Bnonn Tennant (the B is silent)

Where a recovering ex-atheist skewers things with a sharp two-edged sword

About Language & Interpretation Relationships, Society, Culture

Am I toxically paranoid, or are you naïvely inured?

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3 minutes to read The frog is disputing the meaning of the bubbles as the pot comes to the boil.

One of the common responses I’ve gotten to my analysis of The Last Jedi as a “leftist porno” is that I’m projecting.

It’s just a movie; I’m taking it too seriously. Politicizing media is what SJWs do—why am I stooping to their level? Treating media this way just polarizes people and encourages them to treat even benign things as ideological hills to die on. I’m reading too much into it and making conservatives look bad.

One commenter complains—

but I watched the movie twice, the second time with an open eye for the political content, and I didn’t see one bit about how it was politicized.

—which seems to me rather like a fish saying it tested that pond twice, the second time with an open eye for wetness, and didn’t see one bit how it was wet.

Although movies are fiction, they still convey ideas and messages that mean something. And this is true even when the filmmaker himself doesn’t consciously intend to convey a particular message. For example, even if Patty Jenkins hadn’t intended Wonder Woman to convey the message that anything men can do, women can do better (and in heels), it would nonetheless have conveyed that message—along with many more that flow from it, such as that women should be celebrated in combat and leadership roles.

It is our role as viewers to discerningly interpret what messages are being conveyed.

In other words, this is fundamentally a question of exegesis.

That being so, the fact that leftist commentators and reviewers are noting the clear messages in The Last Jedi—for instance, “Who run the worlds? Girls” [ Rosie Fletcher, How Star Wars: The Last Jedi is the first truly feminist Star Wars film in Digital Spy (December, 2017).] —really puts the lie to the naïve denial that any such messages exist. If Hollywood were populated by level-headed political moderates, we could plausibly say that the liberal commentators were just projecting their own political predilections onto the movie. Ideological eisegesis. We could debate how much the movie really conveys those messages, and what other messages it might have intended instead.

But the opposite is true: Hollywood is populated by leftist ideologues, and so when commentators who are also leftist ideologues note the obvious messages in the movie, it behooves us to pay attention. Sound exegesis starts by asking, “What would this mean to the author and his audience?” And leftist ideologues understand the author, because they are his audience.

Conservatives pooh-poohing and saying that this all reads too much into it—that is the true eisegesis.

Conservative responses of this kind remind me of when leftists just can’t believe that jihadists really want to destroy Western civilization. It’s a head-in-the-sand mentality. “Well I’m not like that, so I can’t believe anyone is. I’m sure they just don’t understand us. I’ll show them how much I admire Islam and then they will like me.” It fundamentally misunderstands the nature of man’s heart, and the selectivity of God’s grace—and betrays a woeful theory of mind.

But more than that, in the case of feminism, it indicates the extent to which many conservatives have already become collaborators in the culture wars. Their egos are heavily invested in feminine tropes and ways of thinking; in proving to everyone that they are the kind of men which women say they approve of. Some are more overt, actively seeking feminine approval for their shaming of those who point out the obvious; others are more confused, often seeing the problem but misplacing the blame onto men.

Either way, however, they are so inured to the primacy of feminine directives in society that they have lost most of their awareness of them. Supplicants, sacrificing their masculinity on the altar of femininity—in the dark.

 12 comments

CRD

Asherah worship remains alive and well, and the zealous Jezebels still have primacy over the flaccid Ahabs.

David

“Their egos are heavily invested in feminine tropes and ways of thinking; in proving to everyone that they are the kind of men which women say they approve of.”

This isn’t accidental. This is in many respects the foundation of male identity. We strive and achieve so as to prove ourselves worthy–worthy to be mates. We’re not even considered “real men” until we’ve proved ourselves. Specifically, proved ourselves to women. This is why teen boys act the fool so as to impress the girls. This is why there exists the idea that having sex is to become a “real man,” an actual member of your gender (which you were not before). What’s the ultimate, most visceral way a woman can approve of a man? Sex. (Incidentally, this is one of the reasons why women are subsequently criticized for promiscuity. The man’s role is to prove himself, and the more sex he has, the more he’s proven himself. A woman’s role is to be the approver. The more sex she has, the cheaper her approval becomes. Note: while I think it’s true that this operates at the instinctive level and informs our actual society, it’s also wrong and un-Godly.)

