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Filmism.net Dispatch April 15, 2012

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In her masculinist treatise Stiffed, author Susan Faludi talks about a shift in attitudes in contemporary America. In the Second World War, the heroic figure in popular culture was the unnamed trench soldier, the grunt who stood shoulder to shoulder with his buddies and held off the godless hordes as part of a group.

Things changed in the postwar years. The hero idolised in popular culture was the dashing, daring, lone figure, inspired by the superheroes in comics and the test pilots going faster than humans had ever travelled in New Mexico deserts. He was iconised by Flash Gordon, Superman, Chuck Yaeger and The Right Stuff -type crew. He had swagger and character, didn't like to take orders, got the job done his way and was as American as all hell.

The contemporary hero figure, in other words, went from being a member of the collective to an individual. Interestingly, the complete opposite to the military ethos in most armed forces of today, which aims to make soldiers obedient cogs who play by the rules in a very large machine.

How is this the least related to the movies, you ask? Not only the character of Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson) but writer/director Joss Whedon describes the events in The Avengers as a 'war movie'. But instead of a platoon of identically-skilled and able soldiers who dress, talk and fight the same, the men (and token woman) who fight the war are a series of distinctive figures who couldn't be more different from each other in approach, dress sense and speech.

It's the stated aim of the film to explore how they could possibly get along (Whedon has said it's the aspect that made him sign on to direct), so it admittedly wouldn't work with heroes who were all the same. It'd be a bit boring that way anyway.

But after remembering Faludi's 2000 book it got me thinking about how right she was. Movies have cemented what we want in a hero. We don't want team players, we don't want someone who respects authority, we don't want a traditional military soldier the way they really are. We want a flashy costume, a flashy character, a uniform nobody else could fill. The unnamed soldier buried in a hundred cenotaphs around the world isn't good enough for us anymore.

Speaking of popular culture, I've noticed two simple rules you can apply to any romantic comedy and as far as I can see they're yet to fail me. Try it yourself. First, women are always smarter than men in the long run. But second, no man is stupid enough to not realise when a woman's coming onto him.

I also saw Battle Royale for Twilight fans the other week, The Hunger Games, and broke down the famous transformation scene in An American Werewolf in London.

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