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The Expendables as a Reflection on Aspects of Rape Culture

If you are unaware, The Expendables was a 2010 movie written and directed by Sylvester Stallone. It made a lot of people very excited when it came out because it promised to be a tribute to the Heavy Action movies of the 80s and had many action talents of yesterday and today. It was kind of a hoot, but it troubled me a bit.

Now, before we begin, claiming that a movie is contributing to rape culture is not worth my time. Movies don’t cause guys to rape, being an asshole and a rapist is what causes that. I really don’t have any damn patience for the idea that art has that much of an influence on life. Other people and they’re reactions to what happens has far more influence than a 2 hour movie will. I won’t say that there is no influence what-so-ever, but I’m not going to advance the notion that The Expendables causes rape. Particularly when it is a movie that stands pretty much against the idea of violence against women. At least, on the surface it does. However, I’ve watched the movie a couple of times now and I’ve listened to F This Movie discuss it, and while I don’t think it causes anything, I do think it reflects on its audience. Does it reflect well or badly on the audience? I’ll leave that for you to decide, but my own thought is just “It reflects accurately.”

Now, let’s talk about the women. There are two of them. Okay, done with that! Sadly, the women are forgettable, and only can be described as far as their relationships with the men in the movie is concerned. Charisma Carpenter isn’t a real character, she’s just Jason Statham’s ex-girlfriend. Giselle Itié isn’t a real character, she’s just the General’s Daughter and Stallone’s attempt at redemption. Neither of them are stupid though, neither of them are the sort of trouble makers that caused me to hate something like The Man With The Golden Gun so much. This isn’t a movie that has a problem with women, it doesn’t hate women. If anything it loves women, but loves them in a very immature and unsophisticated way. They’re central to the plot, they are the reason for the action, but in the end it could have been something else. Then again… maybe not. Considering that parts of this movie is defined by how the men relate to the women, maybe they represent a slightly more sophisticated view… in comparison to other movies of this type. In the grand scheme though, if I may borrow an old school rape counselor phrase, it has nothing to do with the women.

The movie is about men, and for the most part about men relating to other men. If fact, it’s about a certain kind of man relating to other men like him. Actually dealing with females is not a big part of this movie and it is less interested in blowing stuff up and showing how cool the guys on our side are. It’s really a movie about brotherhood and the real romance is between Statham and Stallone. Those two are pretty cute together and because of Rule 34, I am certain that Christmas/Ross fanfic exists.

That might, at first, make it seem like this can only appeal to meat heads and frat boys. If you think that it wouldn’t appeal to the patchouli stinking latte slurping sensitive new age guy type, I think you’re wrong. Stallone is actually way smarter than most people give him credit for. There are several scenes were you can practically see the characters sniff the air, peer into the darkness at the back of the theater and say “Hey brother. You know it is okay for you to be here, right? This is a safe clubhouse, everyone here is an actor and they’ve all been paid. It’s okay for you to enjoy the silliness and still be an Okay Guy.” But in that, we have one of the three problems this movie demonstrates really, really well for me. A lot of this movie smacks of what Dylan Moran referred to when talking about these movies. He said it was outsourcing his masculinity, which kind of makes sense. These guys are being so masculine and so male, they’re making a mockery of maleness, but they’re presenting a hyper-masculinity that allows lesser males to harmlessly engage without needing to be super-men.

Problem 1: These guys only know how to act violently.

The only reaction to almost any stimuli in this movie is violence or befuddlement that eventually leads to some seriously kick-ass violence. We have a big problem with this in the west and particularly in America. Our boys and men are pretty much taught that any emotion beyond rage and any action beyond violence is somehow a lesser expression. We get to the point where Sensitive Alley is so narrow and Rage Avenue is so wide that even when we have tender feelings they somehow get confused and come out violently. When passions are involved, a young man can end up raping a girl that was perfectly prepared to give herself freely. It has happened. These guys might be bigger, they might shoot more guns, they might have silly names, but they’re just an exaggerated view of what sometimes goes on in even the patchouli stinking latte slurper’s head. Not that everyone turns to rape, not even a majority turn to rape, but enough guys who never thought of themselves as Bad Guys ended up there that this needs to be discussed. Also, just for our own sakes, the violence and anger isn’t healthy.

Problem 2: These guys can only put women on pedestals.

Remember when I said that I think the movie loves women? I meant it. The women aren’t insulted (directly) by the writing and anyone who mistreats a woman is swiftly (and violently) dealt with. The women aren’t stupid, they just get in bad situations that they have to be saved from. I think that everyone in the movie believes that they’re showing off some really laudable ideas in the field of male/female relationships. Maybe they are, but I can only see the darker sides of this. Because the parts are reduced to the instruction “Just get on the pedestal.” However, I must grant it’s not “Shut up and get on that pedestal, bitch.” which is sadly an improvement over a lot of things I’ve seen in the last 20 or so years.

