Tuesday, March 7, 2017

Contemplating The Red Pill

Two years ago, I found myself looking into GamerGate, a cultural conflict revolving around video games. Before looking into this, I would have considered myself if not a complete feminist, then a supporter of feminism for the purposes of creating gender equality. But during my conversations with both sides of the conflict (as feminists came down en masse against the movement), I found that feminism wasn't as clear-cut as I had been taught it was. Perhaps that is why I found myself rather interested when I heard about The Red Pill from an Arthouse Legends listener who requested that we do the film (as the critical response has not been passing for the film, it doesn't meet the criteria so don't be expecting that episode any time soon). But my interest was piqued and so when it became available, I made sure to give it a watch.

I want to discuss this film in two mind frames; the first being as a film enthusiast that is impartial to the film's message, the other as a politically-interested individual who has looked at both sides of the issue and how this film stacks up from what I've read and seen on the issue (which is quite extensive):

So let's look at this documentary as a film first. After seeing the extremely-flawed political doc 13th by Ava Duvernay, my tolerance level for poor film-making is frankly lacking coming into this film. What really surprised me was that every time that I found myself about to make a critical judgment on the film, it quickly addressed my criticism. To say the very least about this film, The Red Pill is very efficient and thorough, and considering it's two hour running time and broad range of subject matter, this is high praise indeed. In comparison, 13th makes an argument that the Thirteenth Amendment was used to incarcerate African American males indiscriminately, yet meanders through various reasons and rarely ties these to its central theme. The Red Pill argues that both men and women are near-equally violated and abused by the other gender yet society favors protection to women over men and ties each argument back to the central theme by setting a through-narrative which follows the film's director Cassie Jaye's personal journey from feminist to skeptic. While some of these arguments aren't very well-articulated, we'll get into that aspect in just a little bit. Both films are coming at their subjects from a bias, though Jaye's bias seems more even-handed as she does allow four different feminists with different backgrounds to make a counter-argument (as opposed to Duvernay's where there is none). While Duvernay throws statistics on the screen, she doesn't provide sources of those statistics whereas Jaye almost always puts the source on screen. As was the case with 13th, The Red Pill clearly has much more to say than the running time allows and might have been better off either narrowing the scope of the documentary or being a larger film, perhaps even a miniseries (though that might not have been possible as the funding of her film was reduced in large part by a lack of backers wanting to finance a film about this subject matter, the post-production almost entirely made up by Kickstarter supporters).

What was most effective in the documentary is hearing the stories of individual men as they talked about the abuse they went through, their marginalization at the hands of the law, and seeing the various ways the law works against men at the benefit of women. It sorta falls into the same trap as 13th by not getting into detail how men do make up more offenders than women, but unlike 13th, it does address it and recognizes that it is a problem. It also doesn't shy away from the varying voices of the Men's Rights Movement, including the likes of provocateur Paul Elam, traditionalist Dean Esmay, former feminists Erin Pizzey and Warren Farrell, or the Honey Badgers, a group of women who work for men's rights. Yet we don't see any of these individuals actually helping men, setting up shelters, any actual lobbying for men's rights nor do they address why we don't see them doing such. Part of that could be laid at the feet of these advocates being more talk than action, though it could also be Jaye not going deep enough (though her credit to Earl Silverman raises questions about this, if you're not aware of who this is, Google it and you'll understand why).

As someone who has done a fair share of research on the issue, I can say that the film does get a lot of interesting issues out, but there is a ton that wasn't addressed which is more than likely due to time constraints. The problem with the MRM comes from a lack of any formal leadership and a lack of interest in men's issues. They bring up how breast cancer and prostate cancer kills equally yet breast cancer gets more attention, which is unfair yet women's issues are more marketable (people tend to think about breasts naturally, prostates not so much). Another matter of fact is that a great deal of this fight isn't about ideology but funding. More funding won't be made for men, it would be taken away from women, which is something that will be fought by feminist groups. This is why feminism tries to brand itself as beneficial to men as well as women. The documentary shows underhanded tactics used by feminist groups to stop or combat men's groups. We don't see men's groups doing the reverse, though I'm sure it has happened though not to the same degree.

It should be restated that there is a bias in this film towards the MRM, though one that is slightly tempered by giving the opposing side a chance to make a case, even if that case is less than stellar. Documentaries are not journalistic, and in most cases are trying to make an argument. Harlan County, USA clearly sided with coal miners, Michael Moore makes cases against political figures he disagrees with. Other documentarians might be interested in impartial or objective looks on things, but this isn't a requirement by any stretch. All that is required for a documentary to succeed is to make a clear and concise argument and to address as much that conflicts with that argument as possible. In that case, Cassie Jaye succeeds no matter if you agree with her argument or not. Anyone who disagrees can certainly make the case against her and if they do so, I'd be the first to want to see that argument. But overall, this is an effective work and one that deserves more discussion.

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