Thanks to everyone who commented on my last post. I know it ain’t my usual flavor, and wasn’t to everyone’s taste. Fear not! I’ll be back on the attack against robots and demons soon enough.
But first I’d like to play this string just out a bit further. That’s mainly because I think the conceptual framework of Tonic Masculinity — i.e. one that’s both mutually constructive and genuinely badass — will become a critical tool in fighting the next phase of our Big Weird War™ against evil. For instance, Real American Hero Major Grant Smith recently kept the tonic flowing by judo-flipping intersectionality on its head.
I suspect we’ll hear about TM from many more voices over time. Like a Hollywood hit of a bygone era, this baby’s got legs.
Speaking of Tinseltown, allow me to introduce you to a friend of mine. Okay, not really a “friend,” per se. Although technically he owes me either a signed book or a blog comment…
Will Jordan (a.k.a. “The Critical Drinker”) is that rare breed of artist who’s found success in both art and art criticism. In addition to recently publishing the tenth novel in his popular spy-thriller series, Jordan’s YouTube channel boasts nearly 1.6M subscribers (and happens to be one of my few “must watch” destinations on that platform).
Hell, I even borrowed his brilliant formulation of “The Message” in my final ChatGPT combat post.
It’s been fun to watch this Great Scot’s rise to prominence over the years. Though he engages YouTube in multiple formats now, his initial success was rooted in video essays about movies, TV shows and the entertainment industry in general. Similar to “Mr. Plinkett” of Redlettermedia fame, Jordan inhabits the comedic persona of “The Drinker” to deliver witty, insightful and scalding critiques of New Hollywood’s warped priorities. Here’s a taste of some of his recent work in that style:
In this one, Drinker disembowels Disney-Marvel’s latest streaming disaster-piece, while explaining how proper set-ups and pay-offs lead to stronger character development.
Here, he dunks on what might be the lamest attempt in history to reboot a film franchise. Even George Lucas knew not to dig up this godforsaken corpse. What’s next, Howard the Duck?
It’s worth noting Jordan’s channel also serves as one of the major nexus points for a growing online countercultural movement, through which similarly disaffected artists, critics and fans-of-stuff have built a network of overlapping podcasts and other creative business ventures. Their favorite topics range from right-ish political punditry to the more byzantine corridors of “Nerd Culture” (e.g. comic books, sci-fi/fantasy art, video games and the like). But what they mostly do is exchange witty barbs about the endless river of rainbow sewage that flows from Hollywood’s cancerous, monkeypoxed behind.
One of the more interesting aspects of this neo-Rightist YouTuber vanguard is that while it’s primarily a Boys Club, a few girlshave nevertheless been allowed to sneak inside the tent. The price of entry for these exotic creatures is that they must “know their place,” so to speak. That means not only must the girls play the game by the boys’ rough n’ tumble rules, but they need to accept that they’ll be in for even more of a brutal pounding than their male colleagues much of the time. The running gag of their status as “second class citizens” is disarmingly hilarious, like some newly evolved form of anti-Woke comedy. A good metaphor for them might be whores of the Wild West, whose profits depend on knowing when to crack a raunchy joke, and when to bend over and take one.
But I digress; what Jordan and his colleagues have been building is mostly a male space. One could think of it as an online locker room of sorts, albeit one that mixes the typical chop-busting and ball-breaking with heady insights into the creative, intellectual and moral bankruptcy of our mainstream storytelling industries. And as the Drinker details in his video essay below, the current dearth of masculine characters in Hollywood’s iconography is a common target of their wrath.
It’s an interesting piece, and I’d suggest you give it a full watch. But here’s a question: are these older characters and stories that Jordan promotes really the best examples of masculine role models? Are they toxic, tonic, or something in between?
I don’t necessarily have a well-formed answer to that. In the main, I think the Drinker makes some very solid points. While the old school movie Man-of-Action he admires isn’t immune from criticism, the pendulum has rocketed so far in the other direction that the current crop of weak, incompetent, submissive She-Men New Hollywood prefers comes off like an organized assault against maleness itself.
Still, I think the praxis of Tonic Masculinity isn’t to look back to the older model and say, “Eh, good enough.” If we think we can improve something another man is doing, and thus supply him with better weapons and tactics going forward, we should at least give it a try.
So, at the risk of plummeting down an Escher-like stairwell of critiquing a critic’s criticism, here’s a few thoughts I had about this video’s content.
Obviously quite a bit of Jordan’s sourced imagery features violence, in the form of punching, kicking, stabbing, shooting and exploding. There’s nothing inherently wrong with this; these images are from popular films for which we know (or can easily guess) the context. Tonic men are violent when we must be, and I think that’s mostly the case with the clips chosen here. But if alien anthropologists were to stumble across this video, they might come to the conclusion that the Earthman’s version of masculinity was mainly about dressing up in wacky costumes and beating the shit out of each other.
