Category Archives: media bollocks

Online abuse: men are the worst, and right-wing white men are the worst of all

Content note: this post discusses online abuse, death threats, misogyny, transphobia, homophobia and neo Nazis

The media discourse on online abuse has always been bloody dire, controlled by people from powerful platforms who are, briefly, wrested from their little grammar school debate club bubble. If you’re reading this blog, you probably feel this already. It’s a dangerous discourse, rooted mostly in bruised ego and utter obliviousness, but I cannot help but think that perhaps it serves a murkier function.

Yesterday, journalist Owen Jones tweeted a sample of the homophobic abuse he receives frequently from right wing men. If one scrolls down the thread, you will see that a certain Professional White Woman Expert On Internet Abuse™ begins yelling at him for pretending that right wing men are the problem, when the real enemy is left wing men and that Jones was derailing from this. In waded the boyfriend of a New Statesman editor to air his views that he was called a “dick”, just that day, by someone on the left (gasp!). Later, A Very Intelligent Man And Homebase Shopper decided to just pop in and go on like Jones was the one being derailing and disingenuous.

All Owen Jones did here was point out that online abuse from men on the right is disgusting, toxic and vicious. And he’s right. I think most of the demographic who read this blog would agree that right wing men are the worst abusers of all, and have at least once received a deluge of nastiness from the neo Nazis, if not a full-on campaign of hate. But in doing that, he challenged the mainstream model, and ranks closed as they felt their control on the narrative slip just slightly.

To the clique, the narrative goes like this: Nice White Ladies are the primary victims internet abuse. Misogynists are conflated with someone who disagrees with some of the frankly unpleasant and oppressive stances these people take. Secondary victims could include  melts being called melts. “Jolyon” and “cis” are apparently slurs on a par with the N-word (perhaps worse, given how silent this large media club remained on the horrific misogynoiristic abuse received by Diane Abbott). This post is abusive, because it’s written by a Not So Nice White Lady, features the word “melt”, mentions Homebase, and disagrees with them.

I mention obliviousness as an explanation of this behaviour, because it may be in part true. Imagine living your whole life in a small privileged bubble of being told you’re special, only to have it exposed that actually, most of the rest of the world think your hot takes are rubbish and wrong. That’d sting. And if you go through life without receiving much nastiness, on account of lucky accidents of your birth, it can make you feel like when you experience a bit of meanness, it’s somewhere on a par with the vicious racism and misogynoir which daily grinds at Black women and WoC; that your being called a slug is comparable with frequent bouts of open homophobia; that someone suggesting your latest newspaper column is shit, using the word “shit”, is exactly the same as when trans women are harassed, threatened, and put at risk.

However, it’s also true that these people receive less shit from the right than the rest of us. This is because they are not resisting right wing men. Men, all men, have pretty much two modes when it comes to relating to others: they like you, or they want to grind you to fucking dust because you haven’t given them their own way. White, right wing, cishet men seem to have the speediest hair trigger on deciding they want to destroy you. And if they don’t want to tear you apart, what are you doing to appeal to them?

The answer is that the particular media sect that likes to control the narrative are useful to the right–from the common-or-garden Tories to the outright neo Nazis. These groups share enemies in common. The TERFs are useful to the right for their hard work in doxxing and smearing trans women. The SWERFs, likewise, but in attacking sex workers. The media misogynoir and calls for a debate about Ordinary People’s Very Real Concerns About Immigration is very useful to the wider cause of racism and white supremacy. The hacks provide a nice, respectable face for the abominable views of the right and do great work in furthering it.

And, of course, any resistance can then easily be smeared as abuse. Perhaps, even, viewed through the lens of ignorance, it can be felt as abuse.

I am not saying here that men on the left are above reproach. Indeed, I’ve pissed off a fair few in my time by engaging in intra-community efforts to tackle misogyny, because it’s our struggle to have (not one for the slugs!). However, it is the right who are by far the worst perpetrators; and I think anyone who has gone up against them by the mere act of existing while opposed to their ideals will agree.

Online abuse narratives are fucked, and it is incredibly difficult to allow the truth of the situation to get out, since it is so controlled by those who would promote a conservative agenda. But the fact of the matter is this: those who talk most about it from their platforms are often the ones who receive least.

Related: How online abuse is politically hijacked, Owen Jones

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“I don’t know, let me find out”: learn this phrase. Use it.

I’ve hit the end of my tether with this fucking election. It’s driving me right up the wall, daily doses of bullshit. Today, it’s one politician making what the Jolyons treat as the worst boo-boo ever. Tomorrow, it’ll be another.

