"You're one ugly motherfucker", Action Films, Arnold Swarzenegger, Bechdel Test, Bill Duke, Carl Weathers, Catharsis, Commando, Conan the Barbarian, Film, film review, Homo-Social Relationships, Homoeroticism, Jane Tompkins, Jesse Ventura, John McTernan, labia majora, labia minora, Little Richards, masculinity, phallus worship, Predator, Sexual Tyrannosaurus, Terminator, Vagina, vaginal imagery, West of Everything-The Inner Life of Westerns, Westerns
Are you a Sexual Tyrannosaurus?
Most likely no, but still that would be one hell of a title for a novel wouldn’t it? I’m tempted to write it just to see how it would sell based on the title alone. The phrase comes from the eighties, specifically the film Predator by John McTernan who is largely forgotten because his film created an entire science fiction mythology, not to mentioned balanced an almost entirely male cast whose collected metabolism could keep the Western hemisphere lighted for the next ten years. In fact McTernan’s name isn’t even on the cover of the DVD copy I own. The only name on the cover is Scwarzenegger in bold white IMPACT font above the red title.
The reason for this significance is simple. In the eighties, Scwarzenegger was the balls. It wasn’t enough that he was the balls, he was the balls that everyone wanted. Big balls too if you…alright I tried being clever here and it isn’t working, it’s just creeping me out, and I already have enough problems with getting people trying to look for dicks and finding me instead. The point is in the eighties Scwarzenegger became a colossal force in cinema for the action films he did including Terminator, Conan the Barbarian, and Commando (a movie that I’m positive is about nothing but gay sex but that’s for another essay). Scwarzenegger, despite his thick Austrian accent that your brother thinks he can do after he’s had three cocktails and he promised he’d stay clean for your son’s birthday party, became an icon for American capitalism and everything the West stood for. Though it may also have had something to do with his body.
Speaking of bodies the movie Predator if full of them. The cast list reads either like the next Expendables film or else the line-up of congressman from Minnesota. Alongside Scwarzenegger are men like Carl Wathers (Apollo from Rocky), Jesse Ventura (who inspired the title of this essay), Sonny Landham, Bill Duke (also in Commando and then nothing else apparently), Shane Black, and Richard Chaves. Now it’s not enough that the cast is almost nothing but men, I’ll get to that later, trust me, it’s the fact that each of these men possess more muscle than currently exists in every Planet Fitness across the United States. If you don’t believe me the first meeting of Major Allen “Dutch” Schaefer and George Dillon is the two men laughing at meeting and having an arm wrestling match while standing. The camera holds the shot of two thick biceps, well-oiled with sweat, you see where I’m going with this, for a noticeable second. Oh did I mention that Dutch was smoking a cigar, because that was there too. In fact throughout the movie Dutch is smoking a cigar.
[Dutch is talking to the General]
Dutch: So why don’t you use the regular army? What do you need us for?
Dillon: ‘Cause some damn fool accused you of being the best.
[Dutch turns around and sees Dillon sitting in a chair in another room]
Dutch: Dillon! You son of a bitch!
[They arm wrestle in mid-air during a handshake, Dillon is apparently losing the contest]
Dutch: What’s the matter? The CIA got you pushing too many pencils? Huh? Had enough?
Dillon: Make it easy on yourself, Dutch.
[Dillon begins to lose further]
Dillon: OK, OK, OK!
Dutch: You never did know when to quit, huh?
Dillon: Damned good to see ya, Dutch.
Dutch: What is this fucking tie business?
Dillon: Aw, come on, forget about my tie, man.
The plot of the movie is simple, Dutch and his six-man team has been called in by the CIA to rescue a government official whose helicopter has gone down in Val Verde. Don’t ask me where Val Verde is. Maybe it’s where Oliver North sent all that Contra money from selling missiles to Iran. The men are sent in, but after only half an hour things begin to go wrong. They destroy a guerilla army camp only to discover Dillon has tricked them into performing an assassination mission for him. Leaving the camp in flames the men take a hostage. To note, it is the only woman actually in the film, thus ensuring a big fat “F” on the Bechdel test. While working their way to the lift-off point the girl, her name is Anna but you don’t really care because GUNS and MUSCLES and EXPLOSIONS and EIGHTIES!!!!!!!
Where was I?
Anyway Hawkins is killed by an invisible creature, a Predator if you will…yeah it was the eighties, did I mention that?, and Blain (Jesse Ventura) not long thereafter. The men quickly become aware that something is hunting them before one by one they’re picked off until Dutch is the only one left. The film builds up to a final confrontation between Dutch and the Predator marked by the memorable line, “You’re one ugly Motherucker” when the Predator finally takes off its mask. A fist fight ensures in which Dutch gets his ass kicked before finally killing the Predator with one of his pre-arranged trapped. Finally the film ends in a small atomic blast that doesn’t destroy the tree for some reason and Dutch makes it to the “Chop-uh.”