That’s not to say the latter imagery is strictly neutral or negative either. For instance, the arc of Rocky and Apollo’s relationship throughout the film series is a modern day retelling of the wild man Enkidu and the unworthy king Gilgamesh, in which they gradually build each other up through conflict and cooperation. The problem as I see it pertains to balance.
One way I think he could’ve balanced the overload of violent derring-do was with imagery of men relying more on their minds than their fists to deconstruct and solve a problem. The inclusion of characters such as Perry Mason or Sherlock Holmes might broaden the viewer’s understand of the masculine spectrum, even in its heroic angles.
I mean, tell me this guy isn’t just melting the screen with his volcanic testosterone!
Anyway, the mythemic origins of the violence shown is pretty standard, so I won’t dwell on it. Suffice it to say that the Hero with a Thousand Faces looms over it all, but seems perpetually stuck in his Road of Trials phase. This makes sense, given the highly profitable model of action flicks. But the violent Man-of-Action only represents a portion of what’s good and true about the masculine being, and I think the overwhelming emphasis on these kinds of images sacrifices opportunities to include others. For example…
While there’s significantly less of this, a small portion of the Drinker’s (randomly cycled?) image pool suggests the archetype of the wise elder imparting knowledge to a younger man. In fact, I could really only detect one clearly established motif here, in the form of Obi Wan Kenobi talking to Luke Skywalker. Other images that feature two male characters almost always show them in conflict with each other, violent or otherwise. Even the opportunity to show Micky teaching Rocky is passed up:
We instead get more clips of Rocky’s bloody battle with Apollo (and in a deeper sense, with himself). Again, this isn’t “toxic,” but it’s a bit redundant and one-note.
There were other missed opportunities too, even in the action/adventure genre Jordan seems to prefer. For instance, the image of Sean Connery’s Henry Jones Sr. strolling along the beach after taking down a Nazi fighter pilot with a quote from Charlemagne, and the admiring reaction of his adventurous (and ‘til then, very patronizing) son.
The character of the wise elder isn’t only a powerful and enduring mytheme, but key to a society’s flourishing. To train up boys to be men is to sustain a layer of necessary defense, and such trainers need the correct blend of talents to pull it off. In addition to being veterans of the subject matter, they must be gifted in the arts of storytelling, inspiration and persuasion.
In other words they are rare old birds, which is probably why they’re often shown to be monks, hermits or other ascetic types in popular art. Others might include Charles Xavier, Mr. Miyagi, Gandalf the Grey, Father Merrin and Yoda.
Nearly all of the “positive” video clips feature lone wolves, doing lone wolfy things. There are of course notable exceptions, mostly in the form of LoTR’s Fellowship and The Avengers. Apart from that, however, what we most often see are clips of Superman, Batman, Spiderman, Indiana Jones, Dirty Harry, Serpico, Mad Max, Johnny Strabler, James Bond, The Man With No Name, and so forth.
There’s nothing strange about this; the traditional mythic hero often operates alone, either out of necessity or due to the singular nature of his talents and/or the problems to be solved. There’s also a kind of dramatic economy to consider here, since stories need focal characters for humans to individually inhabit and comprehend. It’s not so much that we try such characters on like untailored suits, exactly. But there are similarities, particularly when the tale is meant to impart moral lessons to the young.
In this way, the lonelier stretches of the mythic hero’s journeys are more a matter of storytelling coherence than some philosophical statement on individualism itself. But the lone wolf version represented by Jordan’s selections definitely seems like the latter. Whether it’s a gothic, grimdark edgelord like Batman or a loose cannon like Dirty Harry, these are mostly distant, self-isolating men, who view society with suspicion at best. Even those who show some degree of social inclination (e.g. Spiderman, Serpico) are still often forced to live half their lives as lone wolves, either hunted down or ostracized for their one-man crusades.
I think the missing balance here is obvious. Popular film and literature featured plenty of masculine teams to choose from. For instance, where the hell are these guys when you need ‘em?
If the A-Team’s too cheesy, there are plenty of other examples from the not-too-distant past to choose from. For example, war stories like Band of Brothers, Black Hawk Down and Saving Private Ryan don’t only show manly men doing manly things, but our willingness to sacrifice ourselves in service of our friends and countrymen.
There are of course many other models to choose from. From inspirational sports films to adrenalized thrillers like Mission Impossible or The Fast and the Furious, there’s an embarrassment of riches when it comes to images of men cooperating in masculine and heroic ways.
“Bland. James Bland.”
Arguably the most iconic lone wolf in modern Western art is James Bond, who Jordan uses as a focal point for his critique. Across most of his film interpretations, Bond does indeed exhibit those characteristics Jordan admires, perhaps best summarized by the way he introduces his critique of Daniel Craig’s portrayal of the character (emphasis mine):
Surely the ultimate man’s man. A tough, cold, ruthless man of action who could handle any threat and seduce any woman with ease.
