Sunday, 12 April 2015

Brownness, Mental Health, and Masculinity

So "American Sniper" happened. The backlash against the Muslim community was completely unsurprising. There was more even of the same racist slurs and death threats against Muslims. Some of these were depicted in the Facebook preview for an article that was distributed rather widely in the wake of that fallout.

The same article asked a very a propos question: where were all of the "moderate Americans" to stand up against this violence? Perhaps they were in the same place as the "moderate Muslims" - that same deep, long-ignored echo chamber where journalists who value their jobs daren't venture for fear of exposing brown people as patently un-frightening.

Then we had those infamous white people at the apex of the two great white masculine adventures, sports and ├╝ber-nationalistic jingoism, confirming their status as bigots. Gratitude to Khaled Beydoun for covering this despicable quote.

Jim Harbaugh, Michigan's Football Coach: "Michigan Football will watch American Sniper. Proud to be an American and if...
Posted by Khaled Bey on Thursday, April 9, 2015

On the other extreme were those who, lacking other words in their vocabulary to express disgust at hypermasculine portrayals of White Saviour men rescuing white women from the non-existent threat of scary brown bodies, lashed out in the most excruciatingly ableist of furies. I was infuriated when I saw in my Facebook feed someone taunting Kyle Cooper as someone who went to Iraq to kill many innocents and then came home and cried about it.

I live with PTSD. If anyone were ever to refer to me as the one who went off to some other state to be severely abused and then come home to cry about it... Well, to be perfectly honest, I would probably cry about that. Because that isn't how people are supposed to treat each other - mocking each other's illnesses. After all, we don't make fun of cancer, or asthma, or diabetes. Why should mental illnesses be singled out for this kind of ableism? Another article - this one nearly as ableist as the post which I observed, complained about the ahistoricity of the movie.

The original poster's commentary was worse than the language contained in the article preview.

Some level-headed critique of the movies was available, however. The Guardian, a United Kingdom newspaper with an online presence, carried a two-part series analysing "American Sniper" along with to other movies. The author's focus was masculinity, which made the series interesting for me. Excerpts below as a very unceremonious end to this blog post.

Boyhood, Selma and American Sniper: race meets masculinity on film – part one
Steven W Thrasher, The Guardian
19 Feb 2015
Indeed. Should we consider, then, the repeatedly constructed innocence we cheer for of the semi-fictional Mason’s boyhood in comparison to the presumed guilt (with mortal consequences) of Michael Brown, Tamir Rice, or Trayvon Martin’s boyhood? Or Renisha McBride’s girlhood? Or young John Crawford’s manhood? Can one accept Boyhood’s message unquestioningly and still believe black lives matter? To quote hooks again: “I don’t think we will get much further in terms of decolonizing our minds” unless people like me who liked Boyhood can also critically examine that accepting Mason’s white privilege is indissoluble from his transition from boyhood to manhood.
men depicted in black and white – part two
Disappointingly, given it is one of the few feature films to be directed by a woman in any given year, Selma moves away from those girls and on to the men for the bulk of the film. Manhood – as it also is in American Sniper – is constructed in Selma largely in the absence of women, save for the frozen-out wife. Except for a supporting role from Carmen Ejogo as Coretta Scott King, and an even smaller role for Oprah Winfrey as Annie Lee Cooper, Selma takes us to the civil rights domain of straight men.

Oyelowo’s King is a black man in full. He is sexual and not a neutered saint, his marital affairs acknowledged with a refreshing frankness. Personally, he has many doubts (including of white politicians). Professionally, he is assertive and pragmatic, utilizing radical non-violent resistance as an offensive strategy and not, as oft portrayed a half century later, out of passivity and defensiveness. He butts heads figuratively and literally with white men.

Much more so than Selma’s dream of pacifist, transnational blackness, American Sniper is a perfect fantasy for our current conception of manhood in the United States, a nation where violence against women is too often dismissed; where violence by individuals in ethnic groups swiftly casts aspersions on all its members; and yet, where no number of mass shootings by white men – waged in movie theaters, elementary schools, neighborhood congressional meet-ups, or sovereign countries – will ever allow white manhood to be seen as anything but as innocent and pure as young Mason heading off to college at the end of Boyhood.

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