Here's a great example of how not to open your documentary. “After releasing my film in 2012 about marriage equality, I was at a loss of what topic to explore next,” says Cassie Jaye in the halting tones of a hostage reading her captors' statement to the world. That comes at the start of her film The Red Pill, and the high drama of her search for a subject gets illustrated with the results of a web search. “I started to research this 'rape culture,’” she tells us, each syllable so far from the next one that a tumbleweed could breeze through the gap.
We literally see the words “rape culture” get typed into Google. “A website called A Voice for Men popped up,” she tells us. And then, for two agonizing hours, Jaye tumbles slowly down America's stupidest rabbit hole, discovering that Men's Rights Activists are actually just dudes who have been dicked over by a culture that punishes masculinity.
Use Google yourself and you might come to different conclusions. Jaye's star witness, A Voice for Men's Paul Elam, plays the part in her interviews of a decent chap alarmed at the evidence of a crisis facing American men: Yes, men commit suicide more than women do, are more likely to drop out of college and, when men are the victims of violence in a relationship, they do not have access to the same (threadbare, strained) network of shelters that women do. “We have video-game addiction, we have pornography addiction,” Elam points out, and a propagandist more adept than Jaye might not have included so much comic out-of-gas sputtering.
I feel comfortable calling her “propagandist” because of my own “research” (ie. “reading the top search results”). Here's something Elam wrote on A Voice for Men in 2010: “Should I be called to sit on a jury for a rape trial, I vow publicly to vote not guilty, even in the face of overwhelming evidence that the charges are true.” What excuse would any serious documentarian have for not asking Elam to explain that?
You don't even have to put in that tiny bit of online legwork to suspect that something's hinky with Jaye's film. (It's a Kickstarter job, and A Voice for Men and Reddit's most misogynistic MRA subs were active in the campaigns.) Jaye acknowledges in the opening and closing minutes that MRAs sometimes spew nasty garbage online, but she never presses them on this in her many interviews. Instead, she lets them moan about how hard it is to be a dude in 2016, endorsing their anecdotal complaints about unfair family courts, incidents of men being tricked into being fathers and — I didn't quite follow this one — one father's conviction that the women who had custody of his son were systematically trying to make the boy fat. That story drags on forever, and Jaye cuts from it to footage of herself tooling around in her car, driving past a Super Cuts.
Like many amateurish Kickstarter docs, The Red Pill doesn't always have visuals worth regarding on a screen, but I do cherish one flourish: an animated sequence of falling snowflakes, each with a different MRA complaint printed on it, meant to illustrate the movement's diversity of grievances. There's “Misandry”! There's “Restraining Orders”! Even the metaphor is hilariously white.
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Some of the men's complaints are upsetting for the reasons that the men think they're upsetting. There's no doubt that men do sometimes do suffer mistreatment from the courts or from the women in their lives. What the film and the movement fail to demonstrate is any kind of systemic cause. Instead, the author of men's troubles here is always that vague bugaboo feminism, which we're told is designed to silence its opponents. (Is it even worth pointing out that being criticized for what you say is not the same as being denied your right to say it?) Jaye renounces her own feminist past toward the end of the film, the announcement delivered over video of her typing, then looking at a computer, then driving around some more.
Jaye does film some feminist protesters at MRA events, letting them swear on camera a lot, trying to paint them as unreasonable — even as she elides the deep, disgusting, public unreasonableness of MRAs like Elam, who once claimed online that young women walk through life “with the equivalent of a I'M A STUPID, CONNIVING BITCH — PLEASE RAPE ME neon sign glowing above their empty little narcissistic heads.”
“Why can't men talk about their problems?” Elam asks Jaye's camera in earnest, apparently unaware that he gets shouted at and pilloried not for identifying “problems” but for being a dick. Hey, Elam — men can talk about our problems. You're one of them.
Also: Thanks to David Futrelle's invaluable site We Hunted the Mammoth for collecting Elam's most horrible bleatings. And it's worth pointing out that this movie is playing in two American theaters mostly so that outlets like this one get tricked into running reviews that, even if negative, confer some kind of legitimacy. I apologize for taking the bait.