Saturday, March 5, 2016

Boys to men in Jennifer Siebel Newsom's latest documentary, THE MASK YOU LIVE IN

Having found Jennifer Siebel Newsom's earlier documentary, Miss Representation, so edifying in the way it handled how women are represented via the media, you could not have kept me from viewing her latest work, THE MASK YOU LIVE IN, which tackles the American male and how he is groomed for the kind of success that is actually much closer to failure -- so far as women and society are concerned. Both docs are important and worth seeing.

In her latest, Ms Newsom, shown at right, begins by having one of her interviewees, former NFL player and coach Joe Ehrmann (below. left), explain why the command, "Be a man!" is one of the most destructive in our culture. Trust-Movies certainly remembers being told that by his own father, along with various concerned male adults (generally at the worst possible times). You may remember having had this phrase said to you, too.

The problem, of course, is that, rather than being told to stand up for what it right, or to help others, or to treat women with respect and caring, the Be a Man phrase most often means being violent -- putting on that pair of boxing gloves and beating the shit out of the other guy (that was the way yours truly had it fed to him).

Via a series of interviews with men, women and boys, along with the use of some often startling statistics and situations, Ms Newsom weaves together a tapestry of a society way out of control so far as anything healthy is concerned.

We learn here that boys have a much greater suicide rate than do girls, probably due most to the fact that they are taught from the earliest age to repress their emotions -- to wear that mask of the title in which they cannot be seen and eventually cannot feel, either. We also learn how "being a man" adds to the current culture of rape. We see various sets of men -- in sports, in prison, in situations offering help -- and learn how some of them have found ways around this culture that would imprison and destroy.

A problem with this documentary, as with her earlier one, is that it sometimes comes too close to finger-wagging and nattering, well-intentioned as this might be (not that there isn't much to wag and natter at). Fortunately, when this occurs, it is never long before Newsom gets back on track with more statistics, information and good ideas. She is also not content to simply point out the problem; she insists on finding ways around and through it.

Consequently, you don't leave her docs depressed and feeling that nothing can be done. There is plenty, in fact. So next time you're about to exhort a boy to "Be a Man!" stop and instead take the time and trouble to explain to him what being that man ought -- and ought not -- entail.

The Mask You Live In -- from Virgil Films and running 90 minutes -- is part of The Representation Project and arrives on Digital HD, VOD and DVD this coming Tuesday, March 8 -- for sale or rental.

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