Gender in pop culture #1: Forgetting Sarah Marshall

17 07 2009

In my last post, I promised you some examples of our society’s struggling with the question of what it means to be a man or a woman. Without further ado… First example:

1. Forgetting Sarah Marshall.

Trailer: (I chose the one that was less inappropriate.)

SUMMARY: Very Funny and Very Passive Man (Peter) gets dumped by Famous, Pretty and Self-Assured Actress girlfriend (Sarah Marshall). Passive Man goes to Hawaii to “get over” her; turns out, she’s there with her NEW beau (Narcissistic Womanizer Metrosexual British Singer (Aldous)). Simultaneously, Passive Man meets Hot Adventurous Free-Spirited Hotel Worker With Topless Picture of Herself In The Bathroom (Rachel) and falls in love with her. Hilarity ensues.

ANALYSIS: First of all, this movie contains just about every possible stripe of inappropriateness, so consider yourself warned. Basically, we have the (now) classic “Alpha female/Beta male” relationship. Hollywood loves these lately: The woman takes the lead; the man holds back and waits for the woman to define him. (Back when chauvinism was cool, things were reversed.) But now apparently hot-and-assertive girls are supposed to be into slightly nerdy, passive, self-loathing men who hold their purses for them.

FAVORITE SCENE (displaying warped gender roles): Rachel cliff-dives into the ocean, and has to goad Peter into being man enough to take the same risk. (Men take note: If you find yourself looking for a woman primarily so she can show you what kind of man you’re supposed to be, then you’re looking for the wrong thing.) (There’s a portion of this scene in the trailer clip above.)

In all seriousness, there’s nothing wrong with being a little afraid of jumping off a super high cliff into some water. I mean, that’s kind of scary. But on a deeper level, there is something… off… about the woman here taking the big risk, and then goading the man into following her with taunts like, “I can see your hoo-ha from here!”

GLIMMER OF TRUTH: I’ve been in the position before of being attracted to a woman primarily because she carries some quality that I’m lacking. (In my case, adventurousness, risk-taking, and freedom.) The danger is to think that winning the woman over will somehow allow me to exhibit that quality, rather than highlighting all the ways I’m lacking it. Peter is at his best when he pursues his dream, instead of looking for a woman to BE his dream. (His dream happens to be to write and perform a broadway musical about Dracula, in which all the characters are played by puppets. Awesome.)

UNDERLYING MESSAGE: Men, you don’t feel like a man? Find a good adventurous woman to teach you how to be one. Women, you looking for a man? Find a dude who just got dumped and teach him to be a man. Make sure you sleep with him after your second date.

Taking it like a man? Well, maybe not. But Peter did learn a couple things about manhood along the way…

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