February 25, 2009

The Action Movie Fairy Tale

The woman asks, why won't my man have sex with me?


80s and 90s action movies were often maligned not just for their violence, but also for their lack of depth and psychological sophistication.  "They're not important."

But these movies built a generation of men who are now in their 30s and 40s.

They didn't learn that killing is cool, which was the worry of people who didn't watch those movies and didn't understand.  This violence was central to the cinematic experience, but incidental to the story

The complainers ignored the story because they thought it was basic, trivial.  Wrong.  Write down the plot synopsis of every action movie, and awareness will come over you: 

A marginal guy must save a hot chick from bad guys; when he does, he gets the girl 


A generation of adolescent boys learned immediately three things:

1. marginal guys are the real heroes.
2. heroes never die.
3. bad guys exist as bad guys, not as good guys who went bad, or bad guys with some good in them also.  Darth Vader was unquestionably bad starting in 1977, unimaginable that he was once a sweet young boy with good in his heart.  That story had to wait a whole generation to be told.
4. in order to get (active verb: to obtain, procure, convince) a hot woman to fall passionately in love with you, you  have to do do some extraordinary things: take out thirty terrorists, master kung fu, be in the special forces, etc.


Focus on #4.  The question for today is, why do men have trouble having sex with the women that they are committed to?  Why does it seem that women have higher sex drives than men?

This is not a complaint I recall hearing in the 1970s or 80s.

Start with: there's something eerily adolescent about men today.

The movies say: until you do something extraordinary, or "save" the girl, then the love you feel isn't true love.   Women may be the ones looking to feel "explosions" inside telling them they're in true love, but men externalize those explosions in to real explosions before they know it's love.

How did you meet?  Was it a good story?  Did it involve defying the odds or secrecy?  You'll make it.  Did you meet in a coffeehouse or a bar? Then you're dating your future ex-fiance(e).

The male libido falls not because he's not interested in the woman he's with, but because he's not interested in the movie he's in.

Women say: you're wrong, it's porn, it's TV and magazines and airbrushing and implants and impossible figures...

Nope.  Consider that the serial monogamous relationships of these guys are with women who are actually quite attractive.  Other men want them.  If the guy's friends knew she wanted sex more than he did, they'd knife him.  And it's not boredom, either-- what, is masturbation so exciting?

For a man in a committed relationship, the porn is a distraction, not an ends.  They're not looking at porn to get off, they're avoiding sex.  Actual sex is exposure.  It reveals that he is not the fantasy man he thought he was. He'd be a better lover if he was.   Ha.  And women thought it was that they (the women) didn't measure up to the fantasies.  As an aside:  jealousy is directly proportional to sexual desire in these men.  That's not advice, just an observation.
The men love their girlfriends/wives, and are loved, but there's the feeling that it's not "real," she's not "the one."  Women have fantasies about what a relationship is like; men what a beginning is like.

A few points: first, for men, love is tied with a sense of accomplishment.  They can't imagine a woman would really want them if they weren't accomplished, so when a woman is interested, they think it's not the real thing.  Everything is a stepping stone.  But accomplishment isn't what makes him  "good enough for her."  It's not even to entice her.  It's not for her at all.   It's acquiring the pieces to his identity, like a Star Wars collection.  Success-- check. Money-- check.  Woman-- check.

This man goes through the motions of love: he is present, he doesn't cheat-- he doesn't even have the motivation for that!-- he is warm, loving, dutiful, respectful--

but he isn't there, he is always elsewhere, he has the thousand yard stare of someone who is expecting, any moment, his real life to come marching through the tree line.


"But then you are saying that the problem for these men isn't sexual attraction or commitment issues, but a psychological inability to love another person?"

What other person?  How can you love a person who doesn't actually exist?


"I think I'm one of those people, how can I change?"

You don't have to change, you look away from the pool.


It's similar to the complaints about fairy tales and girls: rigid gender roles and depictions of false success.  And now women are waiting for a white knight to sweep them off their feet.