Feminism was always going to find a foothold with men. It’s in our very nature to seek the approval of women. This certainly influences many male viewer’s read of TLJ.

CRD

Adam had that same problem with Eve, it would seem. It led to some other problems.

Dominic Bnonn Tennant

David, thanks for commenting. Although your observations are insightful in terms of our current society, I actually disagree fundamentally with your reading of the causality here. Men seeking the approval of women is the result of the feminist inversion of gender roles, rather than the cause.

It is certainly true that men are designed to elevate women, and that this tendency is easily subverted into pedestalizing them, metastasizing into what Tomassi calls ONEitis. This is one reason feminism has been able to be successful. But in terms of the sexes qualifying each other, the stronger impulse actually goes the other way: it is women who instinctively seek the approval and comfort of men. This has only become obscured because women now have so much affirmation and security sans men that these instincts have been warped to the point of a split between the so-called short-term mating and long-term security strategies. Open hypergamy, in other words. Nonetheless, the basic instinct for a man of higher value is always a woman’s chief intersexual motivator. He doesn’t get that value by qualifying for her approval; he has that value for her to seek out and try to win him.

In other words, God designed men to be the prize, not women. He made Adam first, and Eve for him—not vice versa. This is the fundamental inversion of feminism, and unfortunately it’s one that even many anti-feminists have become inured to, which is why the response to feminism in the church is so confused and ineffective.

Both the Bible and what we might call “natural” societies (i.e., generally patriarchal ones) put the lie to the idea that men being approved by women is the natural order of things, rather than a result of feminist twisting. In natural societies, men do not become men through the approval of women; precisely the opposite is true: they become men through rituals designed by men for proving themselves to men.

Obviously there are nuances and caveats to be added here, but I don’t want to look like I’m demanding a long-winded exchange over your thoughtful comment. Just some food for thought.

Dominic Bnonn Tennant

CRD: I don’t think Adam’s mistake was seeking Eve’s approval, exactly. Indeed, something of the opposite dynamic was in play: Eve ate first—her sin being persuaded that she was missing out on something, and that she was justified in taking it because she deserved it—and then sought Adam’s approval by giving him the fruit.

Adam’s sin was subtly different: he deferred to Eve over God. His sin was not actually seeking her approval, but giving her his when she was in the wrong. And this is the overweening sin of men in response to feminism—especially men in God’s assembly. Women want what they shouldn’t have, and men refuse to say no because it upsets women further.

Ironically, this ends up making both parties more and more unhappy. Women are most happy with men who are rocks against their desires, and men are most happy with women who can rely on them to be rocks. Unfortunately, men in the assembly today are mostly shifting sand, and women are like waves tossed to and fro by every wind of discontentment.

David

I appreciate the response. Like you say, there’s a lot of nuance and caveats we have to overlook to be able to even discuss a topic like this.

I’ll try and summarize my response in a few brief thoughts.

I don’t think it’s quite right to say women have ever competed for men. So long as men have had the active role, the pursuing role, it is men who compete for women. A man’s status is what garners him the approval of a woman–a woman for which he must then compete. Indeed, the nature of his competing for her approval is by making himself into someone with status.

We could argue that both genders compete for the other–men by seeking power and pursing, women by making themselves beautiful. But I’d argue it’s more accurate to say men compete for the approval of beautiful women, while women compete to have the most powerful men compete over them.

This is all based on age-old survival needs. Our species needed fertile (i.e., physically beautiful) women to have lots of babies, and those women needed powerful men to protect and provide for them while they gave birth and nursed.

All of this is, of course, an inversion of God’s original intentions. It sucks, in other words.

CRD

“Adam’s sin was subtly different: he deferred to Eve over God. His sin was not actually seeking her approval, but giving her his when she was in the wrong.”

I think this is plausible, however it seems at least as plausible to conclude that Adam gave Eve his approval/acquiesence and partook in her sin because he loved the praise of man (woman in this instance) more than the praise that comes from God. Classic (sinful) fear of man.

Obviously we can’t know Adam’s mind, but I still think his deferral to Eve arguably might have been him simply seeking her approval.

Dominic Bnonn Tennant

Hey David, I certainly agree that men compete with men for women, and women compete with women for men (if you doubt that women compete, you need to get out to a nightclub or something, purely for scientific purposes!) I also agree that there is a qualifying process that goes both ways—it isn’t purely men approving women, of course.

