Wherever there’s a victim, Frederick Marx writes, there’s also a perpetrator.
I know something about victimization. I was taught it pretty well by my mother. She grew up very poor in a fatherless household in the Jewish ghetto of Philadelphia. She often went hungry. No one bothered to mention to her as she went off to school that first time in 1931 that she would be hearing a new language – English. She only knew her mother tongue, what everyone in the neighborhood spoke – Yiddish. She spent much of her first year in school in a state of shock learning a foreign language from scratch.
Coming of age during the Depression she grew to expect to be mistreated, misunderstood. She adopted a “beg for mercy” posture when dealing with strangers. Highly sensitive by nature, she felt easily offended by things others might say or do. She felt battered by the world, the victim.
But wherever there’s a victim there’s also a perpetrator. The two go hand in hand. My mother would perpetrate passive-aggressively, usually by turning her back on her victimizers. Once and for all. Forever. For life. She lost a lot of friends this way. Needless to say conflict resolution did not come easily.
Perpetration also took the form of the cause of justice. When victimized she would wrap herself in the flag of righteous indignation and set out on the warpath of revenge through social justice.
Not surprisingly I share many of those traits. My default position is victim. I can walk out of my house in the morning, have a pigeon shit on my head and, rather than laugh, declaim in anguish, “Why me Lord?!”
My perpetrator also looks like my mother’s. I burned a lot of friendships by writing people off. Those who betray me usually go down in a hail fire of righteous bullets. At least in my mind. It’s not enough to reach and find compromises with my tormentors, solutions that work for all, the win-win. I want my victimizers to go down hard. All the way down. I want to perpetrate on them.
This is important stuff to be aware of. If this dynamic is to stop with me, if I want to break the family chain, I have to consciously and constantly work to mitigate against my “natural” impulses. It’s not easy but I’m making great progress.
As an independent filmmaker of many years, I have seen foundation and government support for independent filmmakers increasingly go to women, people of color, and less experienced filmmakers than me. This is the new reality in the social funding side of filmmaking and it has taken shape over the last 30+ years. We were turned down for a very large grant to complete Hoop Dreams because, as we found out later after much digging, the panel was not going to award a grant to white filmmakers for a film about black families. It was not politically correct.
Did it piss me off? Yes. Did I see myself at the time as a victim? Honestly, yes. But I like to think I’ve grown a bit since then. Which is what this article’s really about.
Has the new social reality of filmmaking adversely affected my ability to raise money for my films? I believe so. There are certain bodies and funders I will not seek funding from. In their political correctness I believe they will not fund a lone white male filmmaker. So clearly I’m a victim of this new order, right?
I don’t think so.
What?! you say. How is that possible? Am I not justified?
First and foremost, because of that family history, I choose not to see myself as a victim. I know it is a dead end for me to indulge in the mental drain game of victim. And mental drain of colossal proportions it is. In the past I’ve spent countless hours vacillating mentally between victim and perpetrator, licking wounds and plotting revenge.
But I genuinely don’t feel victimized by these new social realities. How can I be victimized by the realization of values I hold dear? The crime is not with those “perpetrating” political correctness on me. The crime is with those who for many years before didn’t allow women, those of color, and inexperienced filmmakers to come to the table. But wait, isn’t this new reality just two wrongs trying to make a right? No, because I don’t see the political correctness of the age as a wrong. I see it as righting historical wrongs, readjusting the imbalance of the scales.
50 or 60 years ago it was virtually impossible to secure funding for a film if you were a woman or person of color. It’s still tough today but it’s a hell of a lot easier. I’m glad these changes have leveled the playing field.
More importantly, not receiving funding from PC funders has not stopped me from making films. I simply have moved on to other funding streams. For the last 15 years I’ve increasingly sought and found support from individuals. It actually appeals to me a lot more to make my films directly for the audience that wants them, that funds them. In some ways it’s actually a dream come true – cutting out the middlemen, the distributors, the broadcasters, the foundations.
I’m glad to be less engaged in pursuing grants. To me it’s a process that’s grueling. Each grantor demands you dress up your project to look something like the ideal project they’relooking for, regardless of the inherent social value of your original vision. Then once you’ve crawled through all their hoops they give you a ticket for the lottery. Not satisfying.
Could I “justifiably” rant and rave against a system that doesn’t recognize my “greatness?” Sure. Could I see myself as a victim? Sure. But that self-perception will not serve me in becoming the mature, productive and happy man I aim to be, and does not align with the important and necessary redressing of social inequalities.
It seems to me that many men who perceive themselves as victims either don’t share those values or don’t understand history. After 300 years of slavery and 100 years of institutionalized racism through segregation and Jim Crow we are not suddenly “color blind” in the last 50 years. Similarly, after 1,000s of years of women’s 2ndclass status we are not suddenly gender neutral in the last 50 years. We’re getting there but we’re not there yet, though we may be closer to solving the gender divide than in eliminating the social barriers of race and class.
Certainly any one person can be victimized by any other individual or group. But that victimization may not have a historical or social dimension to it. Individual middle class white men, even rich white men, can be victims of all sorts of terrible things, including judges that adjudicate against them unfairly in divorce proceedings. Including men that are victims of domestic violence. Including men that are unfairly accused of rape, or sexual harassment, or child abuse. But as a social class upper middle class white males are not historical, institutional and cultural targets the way white working men are, the way people of color are, the way gays are.
A couple years ago I was visiting my sister’s family in New York. When I went to pick up my 12 year old niece from her dance class the teacher wouldn’t release her to me because she didn’t know me. When I asked Emma to identify me she giggled and said, “yeah, he’s my uncle.” Still, no go. Not until my sister called and said “he’s my brother,” and I showed my driver’s license to her did this dance teacher release my niece so I could drive her home.
Was that teacher overzealous, a pain in the ass? I think so. Was she being paranoid in the extreme? Roger. Was I pissed off? You bet. I certainly felt like I had more “right” to my niece than she did. I felt like my niece would be a hell of a lot safer in my care than in hers. Are there lots of men who get similar treatment from dance teachers? Probably. But was I a victim of a social wrong, some discrimination against all men just because some men are child molesters and murderers? I don’t think so.
As much as she was a pain in the ass I’d rather have this woman grill men who show up to take my niece away than risk her being taken by one of those child molesters or murderers. They may be very few but they certainly exist. Just one more of the many social realities that still have to be redressed.
Frederick Marx is interested in starting an advice column on all things male related. We invite you to place suggestions, or specific questions, below on issues you would like to see addressed.