creates a world in which sexuality is hardwired into the human consciousness and women are hardwired to reward a certain type of man with sex, for genetic reasons that don’t actually have anything to do with genetic propagation. It’s a scientific construct that has nothing to do with science. Fallon is propagating that construct, and that’s why he’s dangerous.

 

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An interruption

I’m working on a post about self-diagnosed, self-promoting male psychopaths, because who doesn’t love that sweet, sweet not-actually-murder, but I have to take time out to throw shade at all the bloggers out there writing about being one’s authentic self on the Internet. “Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart,” indeed. The breathings of my heart are pretty sulfurous right now.

I’m really just sulking because I want to vent, but can’t, so I’m taking it out on random advicegivers. And also on Romantic poets. Go suck a daffodil, Wordsworth.

(And no, the reason I can’t express myself is not that I’m secretly a psychopath and can’t give away that I’m dancing in the moonlight in a cloak made out of somebody else’s skin. You should know that already because I’m busy writing here, who would interrupt the intricacies of their Satanic murder ritual with something as dull as blogging?)

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How to Be a Female Sociopath for Fun and Profit

There’s been a lot of talk about male sociopaths lately, for obvious reasons. For now, let’s deny them the pleasure of occupying our brain meats. Instead, let’s relax by talking about lady sociopaths.

Film editor Merve Emre recently wrote this article about female sociopaths, including several fictional sociopaths and one real one. I’m not sure about Emre’s collection of fictional sociopaths, but I’m going to focus on M.E. Thomas, the real live sociopath.

A clinical definition of sociopathy exists, but let’s follow Emre’’s example and use some pop culture definitions of sociopathy. “Sociopath” is a label that we attach to people who commit brutal, unexpected acts of violence. Eliot Rodgers was a sociopath not just because he was a hateful person, but because he expressed that hate by stabbing people and running them over with his car. “Sociopath” is also a label we apply to someone who may not be personally violent, but who charms us into a life of violence and self-destruction. Charles Manson is a good example; so is Jim Jones, and that bug-eyed comet dude.

M.E. Thomas is a self-defined sociopath. However, she hasn’t murdered or raped anybody, and she hasn’t founded a cult. Her sociopathic activity is some really low-level shit. She takes a book from the lost and found box, walks up an escalator that’s been closed off, flirts with some guys in the office in front of her female boss. She steals a bike. I guess that’s pretty bad. And only in America could dragging out paid sick leave after a cancer operation be the evil act of a cunning sociopath. Yeah, and once I pretended to have a cold to get a paid day off, now I’m the equivalent of John Wayne Gacy. Only in America.

OK, so maybe Thomas hasn’t done the atrocious things that are normally ascribed to sociopaths. That’s really a good thing–I don’t need her to “earn” her title as a sociopath by killing a bunch of people. However, pop culture has one more definition of sociopathy, and that’s the sociopath as the evolutionary “killer,” the top of the Social Darwinist pyramid. Sociopathic traits, if held in check, can be used as an entrée into a glamorous world of satisfaction—sociopaths can rack up money, hot sex partners, and corner offices because they don’t have the nasty burden of caring about other humans. cold, calculating corporate raiders.

However, M.E. Thomas’s sociopathy hasn’t done much for her. Thomas was in line to get a job at Brigham Young University until her outings as a self-defined sociopath cut that short. (Top tip for non-sociopaths: Don’t do an interview on Dr. Phil talking about wanting to kill people if you want a job at a Mormon university.) Her job before that was as a law professor at a small university. Not a terrible career path, but not the kind of blaze up the corporate ladder you would expect from someone with Magical Sociopath Powers.

Thomas’s lack of murder charges/boardroom success has led to speculation that she isn’t a real sociopath. Maybe she’s a narcissist or has borderline personality disorder. I’m not interested in Thomas’s exact diagnosis. I mean, maybe the bump of sociopathy on her skull is too big, who knows? What I want to know is why someone would voluntarily promote themselves as a sociopath. “Hey, everybody, I’m mentally fucked up in a way similar to spree killers! Come listen to my story!” Really? Why not save that story until you’re on trial?

Why give yourself such a nasty diagnosis? Well, a female sociopath just isn’t as threatening as a male sociopath. Unlike male sociopaths, whose abnormalities lead to people dying in horrific ways, female sociopaths apparently just have nasty thoughts (that they don’t act upon) and have lots of sex. On one hand, this means that the spectrum of “normal” behavior is wider for men than for women. On the other hand, it mean that a woman can reap the short-term financial rewards of presenting herself to others as an interesting sociopath, while almost any man would have to have bodies stacked up in his basement like cordwood to qualify—and you can’t collect royalties while serving consecutive life sentences. Misandry in action, folks.

