Tag Archive: Masculinity


(Before we get started, I will like to say that this is not a spoiler free post. It should also be noted that it can be triggering for some readers as well, due to discussions of rape.)

Dan Harmon, the creator of the genius sitcom “Community”, has just recently along with Justin Roiland created a brand new animation that blends science fiction with black comedy. It follows the chaotic adventures of Rick, an alcoholic rough-personated scientist and his grandson Morty, a timid boy who semi-willingly goes along the madcap dimensional adventures instigated by his grandfather. The storylines are filled with gore, death and tragedy. The humor is quite dark, and the stories don´t always have happy endings. It is in the same mode storytelling as a slew of cartoons meant for adult audiences such as “Drawn Together” and “South Park”. However, when one looks beyond the gore filled scenes, one can see that “Rick and Morty” is a show that explores deeper themes as well. For instance, “Rick and Morty” is one of the few television shows that depict rape culture properly, without buying into myths of victim-blaming or simplifying ideas about who is a rape victim or who can be a predator.

Morty (right) and Rick (left)

Morty (right) and Rick (left)

The pilot of “Rick and Morty” show cast the series as filled with dark humor that joked about death, violence and trauma. The plots consisted of Rick dragging his fourteen year old grandson to all sorts of terrible dimensions, much to the rest families dismay. Mortys family consists of the dimwitted, insecure but goodhearted Jerry (his father) who Rick loves to belittle. Beth, Morty´s veterinarian mum and Ricks daughter. And Summer, Morty´s sister who wants to join in on her brothers and grandfathers misbegotten adventures. Rick and Morty’s travels are often dangerous, violent places that are filled with all sorts of peculiar creatures. The main selling point was its bleak sense of humor; however as the first season progressed it increased it´s serious world building and in the process was able to actually say some important things about violence.

In the first seasons fifth episode, “Meeseks and Destroy”, Morty asks Rick to allow him to decide what kind of adventure to have, since up until then, Rick had been the one who called all the shots. They make a deal that if Morty is able to handle the adventure he picks he will be allowed to choose every fifth adventure. They travel to a world that resembles the generic fantasy scenario, where Morty decides to help a poverty stricken village. In a reference to “Jack and the bean stock”, Morty and Rick climb up a bean stock and accidentally get the first giant they encounter killed. After being released from murder charges for the accidental Giant-slaughter, Rick and Morty end up at a tavern in the groundside village where things take a dark turn. Frustrated Rick goes off to gamble and Morty goes to use the restroom. There he meets a soft-spoken jellybean-shaped man who offers advice to Morty, which Morty initially appreciates. Suddenly, the benignly, supportive Jellybeanman begins getting uncomfortable close to Morty. The encounter proceeds into an uncomfortable scene where the Jellybeanman attempts to rape Morty, accusing Morty, all the while, of being a “tease”. Morty fights the Jellybeanman off, and, after the encounter, walks back out to meet Rick.

Meeseeks_and_Destroy_17

The scene is played straight; it is not used for black comedy in the slightest. This is not only remarkable because the show itself tends to poke fun at dark subjects, but also because rape jokes in today’s television shows while full of such references to sexual assault rarely show the trauma which “Rick and Morty” conveys in this brief scene. Shows such as “Two broke girls” and “Robot Chicken” tend to use rape as a throw away punch line and shock value. Casual jokes are made at both female and male survivors dispense. The problem, particularly with rape jokes, is that they tend to minimalize the violence of rape, and tend to more often fall into common victim-blaming, misogynistic language (or homophobic, if the joke is about male rape). The problem with such jokes are that they take a huge global issue (one in three women and one in six men have experienced sexual violence world wide) and treat it without any caution or seriousness. But in “Rick and Morty” the attempted rape of Morty is treated seriously; the writers cleverly decide to let the scene be gritty.

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“Rick and Morty”, having the Jellybeanman accuse Morty of being a tease, underline the continued instance in media of making victim-blaming jokes and the writers highlight how rapists themselves use victim-blaming to further their abuse.