The boo-boo in question is not knowing some numbers off the top of your head, as though politics were no more than an end-of-the-pier mentalism show. The politician–who will always be The Absolute Worst, unless they are a shiny member of the pigfucking class and therefore more palatable to news outlet owners–will generally respond in one of two ways. They will give a wrong figure, presented with confidence, which is Bad. Or they will admit that they do not know off the top of their head. This is Worse.

The latter is Worse because it does not fit in with macho politics, which, of course, reflects some of the worst trappings of masculinity. The phenomenon is related to mansplaining, blurting out any old guff without any expertise, yet with all the confidence in the world. To say “I don’t know, let me find out,” is to back down, admit weakness.

For myself, it was a difficult journey getting myself in the position where I could admit that I was not a computer, able to immediately spit out the right data on request. As a woman in STEM, it’s one of the worst things you can say (despite the entirety of science being built on identifying what we don’t know, and finding out!). As a girl surrounded by boys, you’re considered a thick bimbo. In schools, your teachers will tut when you’re put on the spot and can’t perform. It’s an age-old valued skill, and I suspect it dates back to antiquity, the orators droning things out from their head.

But it’s a bullshit skill, demonstrating only your ability to be spoonfed and regurgitate. It smacks of public school, the political and media class being steeped in its values.

“I don’t know, let me check” is a beautiful phrase. It is honest, and you emerge smarter from the act of checking. You have learned something that you didn’t know. You have proved yourself aware of the limits of your knowledge, and willing to grow, in a very slight way.

I have more respect, any day, for someone who can do this.

The transition from awkward to liberated, for me, was a little slow, but I forced myself to keep saying “I don’t know, let me find out”, when I didn’t know and needed to find out. People would look at me like I was stupid, but you know what? I emerge knowing a little bit more, every time I check. And I realised just how little that others are growing.

I want to see more value placed on self-awareness and willingness to learn, replacing the value placed on false confidence and spurting bollocks. I want to see a sign of weakness turned into a sign of strength: someone who will grow rather than stagnate.

And yet I feel, in the macho shitshow that is the world, this is likely doomed to fail. But I don’t know that for sure–and I’d like to find out by trying.

 

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Your especial dislike of Diane Abbott is irrational (and probably racist)

Diane Abbott has once again been The Worst™, having done something a lot of other politicians do and… actually I’m not 100% sure what it was this time, but I think it was a bad TV interview. And, from all sides of the political spectrum, there’s scaremongering about the fact that there’s a possibility she could become Home Secretary.

Some people are openly misogynoiristic about Abbott, and that’s grim. But at least it’s honest. The rest, who like to think of themselves as Nice People™ leap through hoops to try to justify their dislike of this politician, and their irrational opposition to a black woman occupying one of the great offices of state.

It starts with “but she’s not qualified to be Home Secretary!”. That’s an interesting assertion to make. Taking less than thirty seconds on google reveals that her CV presents her as more qualified than most previous Home Secretaries or shadows. Abbott’s career before politics included two very notable roles. She was a civil servant in the Home Office–which is significantly more direct experience of working in the Home Office than most of the others who have held the office. Later, she worked for the National Council for Civil Liberties, which is again a crucial home affairs role. As an MP, Abbott has served on committees pertinent to home affairs. And her track record is reasonably good: even the goddamn Spectator recognised her speech opposing the New Labour government on civil liberties issues with an award for speech of the year! Her voting record on home affairs is all right, and if you’re a Lib Dem who wants to root for a party with a chance of getting into government, she’d probably be your best bet for Home Secretary, because she’s not bad at all on the civil liberties front.

Like I said, this took me all of thirty seconds on google to find. So ask yourself, why didn’t you take those thirty seconds to check? Why did you just assume Abbott was unqualified for the role?

Rather than interrogating themselves at this juncture, usually the goalposts get shifted to “but Diane Abbott isn’t great at TV interviews.” This one is particularly nonsensical coming from Tory voters, in the midst of a campaign riddled with Tory car crash TV interviews, and Lib Dems, whose leader has done a pisspoor job of portraying himself as Not A Homophobe. It’s also not like Labour are particularly excellent at TV interviews either. In short, this is because the TV interview format is generally not designed to make the politician look good. Nobody’s above the car crash interview, and when it’s a politician you like, you’ll generally either ignore it, or claim that it’s media bias. Funnily, such defences never seem to come for Abbott, and it’s assumed she’s given a harder time because she deserves it, because apparently the media and journalists are always flying above racism and misogyny.

