There’s a terrific scene in The Terminator when Arnie strides into a nightclub looking for Sarah Connor. A bouncer tries to stop him by slapping a hand on his shoulder, but our futuristic hit man doesn’t even bother looking around. Instead, he grabs the offending limb and gives the fool a taste of his cybernetic strength, forcing the doorman to his whimpering knees.
I tell you this because I was once in a situation when I fantasized about doing the same thing. I’d flown to Sydney for the weekend with my mate, Trev, and we were determined to have a good time.
Except we were wandering around post-midnight and every night club either catered for a gay clientele or wouldn’t let us in. It was absurd. We were in a major city on a Friday night unable to do that Wayne and Garth thing and party on. Most bouncers rejected us because we were sans girls. We tried to explain we wanted to meet a lady or two inside. If we’d already met the ladies, why would we be trying to get in?
Trev ‘n’ me put our inebriated heads together. We could try a Dahmer’s Deli. We’d heard plenty of girls frequented such places because they were less likely to get propositioned and pawed by horny blokes, blokes like Trev ‘n’ me.
People might somehow hear about it back home, put two and two together, and start whispering we’d popped over to Sydney for a bout of mutual sausage admiration.
We kept going, continually flicked away by one muscle-bound meathead after another, until we came face to face with a seven-foot tall Maori bouncer. By now we were tired and determined to reason with this intimidating bastard until fair play won.
He gave us the ocular pat down, shook his head and barely found the energy to mutter the standard reason (no girls). Worse, he turned his back on us, obviously convinced we posed no threat. We thought about running past, but suspected such sneakiness would end in humiliation, pain and possible hospital time. Instead we begged and pleaded for a good ten minutes as other smirking blokes strode past arm-in-arm with those crucial females.
And, of course, I wanted to be Arnie. I wanted to amble in before crushing his poncy, flower-arranging hand in a sweat-free demonstration of sheer power.
Oh, why can’t I be a cyborg? Not all the time. That would be… impractical. But just… occasionally. You know, when faced with a bigger, stronger, infuriatingly obstinate adversary.
Well, I guess life doesn’t work that way, and just as quickly my cyborg fantasy evaporated. It was time to give up on our quest to get laid, buy a greasy kebab and return to our cheap little hotel to snigger at cheesy 80s music videos on YouTube (When you make love, do you look in the mirror?) Trev ‘n’ me started trudging back, but at least I managed to have the last word. And let me tell you, ladies and gentlemen, that excruciatingly lame outburst still haunts me. For what did I shout at my terse Maori friend after spending quarter of an hour insisting Trev ‘n’ me were exactly the sort of cool guys every night club needed?
“Didn’t wanna come in, anyway!”
Even Trev winced.
So why do I mention this pathetic encounter on a Sydney street? Because (like most guys) I hate having my physical limitations laid bare. It makes me angry, especially when I’ve sunk a beer or two. Such a heightened emotional state risks making me attempt something far beyond my physical capabilities. In other words, turning into a pseudo-cyborg aka macho idiot.
And there are far too many of those fuckers in the world already.
Macho idiots often have an abiding weakness: they’re predictable. They know only one course of action, a red-misted response that involves some form of squaring up, threatening or busting chops. Nothing illustrates this better than our hotheaded gangster friend, Sonny Corleone, in The Godfather.
Right from the start when pushing around nosy photographers at his sister’s wedding or spitting on the floor when shown FBI id, it’s clear he’s got a head full of testosterone rather than any real brains. He just gets angrier and angrier and is apoplectic by the time he does his energetic tollbooth dance.
As played by James Caan in his defining role, the first-born Sonny is incapable of learning that failing to check every aggressive impulse is a mistake. Perhaps that’s because he’s so used to getting away with stuff, whether it’s banging a broad within a few yards of his wife, shoving someone up against a wall, gnawing on a brother-in-law’s fingers or ordering a hit. This is a man in a man’s world. He does what he wants and takes what he wants, a confidence boosted by his massive schlong and demonstrated by his permanent swagger.
