Our culture pressures men who think they are “supposed” to be a certain way in order to be a “real man.” And some of the best actors of our times play those roles brilliantly.
Look at this trailer about the life of legendary country singer Hank Williams—from the movie “I Saw the Light”. It looks to be a beautifully produced, expansive movie with Tom Hiddleston playing the lead. From the trailer, and from what I later read about Hank’s life, Williams was a hard driving, obsessed with success, alcohol-fueled, man. In other words, he fit squarely inside the man-box.
Take a look at some lines from the trailer.
Tom Hiddleston as Williams: “He’s going to have a real dad. Not like it was for me.”
His wife: “You go out on the road and you sleep with a different woman every night….you’re barely even here.”
His Manager: “Business is tough on marriage.” Williams: “Marriage is tough on Marriage.”
Tom Hiddleston as Hank Williams: “Everyone has a little darkness in them. And I’m talking about things like anger, sorrow, shame. I show it to them. And they hear it and they don’t have to take it home. Country music it’s sincere. Man sings a sad song, he knows it’s sad.”
It’s great to see a movie like this so we, together, can understand the cultural pressures on men and how they have led to stereotypes. We’re not by any means saying that the life that Hank Williams led was not “good”, or even that it could have been better—but that it should be a choice. Leading a life only because you think that is what is expected of you doesn’t do anyone any good. Especially the person living that life.
The first time I ever saw Tom Hiddleston perform, it made me realize just how far back and just how engrained this idea of the “Man-Box” was in our culture. It was his role of King …., in the play of the same name by none other than William Shakespeare.
What struck me was the “man-shaming” that was going on back then. If you didn’t “Man-up” and go to war, you were lesser than those who did. Just look at the “Band of Brothers” speech—a beautiful speech, performed brilliantly by Hiddleston. But listen to the words that Shakespeare wrote. In the speech is basically saying, if you don’t follow me, the king, to almost certain death, you will not be a real man. King Henry V, meet the Man-Box.
The Man-Box has always been used by people in power to get people not in power to do things that would otherwise be unfathomable to them. In this case, go to war in order that the king could rule France. (And, oh, get the beautiful girl in the end too–the real life Henry V the princess Catherine of France as part of his conquest of that land).
But what did the men get who were shamed into fighting the war get? Assuming they didn’t die, they just the chance to say “Well, I was a real man.” See if you don’t agree.
The role of Henry the V has been performed by some of the most lauded male actors of our time. Here are a few of the versions of the Band of Brothers speech as delivered by Tom Hiddleston, Kenneth Branagh, Richard Burton, Sir Laurence Olivier.
“We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
For he to-day that sheds his blood with me
Shall be my brother; be he ne’er so vile,
This day shall gentle his condition;
And gentlemen in England now a-bed
Shall think themselves accurs’d they were not here,
And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
That fought with us upon Saint Crispin’s day.”