But, oh no! We couldn’t allow harmful stereotypes like that to persist in the current era of Hollywood. We have to make him sad and pouty and hung up on a woman who died, like, four movies ago.
It’s interesting to me that Jordan sees seductiveness as a hyper-masculine trait. I’d argue he’s got that exactly backwards (as would many of the franchise’s femme fatales). And while I think I know what Jordan means by “ruthless” here, that’s more of a “lone wolf” trait than a specifically masculine one (and likely of a sociopathic wolf, at that).
To be clear, I’m a fan of the older “007” films, and agree his latest incarnation was by far the worst. But that’s mainly due to the fact that its authors either misunderstood or purposely excised the elemental comedy of the franchise. In many ways, James Bond is himself a gag; a ribald caricature and spoof of the super-duper, uber-macho manliness that Jordan describes, wrapped up in the manners of a sophisticated English gentleman. I’d warrant there’s nothing funnier than watching Roger Moore attempt a karate chop onscreen, and Austin Powers needed to ascend heretofore unknown heights of absurdity to lampoon a film like Moonraker.
Compare this to the hero of Braveheart, whose romantic love for a woman fueled a revolution in Jordan’s own homeland. Or compare it to Die Hard’s John McClane, for that matter, whose “everyman” heroism is anchored in his devotion to his wife. Anyone who wants to call this magnificent sonofabitch a “cuck” for that can fight me, bro:
Anyway, the satirical essence of Bond has been either lost or purposely discarded in the Craig era, which turns his films into empty corporate vessels to be filled halfway with the latest Woke priorities and other swill. Minus his charm, wit and air of invincibility, the character is reduced to something closer to what his real-life counterpart would be: a dreary, psychopathic government assassin, hired to do Her Royal Majesty’s dirty work. I hear they killed this douchebag off in the latest film. Good riddance.
What I find more interesting is The Drinker’s Tate-like notion of positive male sexuality as being primarily a game of 4F, in which players rack up points by bedding as many women as possible. That’s not to say this is a reflection of Will Jordan’s actual moral code; outside of his own satirical persona, his podcast interactions tend to be very thoughtful, even-handed and mature. In fact, I’d say he comes off as an exemplar of Tonic Masculinity in many ways, as I’ve seen him gladly build up less successful men around him.
I’m guessing what Jordan really enjoys here is the escapist fantasy of fulfilling one’s every hedonistic whim that Bond’s dalliances represent. It’s a bit like sitting on the beach, stealing glances at all those lovely female forms. A man can dream, can’t he? In an echo of long-vanished prudery, modern Hollywood says, “No.”
In any case I think this form of titillating amusement is different enough from porn to not be toxic or destructive. Even 007’s legendary promiscuity is often exaggerated; the typical romantic arc within a Bond film focuses on one or two women. An alien watching one of these movies in isolation might be left with the impression that Bond falls in love at the end, leaving his Casanova days behind him
And as Drinker implies, there’s something to be said for demonstrating the correlation between a man’s masculine courage, focus, strength, competitiveness and competence and his attractiveness to women. Most feminist academics would have us believe this attraction is due to some kind of structural illusion, like an evil spell cast upon the land. On the other hand, most feminist academics are Marxist cranks, frustrated lesbians or trauma victims who project their neuroses onto women as a whole.
I enjoyed “Why Modern Movies Suck, Part 1” and its message overall, but with a few caveats.
On the one hand, I think Jordan should consider casting a wider net when it comes to his image selection. As someone who used to produce brand and mood videos professionally, I know very well how time-consuming it can be to scrape together the right source material (or “swipe,” as we called it) can be. But when your message is essentially that Hollywood has become predictable, monotonous and lazy in its stereotypes of men, I think it warrants the extra effort to offer up as many different counterexamples as possible. More mentors and teams would’ve been good here.
Then comes the long, often painfully dull process of editing it properly, nailing the precision timing of an image to a narrative cue. But taking the time to do it right can make a strong message even more powerful, engaging and truthful. The video essay format provides a unique opportunity to fuse intellectual content to the kind of visceral memetic punch that can permanently flip a switch in the viewer’s mind or heart. At times, Jordan’s editing style in this video seems more like a swarming, randomized assault of images. I know there are food processor-style programs out there, where you just throw a bunch of footage in a folder and press “puree.” That’s what much of this felt like.