The girl that Stallone gets his head wound up over is kind of a perfect woman. She’s beautiful, she’s determined, she’s got loyalty to her people… and so on. Stallone doesn’t know her, but after meeting her, he can’t get her out of his mind. After the team decides the job isn’t worth it, he still goes back to save her. One point over other movies, when the bad guy gives the Evil Speech of Evil and makes it all about his relationship with Stallone, it’s then that Stallone mentions he has no interest in the bad guy and he only came back for her. They have no romance, he just looks upon her as a thing that might save his soul. Again though, he makes the decision to save her after Mickey Rourke delivers a monologue that is kind of “Whoa, what is that speech/performance doing in this movie?” and gives Stallone the idea to save the girl as an attempt at redemption. Right! Save girl, save self, gotcha! That’s still actually a pretty advanced thought for a movie of this type, but it reflects and exceptionally dangerous idea. It doesn’t happen in this movie (of course not) but when the woman who has been placed on the pedestal fails to be perfect in every way imaginable, the disappointment turns to rage and violence pretty quickly. Again, that’s not healthy. We’re told to put women on pedestals though, and not by TV and movies so much but by the other men we know. We’re told that women are special and beautiful and should be worshiped… you know, rather than talked to. It can be hard to break that training.

Problem 3: It has nothing to do with the woman, except that she’s the one who gets hurt.

The women in this movie are merely 21st Century maidens in distress in need of a White Knight to save them. In the case of Jason Statham’s character, the White Knighting is exactly what you’re thinking of. His ex-GF has a new boyfriend, and of course he’s an abusive dickhead. Not because she’s bad at picking boyfriends, but because you want your ex to have a worse new guy than you. You want to have an excuse to punch him in the head, and all his stockbroker and dentist buddies. While I’m on the subject, if a six foot tall Man Mountain like Jason Statham showed up to beat six kind of shit out of my buddy, I don’t think I’d jump into the fight if I was a stock broker or a dentist. ANYWAY! His complaint, when he beats the hell out of the guy is that when the dickhead beat up the girl, he marked her face.

Again, it wasn’t about the girl, it was about the fact that he’d have to look at and think about what had been done to the girl. It was his pride that was damaged there. It wasn’t something done to her, it was something indirectly done to him. The thing he’d pedestaled had been damaged and he had to react to it with violence of course. It wasn’t about her though, his pride had been hurt. Again, I think the movie understands its audience. It knows we want a good reason to beat up the dickhead BF, not really to rescue women but for the simply pleasure of “Yeah, go on Jason, break his other collar bone! I got a parking ticket today!” while in the safety of a movie.

This is a huge problem for men in America, even when we think we’re not, we have a nasty habit of mentally taking women from the “People” Column and putting them in the “Object” column of our minds. Once we make a person into an object, the idea of that object being a possession comes quick on the heels and then violence when anyone else messes with the object. It’s a big mess, and I don’t know how to fix it. What I do know is, this movie hits the G-Spot for men who are products of this culture.

I still like the movie, sort of. It hasn’t been very re-watchable to be honest. I sort of skipped some of the bits I found cringe worthy so we could get back to one of the Good Guys rushing in like the cavalry, using an automatic shotgun to literally blow an army to pieces and after saving the whole team capping the experience off with the punchline “Remember this shit at Christmas!” which was more than funny. I had to stop the movie to laugh and wipe the tears off my face when I was done laughing.

It’s stupid, and it’s violent and if you have an old-fashioned White Knight spark in you, it will hold you, excite you and make you want to introduce it to your momma. What we should be asking is not “Does this movie cause rape?” (no) or even “Does it contribute to rape culture?” (I don’t think so, but we can debate it) but rather, “Why does this movie work for these guys?” and “What does it say about us that we find this movie so attractive?” It’s not a failure of the movie makers, who are producing what the market will accept, if it’s a failure it’s our failure.

Or maybe it’s just a social release valve. What kind of shit are we keeping pent up if we need an army blown apart with an automatic shotgun? What the fuck is wrong with us? That’s the questionw e should be asking. Same goes for violent video games, or stupid comedies, or even My Little Pony: Friendship is Magic. I got accused of thinking too much about the movie because of the ideas I was expressing today, and let me tell you internets, whenever someone says “You’re thinking too much about that.” no matter what the subject, I feel okay for dismissing anything else they might have t say. I am not a fan of the Thinking is Hard crowd and I think if you turn your brain off too many times it might not turn back on.

And we need to think about this, we need to ask some questions. Really, we need to find some solutions, because clearly there is something twisting up inside us that needs to be dealt with rather than just hitting a valve to relieve the pressure from time to time.

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IMGP6586, a photo by greyweirdo on Flickr.

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IMGP7312, a photo by greyweirdo on Flickr.

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IMGP8558, a photo by greyweirdo on Flickr.

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