This, incidentally, is the same sort of thing that happens with the equally-irrational “but she sent her kids to private school!” Yes, she did. So have other politicians. She’s not even the only one on the Labour front bench who has. Is it good? No. Is she alone in that? Of course not.

So, once we’ve hit the unfair singling out, shit starts to get abstract, and what we usually end up with is a mumbled, vague “her manner isn’t good.” If we interrogate this, it’s almost always one of a few things. Which are almost always rooted in racist stereotypes.

“She’s angry!” Such a common misogynoiristic stereotype, it’s got its own wikipedia page.

“She plays the race card too much!” Again, a pretty common racist stereotype, and not evidenced, considering she’d been an MP for 30 years before she finally spoke out about personal abuse she’d received.

“She doesn’t look like a politician!” Ask yourself. What does a politician look like to you? The answer is, invariably, a possibly-shinyfaced pigfucking public school boy. A white man in a suit. You might extend your vision of a politician to a white man out of a suit. Or a white woman in a suit. Or a black man in a suit. But for some reason, the black woman doesn’t look like a politician to you, with her wig and her black skin, her tendency to sound like she’s black and from London, as opposed to Rodean. Abbott isn’t the only black woman MP to “not look like a politician”. Dawn Butler, MP for Brent Central, and a black woman, was once mistaken for a cleaner by a fellow MP. And remember how you just assumed Abbott wasn’t qualified for the job?

“I… I just don’t like her.” Fair enough. Maybe you grew up in a vacuum, and your brain just irrationally fixated on this particular MP with your especial dislike.

We’re bombarded with messaging, daily, about what a politician should look like and be like. We’re also bombarded with negative messaging about black women. It sinks in. And it sinks in, even, to people who don’t think of themselves as racist, don’t think of themselves as carrying misogynoir within themselves. But that’s impossibly unlikely, and you’ll only unlearn and unpick it if you start from the statistically-likely assumption that it’s there, in yourself and in other people.

The truth is, Diane Abbott isn’t any less competent than any other politician–in fact, she’s more competent than many. She’s no more awful than any other politician–all of whom are a bad bunch, and she’s one of the ones I have least of an axe to grind with. She’s not bringing the negative media attention on herself, it’s that the media themselves have an issue with a black woman in a position of power; don’t forget they’re very much owned by racist white men. Ask yourself: why are your expectations of Diane Abbott higher than they are for any of your white male politicians? It’s not Diane Abbott rubbing you up the wrong way, it’s that you’re rubbing yourself.

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“Tyler, you’re fucking Marla”: A perspective on Fight Club to piss off its devotees

Content note: there’s a lot of discussion of sex and violence in this post. Also, spoilers for Fight Club, if somehow you’ve made it without watching it or knowing “the twist” for almost twenty years.

Aren’t Fight Club fans the fucking worst? They’re usually men who think they’re quite smart to have understood a film (or book) which spends an awful lot of screen time giving a blow-by-blow explanation of its own twist. They relate to Tyler Durden, see something in the text which says Very Deep Things about masculinity, find its rather heavy-handed anti-capitalist messaging really revolutionary. They see Project Mayhem as aspirational, and they’re probably “alt-right” neo-Nazis.

They’ve been going about the story all wrong. Like the sheeple they decry, they’ve been simply taking everything at face value. They’ve been nodding along with something which is making fun of them, not understanding that they are the butt of the joke.

Allow me to present an alternative perspective on Fight Club.

“Tyler Durden” is a real, flesh-and-blood human being.

We are told, in the twist at the end of the film, that Brad Pitt’s chiselled character is a figment of the nameless Narrator’s imagination. It was the Narrator all along who was, in chronological order: blowing up his own apartment, starting a fight club, starting more fight clubs, starting the space monkey programme, starting Project Mayhem, blowing up the financial district. Did I miss anything? Probably.

I don’t buy this, for one major reason: logistics. Let’s take our first instance, the destruction of the Narrator’s apartment, which was done with explosives. The Narrator himself arrives home to his apartment already having been blown up. “Tyler Durden” left the airport only moments before he did. There is no way “Tyler” could have personally planted the explosives, nor the Narrator. However, it makes sense if we bring in another variable: those other fight clubs/Project Mayhems.