That said, the essay itself was often superb. And while his language sounds bombastic at times, it’s nothing compared to the mean-spirited, tone-deaf filth that he rightly eviscerates. His parting lines call not for a uniform hyper-macho cinema, but rather a more balanced portrayal of men and women (and particularly in the context of heroism, the portrayals of which which have strong downstream effects on society itself). I think he puts this particularly well near the end:
How about acknowledging that men actually have something to offer the world. That the drive, the focus, the protectiveness, the assertiveness and the competitiveness that comes so naturally to them can be a force for good, instead of some destructive impulse that needs to be curbed and corrected.
There’s a certain rumor that’s been circulating over the past several years, supported by various whistleblowers and leaked materials. It essentially states that all of Jordan’s concerns about Hollywood’s “new rules” about male (and in particular, straight, white male) characters is actually codified. In other words, these ratfuckers literally wrote this shit down, and are applying them as rules at an industry-wide level. Everyone from scriptwriters to casting directors to marketing execs is expected to get with the program… or else.
I suspect this is true, because it’s the simplest explanation for how stinkers like The Eternals, Wonder Woman 1984, Birds of Prey, She-Hulk: Attorney at Law, Velma, Lightyear, Bros and dozens more like them keep getting greenlit and churned out at an alarming rate.
Or at least, it should alarm the churner-outers themselves, who just capped off the worst non-pandemic year box office haul since 1999 (and that’s not even adjusted for inflation). Do these idiots hate money?
Like the Drinker, I suspect the answer might be, “No. But we hate YOU enough to lose a few bucks in the short term, buddy.”
For those of us whose hearts aren’t under the spell of such extreme narcissism and hatred, the entertainment industry’s latest output can seem absolutely bonkers. My best guess is that the bigwigs in charge are operating on the Goebbels model:
If you tell a lie big enough and keep repeating it, people will eventually come to believe it.
To which I say:
How’d that work out for you, dude?
As a chaser, here’s Jordan having a friendly chat with a few of his mates, including a reformed ex-con/comic book nerd, an army veteran fluent in Kek, an irascible Brit who loves action figures, and a medieval martial artist who’s in the process of building his very own castle. But please ignore Xray Girl, who is merely there as
the show’s producer eye candy (And besides, we all know there are no girls on the Internet).
Like all episodes of Friday Night Tights, it’s a marathon session. But skip around and you’re sure to land on some crass jokes, dank memes and tonic observations about the corruption of mainstream art.
Anyway, that’s all I’ve got for today…
Go away now!
Thanks for putting up with me, folks. Looking forward to your incisive critique of my critique of a critic in the comments. Or maybe just being called faek and ghey.
Note: On the advice of friends, I’m going to try to keep some of my posts a bit shorter than usual for awhile. I’m also gonna turn some of my attention towards some current events. Shit is getting weird enough out there to chuck a couple pennies at, from time to time.
P.S. If you found any of this valuable (and can spare any change), consider dropping a tip in the cup for ya boy. I’ll try to figure out something I can give you back. Thanks in advance.
Notably one of them, Britany Venti, has very recently found herself at the center of the latest Twitter censorship debacle. Long story short, anti-CP activist Eliza Bleu may not be what she seems, and Elon may be white-knighting her by handing out capricious and nonsensical bans).
I betcha Chrissy Mayr would dig this analogy.
The tale departs significantly in some ways, of course. For example, Ishtar (Ludmilla Drago) and her “Bull of Heaven” husband Ivan should have killed Rocky’s Enkidu instead of Apollo’s Gilgamesh (but there was no way in hell the Money Men were gonna go for that).
I’ve had a bit to say about my own lone wolfiness, and how I’m trying to pursue a slightly different course. But while I don’t see lone wolves as intrinsically tonic, I do sense there is (or at least, can be) something positive about their nature. Hopefully we can tackle this one together in the comments.
“Find ‘em. Fuck ‘em. Flee ‘em. Forget ‘em”
Bond's evolution over the decades has been revealing. Not only were the comedic elements gradually stripped out, but it also became a lot less sexy. Connery's Bond would often sleep with 3 different women - the opening gambit girl, the bad girl, and the love interest at the end. Brosnan's Bond would get 1.5 girls: the love interest in the end (always a stronk independent woman), and the bad girl, who would try to kill him before they actually slept together. Craig's Bond, as you noted, was a humorless monster with the romantic personality of a brick wall.
That seems to me to be consistent with the gradual removal of a positive (or even any) eros from male heroes. Multiple sexual partners is a no-no; the man is not allowed to take the sexual initiative; ultimately he must take a subordinate and deferential role to the woman (as seems to have been the case in the lateat Bond film). It's related to the Homer Simpsonization of the depiction of fathers. Men must be foolish and incompetent, always getting showed up by their calm, collected, intelligent wives.
Ironically, this has coincided with the stereotyping of men as sex-obsessed animals who only think with their dicks.
This is very good. It reinforces my accidental and fortunate discovery that real men don’t suffer fools among women , among men, or among governments, corporations or institutions. We are indeed all in this together.