After escaping the restroom assault of the Jellybeanman Morty silently tells Rick he wants to go home. Rick sees the Jellybean man leave the restroom and figures out what happens. Then an incredible piece of writing takes place; Rick doesn´t pressure Morty into telling him what happened. He doesn´t blame Morty in any way. He does what many survivors have claimed is the best thing to do; he doesn´t say anything, but let´s Morty know that he´s there for him. Rick shows Morty the cash he´s won gambling and tells Morty they can end thier adventure and giving Rick praise for the choice of adventure. Having Rick not pressure or blame Morty is incredible and a good moral to send: give abuse survivors space but also make sure they know you´re there for them. The episode however does give into some fantasies; in the end of the episode, when Rick and Morty are leaving the world, Rick quickly shoots (and kills) the jellybeanman, unbeknown to the already departed Morty.

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The show also dwells into deconstructing rape culture myths. In episode six, “Ricks Potion #9”, Morty is shown pining after his crush, Jessica. He´s gloomy for not having a date to the schools dance, and is obsessed with the idea of Jessica. Utterly love struck the boy turns to Rick for help. His grandfather tries to ignore Morty, but after Morty has a protracted outburst about how he always helps Rick and never gets anything back, Rick gives in and hands his nephew a potion made from animals DNAs that will make Jessica fall forever in love with Morty, wanting to mate with Morty for life. While the potion is a success, it turns out its success spreads through bodily fluids and therefore becomes an epidemic due to flu season.

Jessica after the drug kicks in

Jessica after the drug kicks in

Everyone at Morty´s school dance becomes infected and aggressively falls into a deep love/lust with Morty. Students and teachers alike start to fight over Morty, creating a fairly funny scenario. Rick turns up to help Morty via one of Ricks favorite mode of transport, his spaceships. While the whole world becomes more and more infected, Rick desperately tries out different potions to find a cure. Unfortunately this just leads to everybody on earth turning into horrible looking monsters.

When Morty starts to complain that Rick is being irresponsible, Rick then says to Morty: “All I wanted was for you to hand me a screwdriver! But instead you had me buckle down and…make you a…roofie…juice serum, so you can roofie that poor girl at your school. Are you kidding me, Morty?! You’re really gonna try to take the high road on this one? Y’know your-you’re a little creep, Morty! Your-you’re just a little creepy creep person!”. This speech brilliantly points out the ethical problems with love potions, and points out the predatory nature of Morty’s request. (Though our western society has come to give some acknowledgement to the horrid problem of drugging and raping; as the Finnish-Swede journalist Johanna Koljonen has said: “The problem then lies in that we then believe that only nasty, horrible men could do such things. The reality is that even so-called sweet, nice boys and men could be rapists”.)

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Having instigated a drugging for assaultive, forced physicality Morty shows us the everyman and sympathetic protagonist, the nice guy, attempting sexual violence while denying, with the common thoughts of our society, what it is. This critique of the offensive action, and its insidious ideological justification, is a brave, important move for a television show. When asked why they rape, a lot of men express the opinion that they felt entitled. Morty, in his weakness, felt entitled as well. He may be a “nice boy”, but he has bought into societies misogynistic views and therefore did something horrible. Morty of course admits to Rick that he was wrong, which happens less in real life, but the fact that a show actually depicted a common mental state that any man (the “Privileged Person”) could have and then points out how this mentality devastates the women and girls (and actually the entire society, which this action comes to destroy) is straight out fantastic to see. This sense of entitlement of a “Privileged Person” for the “lesser person” of the “Oppressed Body” is a problem, and it should be more often addressed in these ways.

The show is also a great example of understanding that anyone could be a victim to sexual violence. Mortys dad, Jerry, gets held at gun point by a woman in the season finale. She tries to force him to have sex, but is rescued by Beth at the last minute. Beth even calls the woman “a rapist”. When Beth says she couldn´t have guessed from the woman’s looks that she was a rapist, Jerry angrily points out that it´s nonsense to assume you can tell such things from ones looks. It is true; looks are deceiving, and the sad truth is that rape culture is deeply ingrained within our society. This means that while men are taught that they may be entitled to a woman´s body, women are taught that men are always eager for sex. Therefore anyone, regardless of gender or race or age, can be a rapist. Both Jerry, Morty and Jessica were nearly raped in the show; and the perpetrators were both male and female. “Rick and Morty” is clear in its message that rape is rape.
Rape is often an shoddily used tool for drama or a lazy source of comedy on television, but “Rick and Morty” is able to avoid most of the insensitive tropes foisted upon us by the pop media.