A nationwide network of fight clubs and more drastic actions cannot simply be put into play on an overnight business trip. We watch the Narrator’s journey. This shit takes quite a lot of time and effort. So, perhaps, the infrastructure was already in place. Another place this makes sense is when one compares how much work goes into setting up the fight club, when these things seem to run themselves in other cities: they’ve been going longer, they’re already set up and functioning. The Narrator’s encounter with “Tyler Durden” is not the beginning. It’s the middle. This is, of course, reflected in the storytelling style of the film itself, where the moment of the beginning is explicitly jumped around, searching for a suitable starting point for his own tale. We also see a clue to this shortly before “Tyler Durden” is formally introduced. As the Narrator rides a walkway to get on a plane, we see “Tyler” on a walkway… going the other way, as if he is returning from somewhere the Narrator is headed towards.

Somebody’s been setting up fight clubs, and it’s somebody with a gift for grifting, a master manipulator, an all-round arsehole. “Tyler Durden” is real, and the Narrator is himself a peripheral character in “Tyler’s” plot.

From “Tyler’s” perspective, the Narrator is one mark of many, another source of money, another pawn for grooming into developing another cell in a larger structure. Even before the glimpse of him on the walkway, we see flashes of “Tyler”: at the Narrator’s workplace, at the doctor’s surgery, at a support group. “Tyler” was checking out his mark before they ever formally met, and decided he had found the right man for his purposes. He went through his well-oiled process, becoming a central part of the Narrator’s life, close as a lover. He manipulated, gaslight, and led the Narrator into a series of actions to get all of what he needed for the cell.

So why does the Narrator think he is Tyler Durden?

“I was the warm little centre that the life of this world crowded around”

That quote above is from near the beginning, when the Narrator explains his addiction to support groups. He goes, he says, because he likes that feeling of being centred. It’s a contrast from the rest of his life, where he is nothing.

His life with “Tyler” gives him this feeling, too. He feels special, being in proximity to this remarkable man. It is only when he realises that he is one of many that things fall apart.

His delusion that he is in fact “Tyler Durden” is the only way for his fragile ego to cope with the fact that he is the centre of precisely sweet fuck all. Like the author, Chuck Palahniuk, who believes himself so important he invented the insult “snowflake” when he didn’t, the Narrator is nothing special. That thought, to him, is terrifying. And so he chooses to believe that he is Tyler Durden, and he has been from the start. He’s been running the show right from the off; he went off to be Tyler Durden while he was asleep. He was cool, sexy, and ruthlessly efficient as Tyler, rather than a pathetic little dork. Who wouldn’t want to literally look like Brad Pitt, and have the supernatural power to create an unstoppable terrorist group?

It is a balm to his fragile ego, picturing himself in the driving seat when he was manifestly not. He constructs a fantasy world wherein he’s in the middle of all things, where he started something rather than got carried along with it. It helps him a lot to imagine that not only was he in control of everything the whole time, but he could defeat the bad side of himself all along. It makes him feel good. In actuality, he isn’t even important enough to have a name.

Editing in is an explicit theme of the film, with it set up early in discussion of “Tyler’s” projection job reflected us being told the Narrator edited “Tyler” into his life. What is left implicit is the equal possibility of editing out. 

The Narrator is an audience surrogate. The audience for Fight Club is sad little men who want to feel important and special, who want to be Tyler Durden.

So, Tyler Durden does exist. Except, actually…

Tyler Durden does not exist.

The character played by Brad Pitt is a real human, with whom one can really interact. But he is not “Tyler Durden”. “Tyler Durden” as a real entity does not exist.

We see, throughout the film, snapshots of what I’ll call “How Do I Even Begin To Explain Tyler Durden“. Bob’s heard that Tyler never sleeps. Another man in another city has heard that Tyler regularly gets his whole face redone surgically. Nobody knows who “Tyler Durden” is, and that’s because Tyler Durden does not exist and the Narrator missed the memo about that. “Tyler Durden” is more of a password: a way of the initiated announcing themselves to others within this not-so exclusive club. Nobody knows anything concrete about “Tyler Durden” because they are never entirely certain if they had met him or not. “Tyler Durden” is a presence who is never really present, a name used by those who fulfil “Tyler Durden’s” goals.

“Tyler Durden” is the person who is doing the organising at any given moment. All fight club members are “Tyler Durden”, and none of them are.

Just because “Tyler Durden” does not exist, does not mean that ultimately there’s no leadership. It also does not mean that the Narrator spent a lot of the movie hanging out in the bath with Brad Pitt.

Marla Singer is the entity the Narrator calls “Tyler Durden”.