Well, I don't know any women who feel this way, they learned quickly that those stories are only beginnings-- what happens next?  An example is the movie that wrecked a decade of young women in the 80s: 9 1/2 weeks.  20 years later, I still have yet to meet one woman who saw it and obtained the message, "be careful of charming men, they may seem great in the beginning but.."  Instead, women connected with it, wanted it, they'd describe their own  relationship like Rourke/Basinger's, proudly, they sought it out, they'd create it.  What they wanted about it was the passion, "I wish a man were that into me!"  What they learned from that movie is that in order to have a relationship as passionate as that one, with a guy as good looking and successful as him, you have to lose part of yourself, do things you don't really want to do.

Ah, but she left him at then end.  Wrong.  He'll be a part of her forever.  That's really what he wanted-- do you think he wanted to be with her when she turned 60?  Do you think she'd want him if she were 60?  She wants to know she was worth that much passion.

Too many women learned the wrong message, not that they should wait for a white knight, but that keeping a white knight may involve a heavy cost.  And they paid it, with abusive 80s and bicurious 90s, whatever it took.


The action movie was not about glorifying violence.  It was a manual: how to get an identity, how to get people to like you.

You disagree.  Twenty years of media studies and postmodernism says I'm wrong, "the action movie is catharsis through contradiction: death brings life; bad is good.  The action movie is says the hero must become antihero, take on all the bad, become bad, so that good can be saved and no one else has to be bad."

Well, reality says I'm right.  Ask: what would happen if a man saved the hostages by taking out out thirty terrorists in a LA skyscraper in real life?  He'd end up interviewed on TV, he'd get a makeover, and he'd get a million dollar book/TV deal.  In short, he would be rewarded.  The money and the interviews mean: you finally see me for who I always knew I was. 

This is a possible explanation for why depression and suicide is so high among combat vets today.  They fight a battle and then-- nothing.  They only get on TV if they do something wrong.  "I did all this, and I get nothing?"   One of the only 80s action movies that didn't have a damsel in distress was First Blood, in which Rambo, who actually was a Green Beret, came back to the world only to find that not only did no one reward his identity, they hated him for it.  But even that was a sort of confirmation.  You don't need a girl when enough people hate you for who you are.


The 80s adolescent hits the 90s full force, then 2000, and with every passing year it becomes more certain he will not learn kung fu or join the special forces.  Now what?  How is he supposed to find true love if he was never in the special forces?

Answer: go find a girl who was in the special forces.

Just in time for the first midlife crisis, Hollywood has our back: Alias, Underworld, Lara Croft, etc.  You think we like those women because they are sexy?  Then why wasn't Pamela Anderson's Barbed Wire the ultra-popular?  Was Jennifer Garner a Playmate?  It has nothing to do with sex, it is all about love.  The movies say: my reality is becoming increasingly limited by my uncooperative body.  It's probably impossible that I can take out thirty terrorists and save the girl.  But it's slightly less impossible that I could meet a woman who could do it.  Phew.


But at some point, a man has to grow up, and this is where it gets interesting.  At some point you realize the action movie isn't going to happen in real life.  You're going to have to confront reality, have to meet a girl and fall in love with her for real, and try to be happy, and know that you don't get to try on several different wives to find one you like.  Nor do you get to keep trying on identities.  You're going to have to face life as an accountant or a product manager, and not as a CIA agent, or music producer, or pro-ball player-- all of which are the exact same thing.  Then what?  Three choices:

1. alcoholism and depression, especially the subtle variety called ennui
2. accepting reality and finding one's place
3. the schizotypal condition

The one to focus on is #3.  What modern middle aged narcissist wants is to find a way to put one foot in reality, and keep one foot in fantasy.  A solution that lets him keep fighting the traffic twice a day without blowing his brains out.  To have just enough hope that one day the fantasies could come true that he keeps on going.  That a 30 year old man could suddenly know kung fu.

Fortunately, we find ourselves at the tenth anniversary of just such a solution.

Part 2 here.