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To take advantage of all LARB has to offer, please create an account or log in before joining There is less than a week left to support our matching grant fund drive! Your tax-deductible donation made to LARB by pm, December 31, will be doubled thanks to an anonymous donor. If it were a foreign country, we would be at war. If it were an alien from another planet, it would be the villain in a movie. American men are dying and killing, and we are letting it happen. And they did it without complaining. We saw them as ideal men, rather than ill men. From them — how we celebrated them — we drew one fundamental lesson about how men should be: men should feel no pain, and when they do they are forbidden from sharing it with anyone else.
Toxic masculinity predates the Greatest Generation, of course. A masculine ideal has and will always be impossible to achieve, because, in the words of Dr.
Any displayed weakness is fundamental proof that you are not a real man like your grandfather. And Sexton should know. He suffered physical and emotional abuse at the hands of a number of men in his life until he internalized and adopted the principles of toxic masculinity. Toxic masculinity is addicted to performance, to poses and postures of physical endurance, willingness to engage in or actual violence, and stoic absence of any emotion, pain, or discomfort. A great work of nonfiction, on any topic, makes its case and tells its story in a way that lets readers come to their own conclusions and acts as a base for future exploration.
This is not to absolve them of responsibility, but to define a relationship with toxic masculinity in our search for a way out of it. On a deeper level, the kill is associated with sexual intercourse. He will achieve his first kill, which in one sense is the end of his virginity. Rambuss, , p. While becoming a full man by killing the girl, he betrays his humanistic principles but at the same time knows and accepts that, in order to be complete, one has to do the killing.
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Thus, while the filmmakers were focusing on the theme of loss of innocence, the films, with both overt and covert layers of meaning, render a narrative, which in its complexity, serves to create a climactic moment which brings the spectator to accept the killing. Using slow-motion technique, loud music and fast-moving camera techniques, the filmmakers turn the moment of killing into a ritualistic moment, which transforms not only the protagonist, but also the spectator. The associated religious imagery further confirms that these films agree on one point; the glorification of the moment of killing and the courage required to do it.
Both films, in this sense reverse their anti-war discourse; it might be true that war turns men into killers and takes away their innocence. Yet, the mystical charm and exaltation of the point of transformation are more likely to mean that the kill is a fact of life, a rite of passage into manhood and thus is necessary.
Saving Private Ryan and We Were Soldiers: Families, Fathers and Sons The significance of Saving Private Ryan is that, after two decades of war- combat films with overt anti-war messages —as a legacy of the Vietnam War— it is the first war-combat film which retouches issues such as honor, sacrifice, and dying for a cause.
On the part of the filmmaker this sudden change from anti-war to heroic narrative required a sort of justification.
Men, Masculinities and Male Culture in the Second World War | Linsey Robb | Palgrave Macmillan
As Peter Ehrenhaus observes: One solution is to leapfrog over the source of traumatic memory Vietnam and manufacture redemption by giving presence to an even more distant past World War II. On first glance, American moral righteousness in this narrative is placed securely beyond reproach, and an Americanized Holocaust memory is situated in the mainstream of national identity. By employing the memory of the Holocaust, the film bypasses the anti-war sentiment created by Vietnam.
Hence, the film reinterprets the American past in order to restructure a moral ground on which war can still be seen and depicted as just and right. Despite its portrayal as an infernal environment, war is still romanticized and conventional themes related with masculinity and fighting are championed as well.
In this sense, the film is more about the restoration of masculinity and the reversal of the anti-war spirit which emerged in the aftermath of the Vietnam War. Since none of the wars and operations in the s, i. As stated earlier, one of the primary tactics of the masculinist ideology as used by Hollywood style of filmmaking is to use victimization; defeat can only be tolerated and used as a pretext for further action if the protagonist can be seen as a victim.
Similarly, a victory with no loss is not ideological. Unless the themes of sacrifice and courage are shown, a war-combat movie cannot be ideological. Therefore, the film tries to restore dignity to American manhood and the military, and attempts at reformulating a sense of patriotism for the American public in order to provide moral justification for the American presence in the Persian Gulf, Afghanistan, Iraq, Sudan and Somali. At its core, [Saving Private Ryan] is also a morality play. I think when we fight, war is no longer about a greater good but becomes intensely personal.
Thus, other than rewriting American history for justifications of war, the film attempts to establish a masculinist discourse founded on the theme of brotherhood and male bonding. Taking place during World War II, the plot revolves around a group of soldiers trying to locate one Private Ryan and send him back to his home as he has lost all his brothers and is the only remaining son of the family. On the other hand, most of the story is dedicated to the relationship between Captain Miller and his soldiers.
Although he is too young to be their father, his soldiers respect him and develop a kind of myth around his identity. Thus, Miller suddenly is promoted to the level of a father figure among the soldiers. Thus, their transformation and initiation takes place without coercion. Miller at one point declares that any soldier who is not willing to come with the group is free to leave, which is a completely unrealistic practice in an atmosphere of war.