We talked earlier about how editing in allows for editing out, but a third possibility is available: editing into something different.

Most people don’t pay a lot of attention to the beginning scenes of Fight Club, waiting for the manly punching to begin. This is a mistake, because Marla Singer’s introduction is fascinating. We meet a woman who is dissatisfied with life, enjoys standing on that thin line between life and death. She’s a gifted grifter, a master manipulator and an all-round arsehole. She smokes like a chimney, lies, infiltrates, steals, and wears some really great thrift store costumes.

We are told that “aside from humping”, Tyler and Marla are never seen in the same room together. This is because Tyler is Marla. We see so many parallels between the first meeting with Tyler and the first meeting with Marla, these life-changing conversations that flip reality on its head. Both Marla and Tyler are nihilists and fakers.

Again, this is more than the Narrator can handle. He is a misogynist. He holds women in contempt. He held women in contempt long before he met Marla Singer, and continues to do so after that. It pains him that a woman can know so much about how the world works, and can live without fear in a way that he never could. And so, he finds it easier to imagine that a man is doing all of this. First, Brad Pitt, and later, himself.

The parallels between the characters are strong, and that attention is drawn to the fact we never see them in the same room is a beat-you-over-the-head-with-a-chair hint that the two are one and the same. Tyler completes conversations that began with Marla, because the narrator cannot bear to be talking to a woman.

This, too, explains Marla’s frustrations with the Narrator, who acts like two different people around her. Sometimes he treats her with respect, while other times he treats her like a woman. He is, perhaps, different from her other marks in this respect: he is so misogynistic he frequently imagines her away.

So now, let’s consider how some of this works with Marla running the show. It adds a dimension to the film which was once flat: the dimension of misogyny and how women are treated. Imagine that first fight, “I want you to hit me”. Instead of punching Brad Pitt, he is punching a scraggy woman, and she is giving it right back, and then some. Imagine that scene with Lou, the bar owner, as “Tyler” takes a beating, cackling and spitting blood–suddenly, the befuddled horror on the faces of witnesses makes more sense if it’s a frail lady as the victim.

Marla’s entire scheme works because as a woman she can make herself invisible. In participating in fights, she shores up her reputation as the omnipresent crazy bitch at the side of the man who they’ve been told is in charge. She seems completely erratic, and that gives her a cloak. She had done this in cities all across the country. She is manipulative, and she’s experienced at it. The Narrator is not the first man who has been subject to her gaslighting, her fucking about, and her plonking him into the position she needs him in. Marla knows what makes men tick, and it’s getting to hit each other and feel like they’re smart enough to have noticed the world is a bit fucked.

At the end of the film, the Narrator banishes “Tyler”, and Marla arrives very conveniently swiftly afterwards, carried in by space monkeys–who, we’ve already been told, are to manhandle their own perceived leaders if instructed. The Narrator finally sees reality for what it is, and perhaps even sees beauty in Marla’s plot. The Pixies play. A penis flashes up on the scene. Credits.

tl;dr

The Narrator is a sad little misogynist who likes to imagine himself doing all the cool shit the chick he fancies pulled off. Tell this to ur MCM next time he tries to lecture u about how special FC is, and ruin it for him.

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It wasn’t “our side” platforming Milo that sank him

Content note: this post discusses child sexual abuse and Nazis

Over the last day or so, the far-right troll and supposed rising star of fascism, Milo Yiannopoulos (or Poundland Joffrey, as I prefer to call him), has experienced something of a very sudden fall from grace. His right wing friends are dropping away from him: within a 36 hour period, he was disinvited from CPac (a right-wing conference), had his incredibly lucrative book deal dropped, and colleagues at the far-right fake news outlet for which he occupies a senior role are threatening to walk out if he isn’t sacked.

It seems, to the far right, transphobia, inciting xenophobic and racist violence, virulent misogyny and being a literal neo-Nazi aren’t a problem, but defending child sexual abuse is a dealbreaker. Their moral compasses are perhaps a little peculiar, since all of this advocating for vulnerable people to die is also very bad. Nonetheless, it brings a small satisfaction to watch them tearing a man to shreds who, just hours before, was their poster boy.

It also gives me great satisfaction that perhaps we’ll no longer have to keep having the tiresome fight within our own side about whether or not to platform this dangerous Nazi. There have been people who claim to be with us–against fascism–who have been only too willing to play into the far-right’s hands, by inviting Poundland Joffrey to share his opinions, and then signal-boosting it as far as it will go. The rationale, they say, is to “know one’s enemy”. To give him “enough rope to hang himself”.