Jerry held at gunpoint

Jerry held at gunpoint

“Rick and Morty” is careful with this subject, showing a full understanding that when discussing sexual violence it is important to respect the sufferer of the assault and consider the personhood of the survivor in our interactions with them.

Lastly, while bringing the subject up, it is about time that we as a culture actually talk about the culture that creates predators and gives them a set of rationalizations for their brutality , instead of minimizing them and stripping them of their justifications of violence .

Awareness Ribbon for sexual violence

Awareness Ribbon for sexual violence

Comedy can be a very powerful social tool. Through humor people can critique politics, point out hypocrisies in our cultures and people, or give us a means to observe the sociology of our beings. Satire is the most commonly known term for this form of comedy and many of the most famous “stand up” comedians tend to use this type of satirical humor. For example George Carlin, Bill Maher, Lewis Black, and Margaret Cho.

In the two videos, below, we can see the work of a couple brilliant comedians working with this satirical technique to confront important political and social issues in their comedic routines, and I will attempt to give a brief thought on what occurs within each of these satirical monologues.

Dave Chappelle is one of the most recognized African-American comedians in the US. He’s mostly known for the comedy sketch program “Chappelle’s Show”, which featured risqué humour as well as social commentary dressed in a mocking tone. He was also quite phenomenal while doing stand up. In this routine, he discusses how society views men who are victims of sexual violence.

Mr. Chappelle, definitively, hits the nail on the head in this routine. Men are expected to “man-up” after experiencing traumatic events, and are bizarrely anticipated to always be able to defend themselves. Men are constantly propelled to feeling shame if they don’t live up to these expectations. However, I don’t exactly agree with Mr. Chappelle that society is just super nice to female victims of sexual violence; there’s a lot of victim blaming there as well.

On an not-so-off note: regarding the topic of preventing sexual violence, check out these superb ads on the subject.

Maz Jobrani is a Iranian-born American comedian who is a part of the excellent comedy group “Axis of Evil”. In his unique satirical style, he critiques and explores subjects such as racism, Islamophobia, and on his own identity of being Iranian/American. Many of his routines excavate and evaluate Iranian, as well as American, politics. In the clip featured below, he talks about his of upbringing in the crux of “manhood”.

The monologue directly confronts the suppression of “weak” emotions that the male is “suppose” to suppress and ignore. Social norms operate often to curtail men in regard to entirely express emotions. Needless to say this suppression is not the greatest of ideas. It’s good that Mr. Jobrani satireizes such upbringing, but he does make an unfortunate implication in the very end. Pity, but still funny insight on the subject if one ignores the very last bit.

Hope these two clips gave you some good laughs, and raised some thoughts!

Update: I just realized today is the 11. September. For this tragic day I’ll say: My heart out to all those innocent people who lost their lives, as well as to those people who helped out and made it possible for some to survive the attacks. Regards to all those living you in New York City, filled with the most amazing people and of course to those in Washington DC, a extraordinary place as well. Love and Peace, Maaretta.

Furthermore:

Times change and so do norms and expectations. Unfortunately not always for the better. As a feminist, I think it’s important to critic and discuss the many unrealistic and unfair expectations waited from women, and how old norms may still linger in today’s world, however I do think it’s also important to talk about how men may experience the world and to talk about what pressures men have in our society. So, this post will have links to articles about men, masculinity and other “male” issues!

Here’s a article from Bitch Media about The Cult Of Muscularity, written by CristenConger. A real eye-opener article that really made me think!

Maya Dusenbery at Feministing did a very good book review of “Deep Secrets: Boy’s friendship and the crisis of connection”.

Chloe Angyall at Feministing wrote a very short attack on how a offensive ad from Australian TV portrayed masculinity.

Here’s a negative and comical review of Nolan’s “Batman Begins” from Ruthless Reviews. A real funny read about everyone’s currently favorite male superhero!