But even entitled gangsters can only get away with such undisciplined behavior for so long. Sonny never grasps that the Sollozzo-organized shooting of his father is not personal, but merely a business decision. Negotiation, concessions and patching things up are not his style. He can’t see past bloody reprisals, happy to concede that ‘business will have to suffer’ which, of course, is the last thing his wounded father wants. Look at the open contempt he has for his much more civilized consigliere Tom (Robert Duvall), who proffers a subtler way forward. Sonny rules out such an unmanly response, preferring to have a hundred button men on the street 24 hours a day. “That Turk shows one hair on his ass, he’s dead,” he rages.
It’s no surprise Sonny later laughs at Michael’s (Al Pacino) unprompted proposal to kill Sollozzo and a corrupt police captain in a restaurant. This scorn is the typical reaction of a macho idiot. Sonny sees things in black and white, unable to comprehend that a ‘weaker’ person might be as capable of brute force. He mocks the ‘nice college boy’ when in actual fact the plan’s so daring it’s perfect. “Didn’t wanna get mixed up in the family business?” he tells Michael, just about stopping short of mussing his hair. “Now you wanna gun down a police captain?”
Sonny is always spoiling for a fight, always wanting to smash through whatever obstacle that’s in his or the family’s way. It’s a foible his enemies learn to fatally exploit by arranging to have his pregnant sister smacked around. Or as one of them earlier tells him over the phone: “Don’t lose that famous temper of yours, Sonny.”
Sonny, of course, does just that.
You try to be nice to some people
Macho idiots often like to hide behind a uniform. It’s a lot easier to square up to someone when you’re legally packing heat and know there’s an entire police department backing you up. Take First Blood’s portly Sheriff Will Teasle (the great Brian Dennehy). He picks on the longhaired drifter John Rambo for no other reason than he doesn’t like his appearance and it makes him feel manly to push someone around. And what’s some powerless punk gonna do it about it anyway? Hell, there’s no way he’ll challenge Authority with a capital ‘a’.
Bad call, mate.
Even before he meets Rambo we sense there’s something a bit ‘off’ about Teasle. Sure, he’s friendly, greeting the townsfolk as he wanders out of the station and hops into his cruiser, but then there’s that remark about one resident muttering under his breath: “Gonna take a bath this week?”
There it is. The rigidness. The underlying contempt for people who don’t think or behave the same. He’s like a super-strict schoolmaster, always looking to criticize his students’ dress sense or cuff them around the ears for being cheeky.
Teasle’s initial encounter with the ‘smartass drifter’ Rambo is a textbook example of passive-aggressiveness. There’s the way he runs his eyes over the new arrival and instantly weighs him up, the faux-politeness, the justification for moving him on (such as the town being ‘boring’), and the seeming courtesy in giving him a lift to the edge of town. Teasle has got the demeanor and mannerisms down pat, presenting himself as the voice of reason and order.
When Rambo inquires if there’s somewhere to eat, Teasle replies there’s a diner thirty miles up the highway. The message, hidden in a concrete piece of info, is clear: you ain’t welcome here, mate.
His weary passenger can only ask a rhetorical question: “Any law against me getting something to eat here?”
“Yeah,” Teasle says, finally dropping the chivalrous act and replacing it with his best steely look. “Me.”
Teasle is a prejudiced, judgmental asshole, the sort of authority figure who always believes the other guy started the trouble. Provocation doesn’t exist. The law’s the law, you see, and you can’t fuck with it. When Rambo fails to heed his ‘friendly advice’ to leave and immediately starts walking back into town, Teasle takes it personally. “You try to be nice to some people,” he mutters while swinging the cruiser around.
Teasle’s machismo makes him incompetent and dangerous. Worse, he knows he looks silly in front of his subordinates. Rambo whips his butt twice in succession, firstly knocking him over in the police station and then forcing him to crash his cruiser. By now, Teasle’s heels are well and truly dug in, hardening an already inflexible state of mind. His macho pride has been wounded and he’s incapable of backing down or reassessing the deteriorating situation.
There’s a terrific few seconds when he’s told over the radio that Rambo’s a Green Beret, Vietnam vet and war hero. The disbelief etched onto his face as his brain emptily whirrs is priceless. You can almost hear him thinking: This is not what’s supposed to happen when you push a sucker around. Still, it’s only the briefest impression of doubt before machismo blinds him again. A moment later he’s bellowing at the posse: “What the hell’s the matter with you guys? He’s one man. He’s wounded.”
