Jennifer Siebel Newsom made a documentary in 2011 called Miss Representation, that analyzed the way media images of women are manipulated in much more depth than the usual soundbites on the subject. She returns to Sundance with a documentary that tackles dangerous social pressures on men and young boys. In many ways, The Mask You Live In is really Miss Representation 2: Represent Harder, or perhaps it’s Mister Representation since it’s about the men, like the Pumping Iron 2: The Women of this issue.
The Mask You Live In is an important movie but it’s not a “take your medicine” kind of important movie. Rather, it empowers a man to be the person he wants to be, not the one others are pressuring him to be.
Like Miss Representation, The Mask You Live In outlines the social and scientific factors at work and deconstructs them. It is a scathing, direct analysis of how athletic success, financial success and sexual conquest are so revered that an impressionable boy, or even a mature man, might not even realize how they’re being influenced.
What if I don’t want to rank women in a Hot 100 list? What if I want to get to know each woman as a lovely individual, some whom I may decide I don’t want to date and others whom I may wish to pursue on their entire merits? It took me decades to get to the point where I could articulate that, and there are still forces trying to shut me up and say, “No, lust after women and derive power from it.”
There is still the issue of the MEDIA, the big bad collective of marketing and visual commodities that want us to buy what they’re selling, even if it’s what we don’t want. In that way, The Mask You Live In really is the sequel to Miss Representation. It takes the subconscious influences of the MEDIA to the next level to show how it doesn’t only impact women’s self-image, but men are susceptible to accepting the behavior advertised to them.
There is a section on video games, focusing on how violence influences players. I get nervous whenever an artistic medium is blamed for real world violence. I know I could play a video game and not want to kill or beat anyone in real life, and playing a game could be a healthy outlet. But then, I’m not really playing the current video games. I left that world behind over a decade ago when the games became too long and involved for me. For all I know, they are loaded with subliminal messages now that even I couldn’t resist. At the very least, GamerGate showed us that there are dangerous beliefs in that community. Not every gamer, and in fact there are fortunately noble gamers who want their art represented fairly and inclusively. But this is an “if the shoe fits” scenario. If you’re one of the good ones, great, please keep fighting for equality. It’s the large number of rape threatening sexists that we need to do something about.
A nit pick as a film nerd, some of the clips used to demonstrate negative stereotypes of masculinity are out of context. The meathead boyfriend character in Paranorman and Channing Tatum in 21 Jump Street are spoofs of alpha male characterizations. That’s two though and the rest are indeed obnoxious and condescending.
The important thing about The Mask You Live In is that it is sensitive to men. Siebel Newsom is not telling us what we have to do. She feels bad that we’ve been taught aggressive behavior that can only lead to violence. Most of us have a lot of love in us that is being suppressed and The Mask You Live In can open us up to embracing that and rejecting violent pressures that will not get us anywhere anyway.