Hyper-masculinity and Apocalypse Now

I recently saw Apocalypse Now for the first time. Setting aside the fact that I am a few decades late to the show, this was an enlightening moment for me. See, several men that I have either dated or wanted to date over the years have expressed that this was their favorite movie. Being incredibly stubborn and refusing to bend to the will of them or patriarchy (at least not on this point) I have steadfastly refused to see the movie. I have a similar stance on the Star Wars films, but that’s more to do with my general refusal to not jump on bandwagons.

I digress.

Apocalypse Now, for those who like me are newbies to the film, is about the Vietnam War. A disillusioned, and clearly PTSD suffering, American solider is tasked with a secret mission to go into the jungle and kill a Commander who is believed to have gone rogue. The Commander might also be a bit crazy, but given the amount of talking to himself that the American soldier at the centre of the film does, this is really a relative concept.

The American Soldier, played by a young Michael Sheen, embarks on this quest. 2 and some hours later – this is about a 3 hour long film if you watch the remastered version, which I did because I clearly have issues – he finds the Commander and kills him, I think. To be honest I spaced out after awhile. There was some wine involved and I was clothes shopping online.

What did capture my attention though was how grossly and overtly hyper-masculine this film was. Film watchers might find themselves sprouting exceptional beards and deep raspy voices, perhaps with a sudden affection for woodworking and other DIY projects. Basically this thing is so masculine that testosterone practically grips from the screen.

Which therein lays my issue. This hyper-masculinity is not only disgusting, but the message it sends to men is that they only way to be a man is though overtly (and completely hetero-normative) ridiculous acts, like embarking into the jungle, engaging in some sexy time with the locals and fighting. It suggests that ‘real’ men head into trouble for no other damn reason than because they can. It suggests a fool-hardy approach to life that is more likely to result in death than anything resembling happiness or real joy.

Movies like this imply that there is only one (hetero) type of men. Sensitivity and empathy be damned, real men put a bullet into things/people instead of crying. Also, addressing mental health issues (see PTSD concern above) is unmanly. Suck it up and, better yet, go get sucked off. That’ll make everything feel much better.

This impression not only hurts women, as it teaches an approach that views women as objects instead of people, but ultimately harms men in the long run too. It’s just really bad and un-nuanced all around.

You can tell me that this movie is a product of its time. That is certainly true. And yes, you can also tell me that the Vietnam War is not exactly a situation in which you’ll see a lot of soldiers sitting around talking about how war has affected them and whether they should see a shrink. Maybe some men did that, but I doubt millions of people would still be watching it 37 year later, which is a shame because I think that would have made for a far more interesting movie.

The thing is that all of those arguments fail in light of the fact that this remains the favorite movie of more men than I care to admit knowing. These men also portray many of the characteristics that I find alarming in the film – in particular a callous regard for the emotions of others as they head hell-bent into their self-made destruction. I’d prefer that we not stop to consider what this says about my general taste in men.

In conclusion, my favorite smell in the morning is NOT napalm. It is however the smell of coffee and lavender, in case anyone is wondering.

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  • Anti-Fascist Roo

    Apocalypse Now is a film adaptation of https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Heart_of_Darkness The savagery by the soldiers is part of the narrative.

  • Red

    Hi there; thank you for the article. I’ll preface this comment with the announcement that I am a male who enjoyed the movie; although my favourite movie is perhaps Saving Private Ryan or Terminator 2.

    Anyways, despite being an enjoyable read, I am a mildly perplexed. The viewpoint of the article is one I tend to see quite often; in politics, parenting, and obviously feminism; it’s one that I feel is limited, one-sided, and divisive. I hope you can accept this response as not an attack, but rather a discussion of ideas and friendly feedback.

    I’d first argue that biologically, men in general are notably different than women. It’s no trope. Men are naturally greater risk takers and often have greater variance in the amount of risk they will take; this is seen in physical risk, but also in something like investing. The fact a movie appeals to men on this level then would not be overly surprisingly.

    Why do men take more risks and whether that’s a good thing seems arguable; I’d argue that risk taking and variance is exceptionally valuable to progress; such as in business ventures. Perhaps there could be an argument that women, being often mothers, couldn’t evolutionary afford to take as much risk due to child raising. I’m not sure. It does seem though that men and women see the situation in generally slightly differently; often each thinks they are right.

    As a retort to femininity’s though, having a potential weakness of its own, lets talk altruism. Altruism works as there is an expectation that self-sacrifice still has some level of indirect-personal benefit. I’d argue that modern feminine acts of altruism have often less selfishness to them, which might sound like a good thing, but it is in it’s own way suicidal.

    Let’s consider the perfect society, where everyone gives, with no expectation for any self-benefit at all. Things would work, but it would only take a single selfish mutation, whether person or whatever, to exploit the generosity of everyone. Overtime, that selfish mutation would overtake and replace the entire population. As evidence, I’d argue that this is why we see women tending towards leftist socialistic ideologies more often then men.

    We wouldn’t be here without men’s selfishness, but it’s also inescapable.

    Btw, at no point am I saying that women and feminism have not been contributing to society, they have indeed, but lets remember that men have been too. Everyone on the ‘gender’ spectrum brings their own unique value, even if its not always visible to all. Just my personal views there at least.

    If my argument above doesn’t resonant with you, perhaps your taste in men should really be worth talking about. It feels like most women don’t seem to find beta-men attractive; the hyper-male-influenced alpha-male seems to be your cup of tea as well. Are you and most other women prepared to walk up and ask out weak beta-males only instead? If not, men will continually try to aspire to be like the man you show them you are actually willing to fuck. =/