Venus and Mars, own work, based on public domain symbols
Just finished watching The Red Pill, a documentary made by Cassie Jaye in 2016, about men’s rights activists (MRAs). It’s an interesting film, and worth seeing, although it does have to be accompanied by a bit of homework, and a bit of prep work beforehand. A few things that jumped out out me, after watching it (but without the prep work):
1) The louder you are, the less likely I’m able to take you seriously. Some of the folks appeared to be loud, angry, and a bit heavy on cruder language. Their opinions could have been heard far better (both literally and figuratively), if they turned the volume down. None of the MRA folks appeared to be shouting down the opposition, but that, unfortunately, may be a trick of Cassie Jaye’s editing (and that may apply to the entire film, alas). Whenever I find people trying to shout down a speaker, or shout down a talk on any topic, that makes me wonder if they don’t have valid arguments, and turn to ramping up the volume instead. An old hippie I knew, when trying to get my college to divest from South African investments back in the day put on a three-piece suit, went to the board, and gave them cold, hard economic reasons why the school should divest, as well as adding in the obvious humanitarian reasons. Protests consisted of people holding signs (in silence) before the board walked to the conference room where they were to discuss the matter. That was far more powerful. There’s a great story about someone listening to two people argue in a language they didn’t understand; they correctly surmised that the person losing the argument was the one getting louder.
2) Money changes words, and what is discussed. One of the women (a hero, to the MRA community) who started refuges (UK equivalent of domestic violence shelters) made the offhand remark that originally, the complaint was against capitalism, but it was changed to patriarchy so the topic would be more “fundable” (will have to go back and rewatch that part; but my memory thinks that was the point that was brought up). That was a telling moment, and it was a shame more time wasn’t spent on that.
3) Lastly (and this could only be done with a bit of my own research), if you make a documentary film on a particular worldview, you may wish to ask harder questions, or else the entire premise may fall apart.
There’s another element, which was mentioned in the Wikipedia article on this documentary, which bears repeating, because it brings up the topic of compassion:
Corrine Barraclough, of the Australian tabloid newspaper The Daily Telegraph, said “the message of The Red Pill is compassion” and the film made her “wonder why feminists tried so hard to silence this crucial conversation.”
I wish the movie could have discussed things in more detail, only in the last moments did it try to make any points about differences between the MRA, pickup artists, the Red Pill folks, and the MGTOW movement.
There are still some very big questions about the entire MRA movement; even the Wikipedia criticism section notes that the film is considered a bit one sided. After a bit of reflection and research (and discussion with other rational folks), that became more apparent. When seeing a film like this or any other ‘Topic X’, a good natural reaction is to go searching for “Topic X criticism”; a few reviews of the film do bring up a good many salient points which could have rounded out things. Indeed, a bit of searching afterwards on Paul Elam turns up disturbing stuff, and it does make one want to immediately throw up your hands and dismiss his appearance and arguments. Elam does bring up important points (the CDC says domestic violence against men isn’t insignificant), and serious points about child custody, but if you are going to say outrageous things (in 2010, before the film was made) like, “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,” then it puts your entire argument at risk, and makes people dismiss you entirely. When hearing something like this, it has an even more chilling effect than having people raise their voices; when you vow to reject overwhelming evidence, it means you aren’t thinking, and you choose your pet worldview over the truth. It is a bit troubling that this wasn’t questioned in the film, and it does make me wonder about the due diligence of Cassie Jaye in doing her homework beforehand. An entire reddit discussion on this is here.
There are a lot of pieces to this puzzle, and the MRA worldview has been lumped in with the likes of the incel community (described by the always eloquent, even-keeled, and thought-provoking Contrapoints here), although Cassie Jaye says they are of different stripes. After listening to Contrapoint’s explanation of the incel world (and oh boy, does the rabbit hole go deep), it makes me want to ask Cassie Jaye to make another series of documentaries on these groups, but with a lot more balance. From the explanation given by Contrapoints, however, it sounds like the incel folks are quite far off into the weeds; they even have a term “the black pill“, which goes into some dark places. To her credit, she does have a bit of compassion for them, and she does bring up a bunch of parallels between her world and theirs.
This topic may seem like a bit outside of the jurisdiction of this blog, but the issue of fairness on any topic, and the ability of anyone asking questions (writing a newspaper story, doing a piece on the nightly news, making a documentary, inviting people to a debate) is important. If a filmmaker was to do a more charitable or favorable story on climate change denialists, in the same format, my reaction (since I know more about this topic) might be to denounce it on the spot. Since I hadn’t read anything about the MRA world (but knew about other elements of the ‘manosphere’ very peripherally), it was only after doing some ‘opposition research’ did a fuller picture of their arguments and worldview (warts and all) become visible. Part of me feels more than a bit shortchanged (and a bit suckered), because some of the topics the film brought up were eye opening, but it didn’t follow through on some important background information, like Elam’s previous comments.
It’s tough not to get passionate (and loud) about things you feel strongly about. On climate change, sure, there is an urge to rage a bit, or get loud, when discussing things with people who flat out deny it. But the surer path to victory over ignorance might be in the Socratic method (rather than getting louder), and be willing to ask hard questions, even though they might initially detract from your own argument(s). Lastly, approaching anything with compassion isn’t such a bad idea (although, one must guard against idiot compassion, a topic for another day).
This is a tough thing; the Truth is something we’d all like to have, but muddying the waters on any topic is frustrating.
- Have you seen the film? What did you think?
- What other documentaries have you seen which have changed your mind, or at least made you see things from a different perspective?
- What is the responsibility of a film maker/documentary producer to give an even handed view of things?
- Have there been any books/films/articles that have made you question your most heartfelt beliefs or worldviews? The question that always gets asked here is “Who is your best critic; who is the person who has an opposite worldview, but who you respect?”
- How has your mind best been changed on any topic?
- How ‘pure’ do the leaders of any movement or worldview have to be, in order to be seen as legitimate? Elam might bring up valid points, but probably destroyed any legitimacy or ability to sway public opinion with some of his comments. Do climate change proponents (or denialists) destroy their legitimacy in similar ways?
- Can you have a Socratic dialogue with ardent neo-Nazis, or folks from the incel community?
- Playing devil’s advocate – could Al Gore’s “An Inconvenient Truth” be considered one sided? Do valid criticisms of his own lifestyle make the argument less believable?
- Is there anybody in the MRA world who rejects Elam’s outrageous comments, and who has a more balanced view? There may be valid criticisms of any “obvious” worldview or philosophy, from climate change to capitalism to feminism/men’s rights to racism, but if you are going to say/believe/promulgate outrageous ideas and ignore evidence, whatever shred of good points you have can be destroyed.