Below is a video that is a year old, yet still highly accurate, critic on Liquor ads from Feminist Frequency.

And finally a Monty Python sketch: The Lumberjack Song! Listed below.

“Futurama” is a Science Fiction American animated television show created by Matt Groening, who also created the legendary animated show “The Simpsons”. Fry, the main character of “Futurama”, is a slacker type of guy who accidentally gets frozen during New Years Eve in 1999. He wakes up only to find himself in the future of 3000. He starts working as a delivery boy for “Spaceship Express”, a company owned by an absent minded old professor, who also is Fry’s last living relative. Fry works with a team composed of Bender, a morally ambiguous robot, Leela, the Cyclops Captain of the Delivery Starship, Dr. Zoidberg, a lobster alien doctor, Amy, a Chinese-descended girl from Mars, and Hermes, a Jamaican bureaucrat. The show followed the crew’s adventures throughout the galaxy, creating many different kinds of worlds and civilizations.

Leela (left), Fry (center) and Bender (rigt)

“Futurama” featured many memorable characters. One of the most memorable characters of the series is Zapp Brannigan, an overly-macho arrogant captain of the show’s military spacecruizer and leader of earth’s galactic army.

Zapp Brannigan made his first appearance in the episode “Love’s Labours Lost in Space”. He served as the antagonist (of sorts) in that episode. The crew of Spaceship Express encounter him by accident while out on a mission. Leela, the captain of the crew, has heard of the famous hero captain who had defeated an army of Killbots in a battle. The crew is excited to meet the famous captain until it is revealed how he defeated the Killbots. Fry asks him enthusiastically about the battle, to which Brannigan proudly replies: “It was all a matter of wit. You see, Killbots have a preset kill limit. Knowing their weakness, I sent wave after wave of my own men at them, until they reached their limit and shut down”. Zapp Brannigan pompously brags about sending people to their death without any regrets. From this moment on, Leela as well as the rest of the crew, grow understandably to dislike Zapp Brannigan. Later in the episode, after the crew becomes imprisoned, Brannigan attempts to seduce Leela since his belief is that the only way to reason with a woman is to bed her. Leela, who’s a no-nonsense serious person, agrees to meet with Brannigan believing she can reason with him “captain to captain”. Leela’s hope for a conversation meets with disappointed when it becomes apparent what Brannigans intentions, and beliefs (about women and the world), actually are.

In this episode the writers of “Fututrama” well portray the awkwardness of the situation where a confident, intelligent woman, finds themselves placed in uncomfortable and untenable situations by the actions and ploys of the unself-conscious macho man of incompetent inclinations. Leela, as the understanding and sympathetic person, tries to let Brannigan down, only to have him burst into tears, which leads her to have” pity sex” with him. The episode then takes an unusual twist by not shaming Leela, the female lead, for doing this sexual act. As Leela wakes up in the morning, she regrets her actions and simply says to Brannigan that she let her pity get the best of her. She proposes that they should as mature adults just forget about the whole event. But Brannigan, being who he is, won’t hear any of this. A running gag is introduced at this juncture of the show where we will find Brannigan repeatedly trying to get Leela into his bed again, believing she truly wants him. His arrogance makes him believe he, as a perfect male type, is a ultimate, and unforgettable, gift to women, as well as believing he is the best captain anyone could want.

Along with these qualities which we find in this character, Zapp Brannigan also is shown to have a tendency towards the reckless and dangerous without regard or consideration of others. In “A flight to remember”, he flies a spaceship right into a path filled with meteors. When the ship becomes brutally damaged by the meteors, Brannigan then drives the ship towards a black hole (calling it a “Black hole-thingy”), causing the ship to slowly pull into the black hole. Brannigan refuses to take responsibility for his actions though, and in order to have the ability to run away from the dangerous scene yet allowing the captain to go down “with his ship”, resigns his assistant Kiff to take on the mantle of “the new captain” of the ship. The writers here mock overly macho men who unconsciously and without foresight move towards the dangerous, yet as soon as things back fire, they will place blame on others (making them more like confident man, than heroes or “men of action”).