That didn’t really pan out. Instead, what it did was create an ever-bigger media persona around Milo. They were feeding the troll, making him stronger and stronger, his bad bleach job ubiquitous in photos at the top of articles, his hatred amplified and largely unchallenged. Even when lip service was paid, it went like “Milo is charismatic and interesting and here’s what he thinks about undocumented migrants, but that’s a bit controversial, I don’t agree with it personally but anyway let’s talk about why this guy is so phenomenally popular and it’s because he’s so cool and well-dressed.”

It spread far-right ideology further, and normalised it and the Nazis who spout it. And furthermore, it never managed to give Milo enough rope, no matter how many disgusting things they allowed him to publicly say.

What sank Milo was his own side, who manoeuvred away from him when he was no longer useful to them. It was not a comment of his in an interview with an ostensibly liberal television host that destroyed Milo, but something in his own domain: a far-right livestream with like-minded nerd-Nazis. Poundland Joffrey’s downfall came from within intra-fascist networks, not from “our side” falling over themselves to platform him.

The far-right is built upon fragile alliances. A gay man’s teaming up with homophobic conservatives was always somewhat delicate. I expect homophobia had its role to play within Milo’s fall from grace: in his comments, he was careful to confine his defence of child sexual abuse to within the gay community, which meant his erstwhile allies could gleefully dust off an age-old homophobic trope: the gays = paedophiles trope. I am concerned that this may lead to the LGBT repression that the far-right have been champing at the bit to implement; they have been presented with a tasty “think of the children” defence that might prove too tempting to resist. Milo has, perhaps, served his purpose, played the token “my gay friend”, and now become the shadowy nonce villian they need. Most of the far-right likely agree with the acceptability of child sexual abuse and support men like Roman Polanski and Woody Allen, heterosexual child abusers: but right now, homophobia is more useful.

If the far-right is so successful at tearing itself apart, what remains for us to do? Do we just sit, thumbs in arses, and watch their world burn? Of course not. These fascists are built on fragile fragile, that crack when pressure to the whole is applied.

We must be ready to resist what comes next: the probable turn towards anti-LGBT policy. All the while we must maintain a distinct lack of pity for Milo, who chose his path in siding with these people, and remains politically and morally aligned with them. He may fake a Damascian conversion, and we must not be fooled. We must keep challenging everything: the whole, not its constituent parts. We must reject their bigotry, their hatred: every last bit of it. All of it is repugnant, not just specific individuals, not just specific aspects to their beliefs. And we must not invite these fascists to spout their hatred to wider audiences: we must not normalise them, we must not signal-boost them, we must show they are unacceptable by refusing to be polite or even available.

If we keep fighting, the whole sorry shape of present-day fascism could crumble to dust, throwing each other under the bus one by one, then two by two, and more and more until they are all mangled figures in the axis.

They can and will destroy themselves. And we will give them nowhere to run to when they do.

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Making fists with your toes: Towards a feminist analysis of Die Hard

Content note: This post contains spoilers for the film Die Hard, which you will have probably seen already since it came out in 1988. It discusses death and guns.

It gives me life when a certain sector of thin-skinned Nazis get sad about films I like. From Fury Road to Star Wars, their tears bring me joy. Since, like many other people, my favourite Christmas film is Die Hard, it is my intention to highlight how this film is in fact a celebration of femininity, and perhaps one could even call it feminist, for a rather Eighties value of feminism. Am I trolling? I don’t even know any more.

die-hard-t

Our hero John McClane is more of an Ellen Ripley than the Roy Rogers he insists that he is when talking to other men. There are some explicit parallels between Ripley and McClane: both deal with their terror by talking to themselves, and both have formative traumatic experiences in air ducts: arguably, both heroines are born within the air ducts. For the most part, the similarities are more subtle, though–John McClane, like Ellen Ripley, is a somewhat more feminine action hero. And, of course, the badass and the feminine are not mutually exclusive.

John begins the film estranged from his wife due to his stubborn insistence on having things his way. He is resentful, domineering, and basically a bit of a shitlord. Meanwhile, Holly Gennero/McClane, is a smart, successful, adaptable woman who has risen to a high point in her career with her negotiation skills. It is only in adversity that John learns just how valuable Holly’s skills are, and deploys them to great success and saving the day.

