The Buzz: Goat exposes the problem of hypermasculinity in college fraternities
Welcome back to the Buzz as we look at the upending of college fraternities in the new film Goat. We will see how the film deals with masculinity and whether or not this satire will be received as intended. We will then look forward to a brand new trailer for the new Denzel Washington drama based on the great play from August Wilson. It will be hard for the Oscars to ignore people of color in films this year.
In addition, we will look at this week in pop culture news including a close call for the newest Martin Scorsese film, the death of the “Godfather of Gore” and Amazon newest series.
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Film: Goat: Animal House would not work today. I am not saying that to bemoan the fact that PC culture is taking over cultural consumption. No, rather the culture that surrounds the masculinity of some male fantasies and wish fulfillment of movies like Animal House or even Revenge of the Nerds is no longer cool. Yet, for a lot of people, that is still something to fight for.
A common theme throughout movies this summer has been the extreme reaction people have exhibited in a testosterone driven way. There is a paradigm shift in culture that is no longer catering to a certain group of people that have had culture do so for years. There may be more superhero action movies but there are also more people to finger problem areas of discrimination. This summer also saw the release of an all-female Ghostbusters which was trigger for some of people for various reasons.
But, the blowback that we experienced collectively throughout the summer was from a predominantly male dominated group that have felt they have been ostracized in recent years despite being pandered to for years. In the 70’s and 80’s especially, an era that has been looked back upon fondly, saw the craze of sex-comedies like Animal House, Revenge of the Nerds, Porkys and Bachelor Party that flaunted themes of brotherhood, overcoming rich assholes and lots of gratuitous sex and nudity from beautiful women. Events in these films will now rightly be considered sexual offenses. But, “Boys will be boys,” right?
In these movies the currency of masculinity is rooted in the number of women that you can have and the amount of party shenanigans that be experienced. That is why Stifler was the break out character in American Pie while the sensitivity of Chris Klein’s character that was used as a joke was barely used in the subsequent sequels. The idea of masculinity dominating persists and seeps into the psyche to the point that the ideas of Fight Club is no longer a satire but a dogma.
This critique on some men is central in Goat, a new film that looks into the culture of college fraternity hazing. Directed by Andrew Neel, Goat starts with Brad (Ben Schnetzer) dealing with an idealized fractured male ego after he is brutally beaten up by two men. The trauma of the beating clouds everything around Brad especially because he internalizes it all. The worst part, he says to his brother, played by popstar Nick Jonas, was that he did not fight back.
He says that not because it is true but because it is what a man would do. Emotions have no currency in this male world. IN fact, emotions are rarely talked about in the entirety of this movie. There a lot of moments of bros hugging saying, “I’ll be there for you man.” Actual displays of emotions however, are few and far between.
To replace the emptiness, Brad goes to college and decides to pledge into his brother’s fraternity. The frat’s house is one big party with alcohol being consumed handles at a time. For these men, joining the fraternity is a reinforcement of a maledom. Its’s a brotherhood; a symbol for people around campus and a magnet for girls. More importantly, it is a tool for primal pleasure.
“We are gentlemen in this civilized society,” James Franco says in a cameo as an alumnus whose glory days are 16 years behind him, as he shotguns a beer. These early part scenes are shot with a pure fetishized pleasure. This is what every college student dream of; alcohol, sex and respect. There’s almost no room for school.
What lies dormant is the need for masculine affirmation, a raging dragon that will reveal itself as the pledges heads towards hell week; a time when all the new potential recruits become subjugated to the will of the pledge master. At any point, he can summon the pledges and humiliate them. These scenes are shot by Neel in the voyeuristic sadism of a snuff film. These boys are forced to suck and eat phallic objects as the ultimate symbol of male degradation. In return, the hazers get to assert their male dominance. The pledges are made to mud wrestle, pose for Abu Gharib style pictures and called names like bitch, faggot and goat. These pledges are and more importantly, demasculinized.
At one point, Jonas asks if this was going too far. In response, his manhood is questioned and he is rebuked by systemic abuse. This has been fraternity tradition for hundreds of years. They cannot possibly change now especially if they had to be subjugated to the same type of torture last year. Humiliation is the only way to avenge humiliation.
These scenes are purposely hard to watch. It is done in a style of realism, that as an audience member, you are almost angry at the filmmakers for subjugating the actors to such degradation. Yet, Goat feels important in its assessment of the way that masculinity has been treated and acted upon. College hazing is still prominent despite efforts of schools to stop it. If not that, people like Brock Turner finds other ways to assert their masculinity on the internet and on other people.
Yet, as I watched Goat and reassessed my thoughts on Animal House, I became fearful that the film’s satire will be lost. In a recent episode of Malcolm Gladwell’s podcast, Revisionist History, he speaks about the satire paradox in which a person contextualization of satire roots it into his own view. That is how a film like Fight Club goes from a satire on modern consumerist, masculine culture to a fetishizing of Randian violence and anarchy.
In the end, is Goat any different than all those 80’s comedies?
Coming Soon: Fences: One of my favorite plays that I ever read was August Wilson’s Fences. It is bombastic drama about a middle-aged patriarch of an African American family in Pittsburgh coming to terms with the passage of time. It is a great play about race, family and aging. Just released is the trailer for the film adaptation directed and starring Denzel Washington. He stars as the patriarch opposite Viola Davis in a reunion of the much lauded 2010 version that won both leads the Tony for Best Actor and Actress. Crazily enough, the film had a quick turnaround time, being shot just this last spring and is already set for a Christmas release in time for Oscar contention. Washington has proven himself to be a quality director with Antwon Fisher and The Great Debaters especially when it comes to working with young actors. Now he gets to work with the great Viola Davis. Hopefully, magic will happen.
Fences is due to be released on Christmas day.
In the Loop: Rest in peace to another great director. America’s answer to Dario Argento, Herschell Gordon Lewis died last week at the age of 90. He pushed the boundaries of disgust and comfort with his use of blood and gore. He was a product of the 60’s during a time when counter culture was all the rage. His exploitation filled movie houses and it has made him a cult director that has been celebrated by everyone from Wes Anderson to Quentin Tarantino. Film fans everywhere are pouring out a shot of fake blood to the Godfather of Gore.
The new Martin Scorsese movie, Silence is finally scheduled to be released at the end of this year to make it eligible for Oscar contention. Like Fences, Silence was in danger of not being able to make the deadline. This has been a passion project for Scorsese as he has been trying to adapt the Shusaku Endo book to a feature film since the early 90’s. The film is about Jesuit priests who travel to Japan in the early 17th century. The film stars Andrew Garfield, Adam Driver and Liam Neeson. The film is currently rumored to be over 190-minutes which is troubling for the film distributors but Scorsese at 73 still feels vibrant in his filmmaking.
Amazon for the last few years have been taking a community approach to pilot season by ordering one episode from a series and streaming it to its Amazon Prime users. This year’s offering included an adaptation of the superhero satire The Tick, a fictionalized Jean-Calude Van Damme show, Jean-Claude Van Johnson and a new Jill Solloway produced show, I Love Dick. All three has been order to series from Amazon.