It also means that, in a publishing market in which women are confined to memoir writing, Thomas can present a unique narrative to her life–something that will sell and something that, in a weird way, makes Thomas the hero of her own story. Thomas swears up and down that she didn’t experience abuse in her childhood, but what she describes in her memoirs is abuse—her father punches through a locked door because she won’t talk to him? That’s pretty clear-cut. Many women’s life narratives would start with this behavior, clearly label it as abusive, and then detail how that behavior warped their life and caused them to go through all sorts of trauma before they exorcised the bad memories through therapy or prayer. Thomas casts herself as a person with biological rather than learned behaviorial abnormalities. She’s just somebody who just never felt at all in the first place, and if there’s one thing that women are supposed to do, it’s have feelings. Voila, instant new narrative!

The best way to “cure” the lady sociopath? Thomas doesn’t seem to need curing, unless you think that teaching at a low-level law school is a shameful medical condition, like dandruff or excessive flatulence. The best way to cure the sociopathic memoirists would be to let women write about something other than themselves–it’s easy to build a life, or at least a life story, around a diagnosis. Then again, there’s a market for that, and it’s not just for women only…

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Ed Anger vs. the Ukrainian Nazis

I have to defend the last thing on earth I thought I would ever defend—Twitter journalism! I’ve been following events in Ukraine, and while I don’t feel like I can comment on events themselves, I can comment on how people are reacting to those events, and reacting to reactions to those events (wheels within wheels, thanks, Internet). David Stern is arguing over at National Geographic online about the Twitter response to Odessa and how it’s poisoning the well for anyone who wants to know the “reality” of Ukraine.” I think he’s being a bit too harsh on the medium and the message and a little too optimistic about the message’s consumers.

First, the good news. The Internet may add more noise to the media landscape, but that doesn’t mean that older forms of media are more objective, or that they necessarily got the facts out at all. I mean, the Weekly World News was on paper, and I don’t think a fact was ever printed in it.* Seriously, though, most papers and radio shows and television shows promote some sort of editorial spin on events, because that’s what sells. People gravitate towards messengers who give them the message they want to hear. I doubt that Twitter, Facebook, and other forms of social media are destroying the construction of some form of good, objective truth. I’m not sure it was there in the first place, and if we’re going to try to approach that standard anyway, it’s better to do so with a system that allows users more access to sources and almost instant correction. (After all, on one hand it’s bad that Twitter users can spread rumors, yet on the other hand it’s bad that Russia is restricting independent media—presumably because it can then completely control its citizens’ media access.)

Now the bad news. Stern is being way too optimistic when he assumes Twitter users give a fuck about the actual events in Ukraine because they want some sort of reality fed to them, even if it’s a reality that confirms their biases. A lot of these Twitter folk, at least the Anglophone ones, don’t really give a fuck about Ukraine but see Ukraine as a sort of episode in a longer story starring themselves. Ukraine is a point along the road to the final conflagration, in which the defenders of liberty overthrow the corrupt American/EU governments. This narrative is a toxic mix of upset, in which hatred of a supposedly participatory political system combines with the desire to be a movie-style hero—and it’s a narrative that stars some white American guys (and possibly some white British guys), not anybody in Eastern Europe. The Ukrainians are the extras who get killed in the background while the hero outruns the firestorm, daughter/yellow Labrador in his arms. Even Putin himself, supposedly the great threat to the world order, only exists as a white, manly reproach to Obama’s oppressive black homo rule.

This narcissism is also behind the Anglophone debate over whether the Russian side or the Ukrainian side is more full of Nazis. It’s much better that Nazis are abhorred than celebrated, of course, but calling someone a Nazi has become the equivalent of playground cooties or calling someone a faggot back in the unenlightened days when I went to school. It doesn’t have to do with hatred of fascism or anti-Semitism—plenty of people accuse their hate objects of being Nazis in one Tweet and freak out about the world Zionist conspiracy in the next. I think it mostly has to do with the desire to be a hero in one’s own movie, the desire to fight full-on evil that is always threatening, but also always just weak enough to make you look good. I mean, Indiana Jones killed a lot of Nazis, right? Wouldn’t it be cool if there were a bunch of people you could heroically kill while being awesome with your magic whip? If you could be Indy, too? It’s too bad all those old Nazis are dead—since they’re not around anymore, we’ll just have to invent them. Why aren’t we fighting them? I blame Obama!

* Except for Bat Boy, that motherfucker was real.

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