Yes. That’s right. Throughout Die Hard, feminine problem-solving tactics are shown to be demonstrably more successful than more masculine approaches. In cinema, and in society, masculine problem-solving is constructed as very direct and action-oriented, sometimes deploying physical aggression. In contrast, the feminine technique involves communication, negotiation, is less direct and typically non-violent.

From the moment a hostage situation begins while John is on the toilet, he embarks on his journey towards femininity. As John realises that something terrible is occurring, he makes a very smart choice: to run the fuck away, observe what is happening and seek help. He even tells himself that this was the right approach, and that to have gone for the (more manly) option of running in and intervening, he would have got himself and others killed. And he’s right.

John’s instinct to seek help from those in a position to help is a sound one. And yet, in an experience familiar to any woman, he is repeatedly not taken seriously. His first attempt with the fire alarm is ignored and his initial attempt to contact the police is completely dismissed. And yet he does not give up, he simply escalates to something which men tend to call “attention-seeking”, which is usually motivated by frustration at not being heard. It is only by acting out of frustration that he finally manages to communicate the seriousness of the situation. John’s own form of attention-seeking is dropping a body on a cop car, but hey, it fucking well works. Better than yelling or crying, so next time men aren’t listening and I’m getting irked, I’ll remember that trick.

Later on, John learns to communicate better, moving from brusque police telegraphing to conversing, rapport-building, and yet still, always, supplying vital, actionable information. Unfortunately, he is still not taken seriously. This is because most of the men in this film are absolute worthless pieces of toxically masculine shit.

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Let’s start with the “goodies”. We have a police force who stubbornly predictable and utterly unwilling to deviate from their standard script, believing themselves to know it all. We have the FBI, who are all of what the police are except even worse. The FBI guys whoop and cheer, comparing their helicopter ride to the campaign in Saigon, and we as the audience cannot help to whoop and cheer when they get blown to smithereens for not fucking listening to John McClane.

This stagnant, stubborn, insistent masculinity is also the downfall of many of the villains, most notably, Karl, the baddie with the long hair who has a hateboner for John because John killed his brother. Karl is obsessed with killing John himself, to the point that this allows John to escape and survive the film. Karl’s textbook masculine desire for revenge is what keeps John alive. It is detrimental to the goals of the baddies, and Karl is a massive liability.

There is also that dickhead Ellis, who embodies that gross Eighties business masculinity. Unlike Holly, who has been shown throughout the film to be a talented negotiator, Ellis is shit at his job. Yet, like many men, Ellis is convinced he’s a lot better suited for the job than the woman who is manifestly good at it. He absolutely blows the deal, to the point of getting himself killed. Ellis, too, is a massive liability.

Hans Gruber, Eddie and Theo are by far the most useful of the bad guys. Eddie successfully manipulates and deceives law enforcement, delaying intervention. Theo is a gifted multitasker, cracking locks, playing lookout and making sure everyone has the information they need, coordinating the escape. We never see Theo acting through direct violence, and yet almost every action Theo takes is completely successful, right up until the end, when he is taken out by Argyle. Even then, arguably Theo has done better than any of the other baddies as he is only knocked out, not gruesomely killed, and the guy is probably capable of negotiating a plea bargain. Hans Gruber himself is also not afraid to deploy his “feminine wiles”: he attempts to (metaphorically) seduce John by pretending to be a hostage, and deploys a feminine style of management. It is clear that he has listened to and processed Theo’s assessment of what is necessary to open the vault, and he has factored this into his plan. Perhaps if the team of bad guys had comprised of more baddies like Hans, Eddie and Theo and fewer like Karl, they would have pulled off the heist.

Is the title Die Hard a warning? Does it mean that hardness could get you killed, while softness leads to success and survival? That interpretation certainly makes more sense, since none of the characters are particularly “die-hard” about any of their beliefs. The “terrorists” are charlatans, and even John has a pretty hard time explaining why he wants the one thing he keeps putting his foot down over (staying in New York), as though he isn’t highly committed to the idea. We are not shown many die-hard commitments, yet we are shown many men dying hard.

DIE HARD (1988) BRUCE WILLIS CREDIT: 20th CENTURY FOX/COURTESY NEAL PETERS COLLECTION

When one tries to imagine a still from Die Hard, it is often perhaps John McClane, brandishing a massive fucking gun–the ultimate symbol of masculinity. John McClane is lauded for his direct, “just shoot them” approach. And yet, in John’s hands, the primary function of the gun is not as a weapon. There are more instances within the film of John using the gun as some sort of tool than as something to kill or hurt people with. Of the kills directly attributable to John (eight, by my count), only four are from his firing a gun (the others are: one broken neck, two from an exploding lift shaft, and one by defenestration). And in most of the instances of shooting, John doesn’t “just shoot them”, he offers them an out first. We could perhaps attribute a ninth death to John, by his wielding Al as a weapon. It is only from John’s (feminine) emotional support and nurturing of Al that Al regains the confidence to shoot. We will not count other deaths for which John could be indirectly responsible, those of men who died from not listening to him (some cops, the FBI guys, Ellis), because that was their own fault for not believing a survivor.