The outcome will again be a result of free choice. The others agree; in war they are all brothers. Thus, from the ideological perspective, the death of Captain Miller and his soldiers is necessary, since through these deaths the survivors will be transformed. The sacrifices of the others have made them heroes and Ryan a full man. His existence is an accolade of the brotherhood and heroism of these young men who sacrificed their lives for him.
The film presents war as a medium in which new families of fathers and sons are established. The survival of Private Ryan at the end of the film demonstrates that he owes his life to all these dead soldiers who, instead of going back to their places of duty, preferred to stay with him and defended a bridge, just as a family would have done. As can be seen in the relationship between his soldiers and Miller, the film conscientiously pays homage to myths of masculinity without touching upon any other issue. Otherwise, such lack of manliness will result in total failure and even massacre of the family.
Reel men at war : masculinity and the American war film
He kills the German soldier and becomes a man. Shortly, the film uses the Holocaust as the moral starting point and depicts the formation of families of men in the world of war and ends with the ultimate sacrifice a man can do, one towards his son s. Just as Saving Private Ryan is a return to the glory of World War II, We Were Soldiers is a return to the mentality of John Wayne-style heroic films with their strong emphasis on warrior brotherhood and heroic acts.
The film is also an indicator of a turn that is taking place in the Hollywood war-combat genre at the beginning of the new century. More specifically, the film marks the end of a period in Hollywood war-combat films; it seems as if even the alleged anti-war sentiment of the Vietnam films such as Apocalypse Now, Platoon and Full Metal Jacket is over and from this point on Hollywood war-combat films, freed from the Vietnam syndrome, can deal with the Vietnam War with a reasserted —but this time in a more sinister sense— patriotism of the s and early s.
Even the pseudo-anti-war sentiment of the s and s is now replaced with an outright manifestation of patriotism.
Reel Men at War: Masculinity and the American War Film
So as to achieve this —especially in a Vietnam War film— the film takes place in what Paul Fussell calls, the ideological vacuum [i. Zacharek, , p. Nevertheless, the film gives full support to the ideology of masculinity presented again in the form of families established by fathers and sons in combat zones.
The act of heroism on the part of combat soldiers is the utmost manifestation of this masculinist ideology couched in heroic language. Although We Were Soldiers attempts to be critical of war as can be seen in its seemingly better treatment of the Vietnamese, the themes of heroism and manliness overpower these superficial humanitarian elements.
Loosely based on a true event, the film narrates the battle of La Drang Valley in which the first group of soldiers dropped to Vietnam had to protect the perimeter around a football-size field for two days. An interesting detail in the films is that before he leaves for Vietnam, the protagonist Lt. As can be seen in this scene, the American past and experience in the frontier West is extrapolated to Vietnam. From the very beginning, the film shows Vietnam as a new territory America has to fight for.
In total contrast to the boot camp scenes in Full Metal Jacket, his basic training methods are very friendly and fatherly. This religiosity is further repeated in various scenes in which soldiers are depicted as understanding each other without saying a word. A kind of spiritual communication takes place between them. However, this dichotomy serves to assign each sex its own role. When they are away from each other because of war, the soldiers and their wives form their own spiritual families in which they will observe solidarity.
Furthermore, when they realize that their ammunition has finished, American soldiers are ordered to fix bayonets in order to attack the Vietnamese foxholes. Interestingly, Americans are able to defeat the Vietnamese with bayonets. He leaves his camera —a passive object— aside and begins to use a rifle—the killer phallus. When the combat is over, he is completely transformed; he no longer considers himself associated with the journalists who come to the battlefield to report the incident.
His battle weary face in total contrast to the snobbish attitudes and casual clothes of the journalists gives the message that the outsiders cannot understand the reality of combat. Galloway, like many others in the platoon, is transformed into full manhood. From this point on, he will use his camera, now associated with his manly task of persuasion, as a weapon. Both these films represent examples not only of the restoration of American dignity and glory but also the reassertion of American masculinity in an age when American military interventions and wars against terrorism are the most prominent elements of the agenda.
Other than depicting incidents that claim there are cases to die for, these films used the atmosphere of war and combat as an excuse for the practices of masculinity and proof of manliness. Since American cultural ideology is based on the presumption that the proof of maturity for a male is his practice of aggression, i. On the contrary, these films reinforce the maintenance of a masculinist perspective of the world, thus, in one way or another, all call for war.
Conclusion All these Vietnam War combat films offer versions of a rewritten past. Even in their humanitarian attitudes these war-combat films do not offer alternative perspectives to the issue of war but repeat the same underlying ideology.
Through their mythologizing of the Vietnam War and their consecration of the combat atmosphere, they are all in line with the conservative cultural ideology which sees war as just and good after all. These films are not anti-war films in essence; on the contrary, they present an exotic and eroticized image of war and thus transform the atmosphere of combat into a spiritual experience for the spectator. The enemy, the fighting, the kill, all become detached from reality.