Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Everybody Wants to Be a Macho-Macho Man

What Boromir doesn't like is women--especially a certain woman named Galadriel. "I do not feel too sure of this Elvish lady and her devices," he says, just one of the many indications that Boromir has a problem in the female department. He never complains about Celeborn, eh? Fellow warrior Aragorn will have none of it: "Speak no evil of the Lady Galadriel! . . . There is in her and in this land no evil, unless a man bring it hither himself. Then, let him beware!" It is in the conversations between the two human members of the Fellowship that we see most clearly how the elf-queen is not only a character with a personality of her own, but a screen upon which the other characters--and the reader--can project some of their deepest emotions. Which is to say: their sexual emotions.

Boromir does plenty of projecting onto Galadriel, and what he projects is his deep anxiety about women and about his attraction to them. He's Tolkien's portrait of something Americans didn't have a name for until Hispanic culture become more prominent. He's a macho man: comfortable in the clash of combat, dauntless in deeds of strength and daring . . . and terrified of any temptress who might distract him from his task (in his case, saving Gondor). As Tolkien was the original expert on Beowulf--he's the reason we all had to read the story in high school--it makes sense the Old English tale would induce him to include a Beowulf-type in his own story. Boromir fits the Beowulf-bill to a T: both are mighty in war; neither ever has a relationship with a woman.

Another guy who fits the bill is Colonel Miles Quaritch in James Cameron's film Avatar. Like Boromir and Beowulf, the Colonel is a man with all the warrior virtues: courage, strength, loyalty, charisma. He leads from the front, inspires everyone around him, shows a fatherly interest in his troops. Quaritch is why I must disagree with those critics (I'm thinking of the reviewer in Rolling Stone) who would have us believe Avatar is a simplistic story of evil humans vs. good aliens. Pandorans are not noble savages--they are ignorant of the outside universe, have bad tempers, and suffer from sexual jealousy. The only truly evil human in the film isn't the Colonel but the corporate lackey: the guy who obsesses about unobtainium and his quarterly reports. We last see him being marched off Pandora at gun-point to face certain humiliation back on Earth. The resentful, playground-bully look on his face is very telling--and tells us that the real bad guys in Cameron's world aren't humans as such but capitalists.

(Perhaps it's unreasonable of me to expect those working for corporate media to talk about such things. It's so much safer for their careers to condemn Cameron for being "morally simplistic," and for giving the Oscar to a film no one ever saw or wanted to. Cheer up, James! You're in excellent company: namely, that of J.R.R. Tolkien, who took the same rap from Edmond Wilson. Edmond who?)

Miles Quaritch, in his own way, is an honorable character. De- spite his cruelty and arrogance he has too many positive qualities to write him off as a generic bad-guy in the manner of, say, your typical orc. Yet when his protege bonds with a native woman we see the central weakness in the Colonel's character. His words to Jake speak volumes: "So you're getting some local tail and now you forget who's paying you?" (The best line in the movie, especially as Neytiri actually has a tail.) The Colonel can't under- stand love--or doesn't want to. The sexist soldier-slang and the reference to Jake's paycheck make it obvious that, if the Colonel has ever been in love, he's never let it interfere with business. In other words: he's too much of a warrior to be a real man. And "how to be a real man" is the whole point of Young Man Seeks His Fortune . . .

(to be continued)

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