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Opinion: Toxic Masculinity On And Off The Screen

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Toxic masculinity continues to plague the films we watch and the streets we walk, and I believe it is time for Hollywood to leave these men in the past.

Hollywood does not shy away from the toxic male protagonist, as seen over the years with films such 500 Days of Summer, Fight Club and The Wolf Of Wall Street. “Hollywood itself belatedly reckons with toxic masculinity and the harmful, abusive ways it’s reared its head,” as spoken by The Guardian.

Men have been abusing their power on and off screen for centuries, and it is often within the industry where this abuse of power is endorsed or even idolised.

The term ‘toxic masculinity’ emerged in the eighties and garnered its popularity, becoming mainstream within the last few years.

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‘Toxic’ was named Oxford Dictionary’s 2018 word of the year – “its second most-frequent collocation [was] “toxic masculinity”, perhaps coinciding with the Harvey Weinstein scandal during 2018. Hollywood hung its head in shame as news came to light of the producers many sexual offences – you can read more about his case here.

The unstable and toxic character of Jack in Edgar Wright’s new release, Last Night in Soho, inspired me to reflect on the thousands of male characters produced by Hollywood each year and their relationship with audiences.

The likes of Tyler Durden in Fight Club and Jordan Belford in The Wolf of Wall Street were widely misinterpreted by their audiences.

Both Martin Scorsese and David Fincher are well-known for focusing on fragile masculinity and the male psyche. Often their characters present themselves as egocentric, stoic and aggressive men – who are ultimately doomed and pushed to this failure by the elusive and tempting women around them.

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Whilst these filmmakers are usually portraying an extreme and somewhat satirical example of masculinity, it is proving to be very tangible in real-life society.

There is a comedic irony that exists when a collective male audience praises the role of a toxic male protagonist – so blissfully unaware. The audience is not supposed to empathise with characters like Durden, Patrick Bateman or Tom Hansen.

Joseph Gordon-Levitt, who plays Tom Hansen in 500 Days of Summer, took to Twitter back in 2018 to reply to a fan criticising Summer (the leading female).

Many people sided with Hansen after the films release unaware that the films point of view was manipulating them, just as Hansen was manipulating Summer in the movie.

This has happened with more recent characters like The Joker. Joaquin Phoenix explained that his character was “not meant be idolised”.

“The intention behind the movie’s portrayal of the joker was to simply be a “character study. The response to The Joker was not as intended, as the murderous villain became somewhat of an idol to some viewers. The character’s experience with rejection and failure unfortunately resonated with self-pitying and emotionally unstable men.”

I believe there is a clear and worrying relationship between the unstable man on screen and the one off screen.

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However, there seems to be a new genre of films which are choosing to embrace the vulnerability and softness of men. Movies like Beautiful Boy and Moonlight have taken to showing a more complex and nuanced version of the male protagonist.

Hopefully the need for toxic men in films has dispersed and Hollywood can make room for more real, honest and emotionally in-tune men.

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