That said, I’m convinced that the almost desperate compulsion to earn a woman’s favor is a product of a perverted power dynamic between men and women, rather than a natural inclination for men. It is fully normalized in our society (viz. pop lyrics, romcoms, “Christian” movies like Fireproof etc), and I think you are somewhat presupposing it in your own argument—but you just don’t see this compulsion in the few truly masculine men who still exist. And to my knowledge, you don’t really see anything like it in the broader cultural history of the world either—it appears to be a unique innovation derived from the distortion of western chivalry codes, combined now with the sexual revolution. When we look at the dynamic between men and women in other societies, there are certainly still examples of men seeking women’s approval, but it is far more attenuated. Men’s sense of self-worth is not derived from the opinion of women (let alone one woman); they have an internal locus of control/point of origin, combined with a place in the larger honor hierarchy of other men. This is obvious in biblical examples like Ruth approving Boaz (although really it was Naomi), where it is still Boaz who is in overall control of the situation; and Rebekah approving Isaac, where Isaac has an expectation that she will come, but still has a contingency in place if her desire is to stay with her family. The overall locus of control is with him, and with her family, and while she has the power of veto because it’s her life, she nonetheless defers. This is par for the course in most societies; even if you look at stories of working-class men in pre-feminist America, their focus is on the approval of other men rather than of their wives. The kind of pathological intersexual dynamics we see today are not minor distortions of a natural order; they are complete inversions derived from radical individualism (= loss of social responsibilities and structures that anchor men while limiting women’s hypergamy) in combination with a radical feminization (= reversal of the power of sexual selection plus a loss of understanding among men of what women actually find arousing) and the commensurate continuation of men’s radical sex drives (= a desperation over lack of access to sex). No wonder western men default to doing whatever will please a woman.

There are also plenty of counterexamples in Scripture to the idea that women’s approval is required for successful intersexual dynamics. Eve didn’t need to approve of Adam; she was made for him and he approved her (“surely this is flesh from my flesh,” etc). In the same way, Jacob approved Rachel; he certainly sought her, but her approval wasn’t at issue—the matter was decided by her father. And in the ultimate paradigm to which marriage itself points, Jesus does not seek the approval of his bride, the assembly; rather, he buys us and makes us his while we are still his enemies. (Of course, if you’re not a monergist, that’s going to affect your theology of gender too…)

This brings us to my disagreement with CRD—I don’t think Adam’s psychology is hard to interpret per se. I think what is hard is interpreting it without implicitly making him a modern, feminine-deferring, approval-seeking, external-locus-of-control man. To read the fall as Adam seeking Eve’s approval rather than his wanting to approve her is simply to misread the default intergender dynamic, and misplace his natural locus of control.

CRD

“This brings us to my disagreement with CRD—I don’t think Adam’s psychology is hard to interpret per se. I think what is hard is interpreting it without implicitly making him a modern, feminine-deferring, approval-seeking, external-locus-of-control man. To read the fall as Adam seeking Eve’s approval rather than his wanting to approve her is simply to misread the default intergender dynamic, and misplace his natural locus of control.”

I’m willing to concede the possibility of deploying an anachronistic hermeneutic here, but I don’t see any particular reason to think this is the case either.

In my view it’s just as likely that you’re guilty of doing the same thing.

CRD

Was Abram being a “modern, feminine-deferring, approval-seeking, external-locus-of-control man” when he conceded to Sarai’s suggestion that he wed and bed Hagar?

Was Ahab a “modern, feminine-deferring, approval-seeking, external-locus-of-control man” when he submitted to Jezebel’s multiple trouser-wearing actions (e.g. slaughtering the Lord’s servants, conniving a murder-for-vineyard scheme)?

Not sure there isn’t a very ancient and deeply ingrained sinful pattern here that began with our federal head.

Dominic Bnonn Tennant

Hey CRD, don’t those examples demonstrate men approving of women’s bad ideas, rather than men seeking women’s approval? Seems like they fit my view much more naturally than yours.

Not that men can’t approve for the sake of reciprocal approval, of course. I’m not suggesting that never happens; I’m just trying to get the emphasis in the right place.

CRD

It’s hard to say what Abram and Ahab were thinking, but it’s clear that they weren’t influenced by modern feminist ideals.