Killing the Heroic Impulse in Every Boy
How modern pop culture hates masculine instincts.
In Season 4 of Star Wars: Rebels, something happens that is usually not allowed to happen anymore. A man sacrifices himself for his friends, including the woman that he loves. And it happens not just once, but twice. Kanan Jarrus dies a hero. And then his padawan Ezra, following his example, does the same thing (though Ezra might not be totally dead.)
This is surprising because men aren’t supposed to save women anymore, and this season aired in 2018, a few years after The Force Awakens and the same year as The Last Jedi. Both of these movies deny Finn, one of our supposed heroes, the chance to be heroic. The Last Jedi, in particular, undermines masculine heroics at every point, giving the ultimate sacrifice to a woman with purple hair and probably a gender studies degree.
Ezra, before he sacrifices himself, cites his master’s example as the motivation for his own actions. “Kanan showed me the way.” The show’s creator, Dave Filoni, understands the deep power of imitation. It’s why his children’s television show was more narratively satisfying than any of the new movies.
It’s also why modern entertainment seeks to neuter the male hero. To mock him. To belittle him. To treat him as unnecessary. Because it wants to provide nothing noble for little boys to imitate.
Because boys who imitate noble endeavors are dangerous.
Every girl can save herself
The modern world wants boys neutered and controllable because these boys never become ungovernable men who seek heroic pursuits. Or, if they do pursue them, they do it with a controller in their hand with glazed eyes glued to a screen.
Boys desire to rescue a damsel in distress. They want to slay the dragon and get the girl. If the girl is a princess, all the better, though that part is not required. “I am not a prize to be won!” says Jasmine from the animated Disney movie Aladdin. Yet even there, the cancer had not reached the brain, for both Aladdin and the movie think Jasmine is a prize worth fighting for and winning.
But now the brain has been compromised.
Watch this Duracell commercial from the time Star Wars: The Force Awakens came out.
The commercial begins with promise. The brother must save his younger sister. This is a good and natural instinct. In a sane world, the boy would have been able to save his sister while his parents looked on in delight. Instead, this is denied him.
“What took you so long?” says the girl as she easily saves herself. No male hero required. This, of course, mirrors what happens in The Force Awakens when Finn moves to help Rey. Sorry kid. Your instincts were dumb. You are superfluous.
Something similar happens in the first book of The Last Kids on Earth. Jack, the protagonist, knows that June, his crush from before the apocalypse, is trapped in the school. One of his main drives early in the book is to save her. He dreams of her gratitude. Jack wants to save his maiden, as any normal, red-blooded boy desires.
You probably know what happens next.
June doesn’t need to be rescued. She’s doing just fine by herself. Jack really screwed up in coming to the school. He is berated and shamed.
What’s so stupid about this framing is that June does need to be rescued. She has been waiting at school, holed up alone, hoping her parents come to rescue her. But the story cannot have June admit this to Jack or show any form of gratitude. She must talk down to her would-be rescuer and then show him up at every opportunity. Jack must be taught (and any boys reading the story must be taught) that his instincts are terrible, even though the logic of the story says otherwise.
Lies and more lies
Women can be heroic, but they are heroic in different ways. Think of the Hebrew midwives at the beginning of the book of Exodus or Jael pounding a tent peg through the head of her enemy.
What’s new about the modern story is that they must also belittle the men. But all of these stories have to lie to make their point. It’s not how reality is forged, and so it goes against the DNA of storytelling.
A mature man can laugh at these lies and let them pass over him like oil on water. But for a boy, the concrete is still hardening. He is still trying to figure out his place in the world. Most modern pop culture tells him he is supposed to be bumbling or superfluous or toxic. Don’t let our boys absorb these lies.
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