Popular Culture and Hollywood movies define masculinity in extremely narrow terms. If these movies are to be believed, in order to be masculine, a man must strong, fearless and heterosexual and his predominant leisure activity must be either having sex with a woman or fantasizing about it. At the same time, he must not run away from a fight and in order to prove his masculinity, he must also win every fight he gets into. Obviously, this picture of what constitutes masculinity is flawed.
Unfortunately, our children are fed this ideal from an earlier age until they grow up to believe that being a man means acting tough no matter what the situations. A typical Hollywood movie has a macho male lead who spends the entire movie fighting the villain so that he can avert some kind of catastrophe. Countless movies have repeated this basic plot over and over again but Independence Day (1996) takes the plot to a whole new level.
Instead of fighting human villains, the lead actors in this movie fight the aliens and eventually win the ultimate war for the survival of mankind. And in fighting this war, the three lead actors reaffirm their male superiority and masculinity. Independence Day tells its viewers that a true American Hero is not deterred even when odds are heavily stacked against him and in the war between human courage and adverse conditions, masculinity always wins.
Masculine courage often means that lead male characters in Hollywood movies do things that are downright illogical. Randy Quaid’s character, Russell Casse, is a Vietnam veteran, an alcoholic, and has the responsibility of three motherless children, including one who has a chronic illness. He has no previous experience of flying fighter planes.
But masculine courage demands that he volunteer to be a pilot when faced with shortage of pilots. It also demands that after his missiles do not fire, he fly his plane into the enemy craft. At the time he made this supreme sacrifice, he did not know if his action would have any results. Everything that had happened until than showed that the alien ships were indestructible. Besides, he was not really required to fly into the alien craft. His decision to do so was for all practical purposes a suicide.
But by flying into the alien ship he becomes a martyr and a hero and makes his children proud of him. Similarly, David did not really have to be onboard the alien craft especially since he suffered from motion sickness. He could just as easily have briefed someone else. As someone with absolutely no knowledge of flying an aircraft, his presence on the spaceship could have proved a liability. But the demands of the genre required for them to establish their masculinity and the only way to do so was by showing inordinate courage.
Even if their actions were foolhardy and suicidal, these very actions established their masculinity, which is extremely important for a Hollywood movie, especially one of war genre. Even if these actions seem suicidal, they fall within the acceptable behavior for masculine characters in a Hollywood movie.
Jeff Goldblum’s character, David Levinson, shows the biggest movement from unacceptable almost feminine behavior to the acceptable masculinity. Masculinity does not just involve having courage but in order to be masculine enough a man also needs to play the part. This includes having the right mannerism and big ambitions.
A man without ambitions is like a woman who is not really required to have any ambitions. When the MIT educated David is contend being a mid level employee in a government organization, he is chided both by his father and his ex-wife for not having any ambitions. His obsession with recycling and keeping the planet clean and his suffering from motion sickness can all be viewed as feminine traits.
Unlike the Hiller and Whitmore, he does not have the characteristics of a typical American hero. But by volunteering to personally go to upload to the virus on the alien mother ship he redeems himself. According to him his obsession with recycling was because he wanted to save the world and this was the ultimate way to save the planet. Even his frustration at not being able to do anything just before he gets the idea of using a computer virus portrays his masculinity.
The acceptable behavior for a man is to do everything in his power to be a hero. It is alright to get violent, as David does, if you feel helpless. But to give up without a fight is not an acceptable masculine behavior. Once he has established himself as a masculine hero, he seals his masculinity by smoking a cigar, does completely redeeming himself for not being masculine enough in the initial scenes.
In order to establish his masculinity, the hero must not only be courageous he must also be good and reject all forms of corruption. The Hollywood villain arguably displays all the necessary traits of typical masculine male.
He is bold and courageous, ambitious, finds women sexy, smokes, is intelligent and does all the things that are acceptable behavior for a red blooded male. Yet, he loses because he is corrupt. All his masculinity in other aspects comes to a naught if he is corrupt and does not put others ahead of himself.
So, in order to be considered masculine enough by Hollywood standards, the hero must not only have all the masculine traits, but must also be able to put others before himself and reject all kinds of corruption. Although, Independence Day does not have a traditional villain, the heroes must still prove that they are true heroes by being totally uncorrupted. So Whitmore is a non-corrupt politician who puts himself in the harm’s way over and over again.
And David cannot be corrupted by the lure of higher paying better jobs, even if it means losing his wife. These are good people and they further promote the modern American myth that “reassures that what is good in American culture still exists and will triumph” (Brown 181). These characters are able to defeat the aliens because they are good people. In the battle between good and evil, only the good can triumph and so the heroes must be shown to be good, incorruptible people.
America was formed through the conquest and assimilation of new and unknown territories. Throughout the formation of the United States of America, the Americans were always at war at the frontier. Once there was no longer any land to conquer, America took this frontier to other countries. So much so that “the word ‘frontier’ could have replaced ‘war’”. Masculinity as understood by Americans is “inextricably linked to the need for a frontier… a combat zone” (Willoquet-Mariconci 190).
Independence Day takes this frontier to a completely new dimension: Americans are no longer fighting in new lands, they have now taken the combat zone in to the space. If masculinity means having a combat zone, a frontier to wage newer and bigger wars, than Independence Day provides cine goers with the ultimate masculine ride with the lead actors fighting and winning at the final frontier. As such, Independence Day is the ultimate trip in masculinity.
So it is no surprise that all the lead male actors in this movie display overtly masculine characteristics. In the absence of a traditional villain, there is no one to juxtapose their goodness, an essential masculine characteristic. But by fighting and winning at new frontier they make their war legitimately masculine.
All the male actors in Independence Day exhibit the acceptable behavior to prove their masculinity. Even if this behavior was suicidal or downright foolish, these male characters needed to act in this way because these are the only acceptable masculine behavior as established by Hollywood movies.
Courage, goodness of heart, masculine mannerism and a willingness to fight and win all battles constitute Hollywood’s definition of masculinity. Independence Day ensures that its male actors display all these as well as other acceptable masculine traits as it further propagates this myth of what constitutes masculinity.
Brown, Jeffery A. “Bullets, Buddies and Bad Guys: The ‘Action-Cop’ Genre.” Celluloid Dreams: How Film Shapes America. Eds. Chris M. Ramos, David T. Mayeda and Lisa Pasko. Dubuque, IA: Kendall Hunt Publishing, 2010. 171-181. Print.
Willoquet-Maricondi, Paula. “Full-Metal-Jacketing, or Masculinity in the Making.” Celluloid Dreams: How Film Shapes America. Eds. Chris M. Ramos, David T. Mayeda and Lisa Pasko. Dubuque, IA: Kendall Hunt Publishing, 2010. 185-195. Print.