Teasle’s clouded, faulty mindset shows what machismo can do to a fellah. He refuses to call in the State police or abandon the hunt, even though a chopper pilot cries off because of an impending storm. He fails to consider Rambo’s specialized training will give the ex-Green Beret the edge in such inhospitable terrain. He keeps pushing on in the spirit of rightful vengeance despite a dead colleague and the fact his quarry has acquired a gun.
“I’m gonna get that sonuvabitch!” he screams at one point. “And I’m gonna pin that Congressional Medal of Honor to his liver!”
Teasle personifies pig-eared ignorance, a ‘kingshit cop’ who remains dismissive, contemptuous and sarcastic even when Rambo’s old boss comes up with a sensible plan to defuse the escalating situation.
But Teasle can’t go for it. Macho idiots never can.
Sweep the leg!
Sometimes it’s easy to spot a macho idiot.
For a start they like moody pictures of themselves to be on hand, especially if in uniform and/or holding a gun. Don’t be surprised to see bare biceps and facial camouflage markings. The whiff of manliness is intensified if there’s a dead animal at their feet or slung across the hood of a car.
The Karate Kid establishes sensei John Kreese (Martin Kove) as a prime, red-blooded specimen when we’re treated to an impressive array of personal pix before setting eyes on him in the flesh. As his masterful voice hammers words of steel into his young disciples (“Fear does not exist in this dojo!”), we come face to face with a life-size cardboard cutout of him. His brow is furrowed, his fist is poised. This is a man who takes no shit. If you’re not trembling yet, the camera respectfully moves left to show us a wall-mounted black and white image from his army days, revealing he was the US army’s karate champion in the early seventies.
And, of course, this serial trophy winner is also shown cradling a big fuckoff weapon.
There’s only one question left: Does he hunt unarmed woodland animals on the weekend? Or at least set booby traps for them? We’re never told. However, he makes up for this possible lapse in manhood by shouting at and pushing around a bunch of children all week long at his deadly serious theater of pain. He struts with a king’s arrogance among his well-drilled, shorter charges, none of whom have started shaving yet, barking commands while teaching them to strike first, strike hard and have no mercy. They are studying ‘the way of the fist’ and this most definitely isn’t something to do with gay pleasure. Oh, no. Everyone calls him sir and none smirk, snigger or fart in his presence. If they did, you can bet they would be killed without hesitation.
“You lose concentration in a fight and you’re dead meat,” he roars at one fourteen-year-old child he’s just thrown to the floor for having the audacity to not be as tough.
It’s clearly a reign of terror at Cobra Kai. Or as Kreese tells the ‘pushy little bastard’ Mr. Miyagi: “This is a karate dojo, not a knitting class.”
I have to say Kove’s inherently ridiculous performance, in which he’s unwaveringly contemptuous of whatever’s in front of him, is among my favorite bits of Karate Kid. He’s perfect as the humorless douche bag, forever spitting out words of wisdom, such as ‘mercy is for the weak’ before dishing out pushup punishments or ordering an indoctrinated student to ‘finish’ an already floored opponent. Indeed, it’s easy to imagine him back in Nam torching a village before roundhousing any woman or child that managed to make it out of the flames.
And yes, I welled up at the start of the sequel when Mr. Miyagi publicly kicked Kreese’s ass in the parking lot. The threat of a fatal blow from a bonsai-loving, aged dwarf followed by a comical tweak of the great man’s nose was just too much.
Some things we should never have to see.
Suck my dick!
I think I’ve mentioned beforehand that a Strong Female Role is not about getting a lady to act like a fellah. I’ve no problem with women killing men in the movies (Repulsion), wiping the floor with them (Cuckoo’s Nest) or smugly sauntering away after decisively gaining the upper hand (Body Heat). That’s all fine, but for Christ’s sake, don’t have them slugging it out toe to toe with a bigger, faster, physically stronger adversary.
That shit never convinces. You just end up with stuff like Switchblade Sisters.