The episode “Brannigan, Begin Again” had the most feminist elements in its critical portrayal of Zapp Brannigan. The story revolves around Zapp Brannigan losing his job as captain after blowing up the head courters for a peaceful organization called The Democratic Order Of Planets (a futuristic version of the United Nations). Brannigan is able to get his assistant Kiffs fired as well, claiming the incident was mostly Kiff’s fault. Pennilessly, he turns to Leela for a possible job. Leela refuses at first, but after the professor mentions needing more help around the Delivery Company, Leela relents and grudgingly hires Brannigan and Kiff. The episode then follows the crew out upon their many and mundane interstellar deliveries. Leela, being the competent captain par excel lance, gives very precise orders to Fry, Brannigan and Bender during the missions, yet the trio often are resentful of her strong and capable command and are incited to go against Leelas demands destructing the good operation of the ship and placing the crew and vessel in danger. Instead of considering that they should listen to their captain, Fry and Bender let Brannigan convince them to commit mutiny against Leela and make Brannigan the new captain. The crew of two believe that Brannigan will give them more freedom and less work, only to realize he plans lead instead to the inevitable conclusion of getting them killed. The only way they are able to save themselves is by once again listening to Leela’s advice and following it to the letter.

Brannigan and Kiff (the green alien) penniless

A major theme depicted in “Brannigan, begin again” is the reflective macho man’s refusal to listen to women, even if they clearly have good advice and know how to handle things. Leela, being the strong woman in the show, often has to struggle to be heard in the patriarchy exposed in the show. A major theme then which runs through the Series (and which is quite noticeable in the Zapp episodes) is the struggle which Leela has to be heard and accepted though consistently her positions, actions and advice is the correct ones. At the end of “Brannigan, Begin Again” Leela forgives Fry and Bender for everything, despite their actions nearly getting them all killed. By having Leela forgive Fry and Bender (and additionally “saving their lives” from the irresponsible position Zapp place them in) “Futurama” breaks the stereotype of strong women being heartless. On the other hand Brannigan, being the self-centered and self promoting man, has no problem to get others killed if it serves him well.

Another theme addressed in the episode is of the macho attitude towards pacifist. The Neutrals, a peaceful species of aliens, become the main target for Brannigan throughout the episode. Since the species are always neutral and refuse to engage in battles and wars, Brannigan sees them as a dangerous enemy who must be out to kill everyone in the galaxy. The writers mock men who, like Brannigan, see pacifists as eerie, dangerous and unnatural, simple because they won’t fight. To Brannigan, a man who sees aggression as a natural trait in any men, the Neutrals can’t actually be neutral and non-violent. Therefore they are potential enemies, which means, in the conceptual world of the patriarchic Brannigan, that the only way to stop them is to kill them before they attack. Zapp Brannigans merciless war tactics are illogical and dangerous, but in his mind he is a real “man’s man”.

The last “Futurama” episode featuring Zapp Brannigan I will discuss is “War is the H word”. In it, Earth goes to war with an unknown planet. Fry and Bender, who have recently joined the army, are forced to march on to battle. Leela wishes to sign up to protect Fry and Bender, but is forbidden by Brannigan who won’t allow women in the army since he believes they cause too much distraction to the men and are too weak to fulfill the rigors of training and battle. Leela, to work around this most odd of Zapps regulations, disguises herself as a man and turns out to be the best soldier out of the entire army. Brannigans sexist remarks are, to say the least, contradicted by Leelas actions.

Zapp Brannigans way of speaking is similar to Captain Kirk from the hit show “Star Trek”. “Futurama” not only parodies common macho behavior in our society through Brannigan, but also the depiction of male heroes as they occur in western popular culture. The manly hero captain is stripped of talent, sympathy or any likeable characteristic which we are meant to imbue in them (transparently) within the machine of pop culture, and instead shows the true characteristics of the one-dimensional male chauvinist circling in its own concerns (and who we should “want” to emulate).

The show consistently uses Leela, as the trope of the independent woman, and which is used as the antithetical portrait of the self replicating and unaware macho man. One of the most interesting aspects of the story telling in “Futurama”, the episodes revolving around Brannigan are always interesting and hilarious.