For the rest of the time, John is far more creative in his use of firearms. In his hands, a gun becomes a multitude of useful objects as he displays the kind of creative thinking that neurosexists like to term feminine as opposed to the logical, analytical male approach. The gun, wielded by John, is a device for allowing escapes as a rig and a thing to get back into the building, as well as jamming a fan. It is also repeatedly used as a last-resort communication device, shooting to make noise and draw attention, shooting to direct a crowd away from explosive death.

Hans Gruber, too, understands the power of the gun as more than a simple weapon, as he traps bare-footed John by instructing his bad guys shoot to break glass. Both of these men, in traversing the traditionally masculine relationship with the gun as a weapon, are far more successful than when they use guns for their intended purposes.

Even John’s costume may go beyond its face value of showing of his masculine physique. He begins the film fully dressed, is stripped down to his vest when the hostage situation begins, and bare-chested for almost all of the final act. We see one other bare chest in the film: a woman’s chest on a porn poster right at the beginning of John’s heroine’s journey. Again, we can most readily compare him to Ellen Ripley, who ends Alien in her vest and knickers. Perhaps John is sloughing away his masculine conditioning with his masculine clothing. [EDIT: It has been pointed out to me that I missed another bare chest in Die Hard. It’s another woman’s chest, though…]

die-hard

The still above shows what is one of my favourite scenes in the film, and it is (in my opinion) the emotional climax of Die Hard. John has realised that he is unlikely to personally survive his predicament, his only desire now is that Holly survives. Bare chested, with bleeding feet, he talks to Al through his walkie talkie. And it is here that he finally showcases what he has learned throughout this experience. From the inception of the hostage situation, we are witness to John’s emotional side. We see his terror: far from being a gung-ho action man, John McClane is a man who is scared shitless. We also see that he cares about others. After throwing a bunch of TNT down a lift shaft, successfully removing some explosives from circulation and killing some baddies, his first question on reestablishing communications with outside is a concerned “Is the building on fire?” And yet, up until this moment in the bathroom, he does not explicitly communicate his emotions, nor demonstrate much understanding of others’ emotional needs.

It finally clicks for him. He says to Al, ‘She’s heard me say “I love you” a thousand times. She never heard me say “I’m sorry.”‘ In this moment, John gets it. He gets what is wrong with his wife, why she’s pissed off at him. He gets that love isn’t enough. And he also opens up and shows his vulnerability to his new friend, being metaphorically as well as literally mostly naked in this scene.

Maybe John’s newfound understanding came from spending a few hours acting like Holly, problem-solving with communication and trying to understand what other parties want, rather than acting like his hero Roy Rogers. While Holly is not in the film as much as I’d like, when she is, she is nothing but competent with her feminine skillset. I get the feeling that if Holly had been in the toilet at the beginning of the hostage situation rather than John, the film probably would have been about ten minutes long because she has far more experience in using these techniques than John. John’s direct acts of aggression do little to contribute to his ultimate success–when he attacks, it is in immediate self-defence. The day is saved, instead, through John’s developing communication skills, his asking for help, and relationship-building.

The end of the film, in light of all of this character development, is therefore somewhat jarring. It kind of ends with Holly publicly announcing she is taking back John’s surname, and that’s all. One would expect, given what was foreshadowed, that John would apologise, as he learned he needed to, and perhaps move to join LAPD and partner up with Al. This does not happen. Maybe the crew realised they had just made a chick flick and felt that they needed to masc it up. Or maybe they suddenly realised they wanted sequels and couldn’t possibly do that if John didn’t repeatedly estrange himself from his family to end up in predicaments where he needed to reunite with them. Sadly, John didn’t learn the lessons he had just learned, and ultimately lost Holly and became a deadbeat to his children. It is a warning to us all.

Ultimately, the Nakatomi Plaza was not the cocoon in which John McClane entered a cuck and emerged Feminine, but had its lessons truly stuck, it could have been.

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A short twitter thread on “fake news” and how the media created it

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