Nicole Johnson believes movies and television shows can be funny and still portray men in a positive light. Why it’s not being done in this day and age baffles her.
Growing up, my brother, Matt, and I were unapologetic television and movie buffs. We loved any box with rabbit ears, and the silver screen was a magical place where Extra Terrestrials, Ewoks, and Super Heroes lived. In fact, I could call up Matt right now and say, “Jack Abramoff is as corrupt as Boss Hogg”, and we would nostalgically burst out loud laughing over the comparison.
A portion of our childhood was shaped by Happy Days, Benson, Battlestar Galactica, Different Strokes, Good Times, The Cosby Show, Little House on the Prairie, and of course, reruns of The Brady Bunch, Leave It to Beaver, and Lassie, (just to name a few). Moreover, our minds were influenced by the educational cartoons of the time. Don’t scoff; we learned a lot from The Smurfs and Fat Albert. As for the movies, Star Wars, Superman, Indiana Jones, Back to the Future, and E.T. will always be some of our favorites.
The aforementioned movies and televisions shows not only entertained us, but they taught us right from wrong and proved goodness undeniably conquers evil. My brother and I were fortunate; we grew up during the decades where men were celebrated in film and television. I’m grateful we were raised at a time where industry giants were at the apex of their careers. Thank you, George Lucas and Norman Lear.
It didn’t matter if we were watching Tom Bosley’s Mr. Cunningham, John Amos’s Mr. Evans, or Christopher Reeve’s Superman (Clark Kent), my brother and I knew these characters were strong and honorable. There was no ambiguity; we knew they were good men. In our generation, media outlets consistently showcased two types of dignified gentlemen: the type of men Matt would want to emulate and the type of men I would want to marry. Despite our affinity for Hollywood, we didn’t learn everything from fiction. My father provided us with a real-life, everyday example of what it meant to be an extraordinary man. His tutelage continues to this day. Thank you, Dad.
The media I was exposed to in my youth and adolescence is the antithesis of American media today. In 2011, there is a dearth of movies and television shows portraying men in a manner worthy of emulation. Currently, programs in the medical, legal, and criminal justice genre feature certain men as honorable and capable, however there are few television dads who could rival the television dads of generations past. Ergo, the dads incarnated on ABC’s Modern Family are vaudevillian compared to the standards of the 1960’s and 70’s.
Here’s what I find tremendously disconcerting: Hollywood has started writing and producing content which depicts men as ridiculous and as people who should not be taken seriously. The characterizations of men in the media over the past two decades portray men as weak and incompetent. Interestingly enough, it’s men who are behind the scenes doing this, not women. Hollywood is a notorious “boys club.”
Why do male movie executives (yes, Jud Apatow, I’m referring to you) consistently disseminate this type of content? Clearly the men creating movies such as Knocked Up, Old School, The 40 Year Old Virgin, Pineapple Express, Super Bad, The Hangover, Forgetting Sarah Marshall, and I Love You, Man are simply seeing dollar signs. (For further proof, watch the trailer for the upcoming movie The Sitter.) What man would walk away from these movies saying, “I want to be like him?” Conversely, what woman would walk away saying, “I want to marry him?” I understand it’s designed to be entertaining, but if I were a man, I’d be horrified.
Television executives are equally as culpable in contributing to the debasement of men. The most glaring example is ABC’s newest show, Man Up. I’ve seen two full-episodes and I am disgusted ABC actually put this show on the air. ABC’s Man Up portrays men as infantile, incapable, uncultured, weak, pathetic, and flat out moronic (I could go on, but I’ll stop here). Don’t the executives at ABC realize this show is damaging to men? Do the writers not care they are depicting men as buffoons? Why not just put the male actors in clown suits and call it a day?
I’m tired of Hollywood trying to sell me on the concept of “loveable idiots”, and I am disheartened by the ubiquitous content that tears men down. I love filling my life with laughter, however why are my current content choices trying to get me to laugh at a reduced version of men? Why is Hollywood trying to get me to focus on the broken-down, allegorical version of who they think my husband is? Obviously they don’t know my husband.
Millions of men are driven, capable, intelligent, honorable, responsible, etc. At present time, why is this not regularly celebrated on film and television? I wonder if the media is deliberately trying to degrade men, because I know there are ways of infusing positive aspects of manhood and masculinity into content while maintaining the comedy and excitement. Case in point: Frasier, Scrubs, and Jim Carrey’s, Liar Liar.
I hope media outlets will revamp their destructive strategies. The current template has the potential to be catastrophic to men (and women). There’s a reason why Kay Hymowitz wrote Manning Up, and it’s not solely because of the economy and Feminist movement. The media has contributed to a portion of this plight. Perpetuating images of the “man-child” has established the need for academic and sociological involvement. Thank you, Kay Hymowitz.
To the executives at ABC and beyond, men deserve better. Every protagonist should not be painted as a pinhead, and all antagonists shouldn’t be written as angry Neanderthals. The superfluous use of these stereotypes is depressing. It’s time to redesign the formula. Good men are everywhere; let your content reflect this fact.