Well, after enduring Ridley Scott’s far-fetched box-office flop G.I. Jane, I doubt Demi Moore shares my opinion about Strong Female Roles. Indeed, the way the camera ‘treats’ us to one shaven-headed, one-armed pushup after another makes me suspect that if she ever heard me voice such sexist tripe she’d shove my head down the bog.
She plays Lt. Jordan O’Neil and has just been plucked from a desk job (on the say-so of some ambitious, publicity-seeking, double-dealing senator who wants a ‘gender-blind’ navy) to undergo months of hellish training in a bid to become the first menstruating Navy SEAL.
Why O’Neil? Not sure, but the senator seems to want an attractive non-lezzer.
We already know O’Neil’s a macho idiot as she applied for active duty during the Gulf War, getting rejected because the submarine ‘had no bathroom facilities for women’. Who in their right mind wants to go to war? But a knuckle-head like O’Neil believes risking life and limb is the key to ‘career advancement’ so she jumps at the chance to become a political hot potato. Her boyfriend, however, adopts a more cautious approach by telling her the SEALS are ‘world-class warriors’ that ‘will eat cornflakes out of her skull’.
Not that you can talk to a macho idiot like O’Neil. And so before long she’s enduring wolf whistles, nipple and tampon jokes, prejudice, gender-norming, and what can only be described as outright abuse and torture. She becomes absurdly tough, never once crying or asking for time off to go handbag shopping. Just about every expression is serious or of the don’t-fuck-with-me kind. At the eighty-minute mark she’s been transformed into the equivalent of a busty Patriot missile, hell-bent on proving the girls are as good as the boys, and ultimately disappointed she doesn’t get to slit a hostile’s throat on some foreign beach. Not once does she grasp it’s a mistake to want to be like these guys or that combat is bad. Step by step she learns respect can only be earned through physical prowess, the endurance of pain, and outright violence. Look at the scene where she absorbs a criminal amount of vicious abuse from a superior, only to briefly turn the tables by head butting and booting him in the balls.
All with her hands tied behind her back.
“Seek life elsewhere,” he manages to tell her, shortly before setting his broken nose.
And her snarling reply in front of her cheering fellow SEAL wannabes?
“Suck my dick!”
Scott’s mistake is to present this jingoistic, testosterone-soaked, outrageous fantasy as realism (“O’Neil, I’d go to war with you any day!”) Mind you, as a director I’m not sure he’s ever adopted an approach involving a tongue in cheek, satire or black comedy. G.I. Jane feels like a mash-up of Officer and a Gentleman, Deer Hunter and Top Gun, failing to be as good as any of them. It’s a shame as Scott’s dealing with an interesting idea (female physical limitations), but his treatment is far too straight-faced and downright absurd for it to take flight. He ends up with a movie suggesting the fairer sex is also susceptible to the poisonous belief that a Real Man has to possess big biceps and be able to seriously kick ass.
Still, it was probably unfair to hand Moore a Razzie for Worst Actress. She does her best and I can see why she plumped for this ludicrous role, perhaps viewing her extreme haircut and pumped-up physique as the 90s female answer to De Niro’s Jake LaMotta.
G.I. Jane is good at capturing military life, such as the anal obsession with detail, appearances and posture; the doing everything at the double; the endless saluting; the love of weaponry; the bullying and routine humiliations; the fruity little tashes; and the sheer fucking silliness of it all.
To be fair to O’Neil she’s also a long way from being the only macho idiot on parade. Listen to this nugget of boot camp wisdom from her instructor: “Pain is your friend, your ally. It will tell you when you are seriously injured. It will keep you awake and angry and remind you to finish the job and get the hell home. But you know the best thing about pain? It lets you know you’re not dead yet.”
Alternatively, you could just avoid pain. I do that as much as possible and I’m pretty sure I’m not dead, either.
Oh God, I hate these people and their rigid, desperately unimaginative mindset.
So, in summary, do not join the army. Resist those cybernetic impulses. They usually only take you to a bad place. It’s far better to be a wimp, bide your time, and wait for your opponent to turn his back or (better still) fall asleep.
Then stab the bastard, especially if he happens to be a seven-foot tall Maori bouncer.