Mens Voices, Men as Allies
Make It Hurt: The Man in the Padded Suit, Self-Defense Courses, and The Mark of Kri
by Pat McGann, Communications Director of Men Can Stop Rape.
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A year or two ago my partner, Abby, taped an episode of "Buffy, the Vampire Slayer" for her university class on gendered bodies to study the commercials aired. There were three, all appearing at the end of the show, that particularly stood out, and with Abby's permission I want to write about her use of one of those in the class: A commercial for the video game, The Mark of Kri.
A recounting: The viewer is quickly placed in the context of a self-defense class, most easily recognizable by the man in the padded protective suit surrounded by five women and two men, all of them dressed in T-shirts and shorts or sweats. The scene develops differently, though, than we might expect. Rather than learning any defense techniques, the participants simply practice assertiveness training by beating up on the man in the suit, the instructor yelling, "Make it hurt!" An older Asian woman yells, "I am not a victim!" and smacks him in the stomach, one of the male participants knees him just above the groin, and a woman kicks just below one of his knees, loud punching sounds accompanying each act. Clearly, he is being pummeled, a dazed look on his face. And just as clearly, the commercial has transformed teaching self-defense into a gang assault.
Another transformation occurs: The man in the suit, after being felled, begins to rise, the camera zooming in on his determined facial expression just before he turns around to face all of his attackers, his back to the viewer. As he does so, an orange-red ray of light emerges from his mid-section, spraying over each of the participants, some with symbols over their heads now a triangle, a circle, and X. We now have entered a space where the boundaries between the human and video worlds begin to dissipate.
Suddenly we find ourselves morphed into a setting completely transcribed by the world of animation, the placement of the characters the only link back to the human world. The primary character a bestial-looking creature has his back to us and faces his opponents, who are positioned in ways that mirror the self-defense course participants. They have the same symbols over their heads a triangle, a circle, and X and similar to the man in the padded suit, an orange-red ray of light emerges from the mid-section of the creature when we first see him from behind. All of the opponents hold swords, and without hesitation attack the primary character, who begins to fight back, the sounds of metal clashing. Shortly thereafter, we hear, "The Mark of Kri." The setting changes once again to a different main character and different opponents, but the sword fighting continues, and we hear, "Mark your opponents. Then own them."
In the final scene, viewers are placed back in the world of the self-defense class, although the scene has dramatically changed. Now the man in the padded suit stands facing us as the conqueror, class participants sprawled at his feet either unconscious or writhing in pain. One woman attempts to subdue him from behind but, without turning around, he swings his fist upward smashing her in the face and she crumples to the floor. "Live in your world. Play in ours," appears on the screen.
When Abby played the commercial in her class a first-year composition course the young men's and women's responses predictably differed. The majority of the females were appalled, while many of the males found the commercial funny especially the man in the padded suit, who in their view, was a stupid dork, a comic version of manhood, who takes great satisfaction in overpowering opponents hardly worthy of a real man's notice. The true fighting takes place in the animated and electronic world of the video game.
I want to frame my interpretation of the students' responses within the slogan appearing at the end of the commercial: "Live in your world. Play in ours." These two sentences suggest clear boundaries between worlds, as though there are no intersections and no blurring clearly an oversimplification. The commercial associates the video game world with play and the world of self-defense with reality yet, as I have already suggested, self-defense in the commercial is shaped through the lens of traditional masculinity and not by the traditional goals and outcomes of a self-defense course. In that sense, the video game world a hyper masculine space has merged into the supposedly real world, dominating how the man in the padded suit, the teacher, and the students interact. This merging ultimately distances men from the world of sexual violence, which explains why the young men in Abby's course were baffled at the young women's expression of anger.
To the young men's credit, though, many of them stayed after class to talk with Abby not to argue about the commercial but to try and understand the response of their female classmates. I'm assuming that in some sense they recognized the potential dangers of the limited perspective presented by the commercial and were willing to leave at least momentarily the familiar world of traditional masculinity to try and enter an unfamiliar world. Undoubtedly, they slipped back into the familiar, but its the repeated excursions into the unknown that transform our known worlds. If as men we learn to value such excursions, a better slogan for us than the commercial's might be, "Enter other worlds. Transform your own."
Written by Pat McGann. Pat McGann is the Communications Director of Men Can Stop Rape.
Provided by: Men Can Stop Rape
Men Can Stop Rape mobilizes male youth to prevent men's violence against women. We build young men's capacity to challenge harmful aspects of traditional masculinity, to value alternative visions of male strength, and to embrace their vital role as allies with women and girls in fostering healthy relationships and gender equity.
Visit Men Can Stop Rape at www.mencanstoprape.org
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