Despite the tone I’ve been using with up to this point, my reader may get the impression that I despise this movie, or else think it ridiculous. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. I love the movie Predator. I hate Commando but like I said, that’s for another essay. Despite this piss-poor summary, I haven’t done a well enough job of demonstrating the cinematic value of what is essentially and endless sea of homoerotic, homo-social phallic worship that demonstrates a fear of the Vagina. Allow me to rectify that immediately.
After Dutch and Dillion, two massive “D’s,” have finished their flex off, which is ultimately a demonstration of who possesses the greater physical power and therefore social significance, the men hop onto the “chop-uh” and begin their entrance into Val Verde. The scene is actually very well shot with Little Richard playing in the
background. If you don’t know who Little Richard is, he’s a homosexual African American singer from the 1950s noted for his flamboyant stage and off-stage persona. Also he may occasionally wear outlandish outfits.
On the “Chop-uh” ride Blain offers members of the squad tobacco to chew, and when no one takes the offer he has one of my favorite lines in the whole damn film:
Blain: Bunch of slack-jawed faggots around here. This stuff will make you a god damned sexual Tyrannosaurus, just like me.
If you can’t laugh at the brutal racism and obscene masculine hyperbole then I don’t have anything else for you. Blain’s character manifests throughout the film as the insane tough guy that every military regiment is “supposed” to have. The guy who is, in his own words, is the goddamned sexual tyrannosaurus who wants nothing else than to fight, fuck, and kill. Blain carries a minigun (an electric Gatling gun) and the spraying of bullets from the long black metal phallus is the stuff of legend.
It would be enough to argue that all of this masculine physicality as well as the use of fire arms, spewing forth fiery orgasms that rip and tear and penetrate into the flesh of enemies, is argument enough that there’s something very phallic going on in this film, but phallic worship is only one aspect of this film. It’s the way the phallic worship manifests into a deep homo-social context that gives this movie much of the appeal it does. From the very beginning the appeal of the movie is specifically designed to cater to heterosexual men who enjoy violence, explosions, and the unspoken bond that exists between men. Speaking as a guy myself I understand this culture, and the solace that is the single sex environment. As much as I love my lovely lady wife, there is a language and behavior pattern that can only exist between men. You’re more willing to let a sexist joke slide or a fart slip. The fart slipping eventually reminds someone of a huge crap they made the night before which gets people talking size. Size eventually leads to sex and of course you have to let slip every dick joke and compare over who’s girlfriend has the best ass (for the record its Tom, but everybody says Jerry because nobody wants to tell Tom yet that his wife is cheating on him, you really need to get on that). Guy time usually takes place either on a trip or a friends home specifically some space, sometimes referred to as the “Man Cave” and if there is one proper noun besides the word Kissinger that I despise most in this world it is this one. If there is one threat to this environment however it is the dreaded word that inspires both panic and lechery in the deepest soul of man: the vagina.
The other day I watched the first half hour and last half hour of Predator with my friend Kevin, and I thoroughly disturbed him when I noted that the entire movie about fear of the vagina. He suggested I was taking my interpretation too far, but I don’t believe I am. I made my earlier points about the muscles and guns being phalluses, but I also noted the intense, I believe the phrase is “Bro-mance” between Blain and Mac, the fact that the Predator “skins” its victims making them more susceptible to “penetration”, but my strongest argument is the Predator’s actual face.
It’s one of the most important scenes in the film, because up to this time the Predator has simply been a lizard monster with dreads that sheds green lube blood (look to the **Author’s note at the bottom and I’ll explain). However once it removes the mask its mandibles part and the creatures makes a roar at Scwarzenegger. I told my friend that there’s no question in my mind that the Predator’s face is supposed to mimic a human vagina. This created a violent rejection in the form of his shaking head in disbelief but I explained further. If you don’t know about the workings of a vagina you are either a man or that gynecologist who bluffed his way through medical school (you’re playing a dangerous game Carl). The human vagina is not altogether different from the penis for both swell during sexual excitement, however while the penis becomes engorged with blood and rises, the vagina possesses lips, the labia majora and minora, that swell and part allowing easier access to the vaginal entrance. The women readers are saying “so what, this is like fifth grade health all over again?” while the men are quite possibly wrenching or throwing their computer out the window. The images I’ve included here probably aren’t helping all that much either. The facial structure of the Predator, and the fact that he literally rips the backbone of its victims all seem to gather together to create the idea that men in the movie Predator are fighting a killer vagina monster.
You’re seeing it now aren’t you? Aren’t you.
Well so what, is the immediate objection. So who cares if the movie Predator is about men being afraid of vaginas? I thought this website was supposed to be about literature not dumb action films. Who cares about Predator?
In order to answer that question I have to tell a personal narrative. I have two semesters left in grad school before I graduate and then figure out what the hell I’m going to do for the rest of my life. I’m leaning towards Clown school because I’m told there’s money in being a clown, though I’ll probably keep this to myself and not mention it to my wife. Won’t she be surprised? Part of graduating however for people in my field is the GIS (Guided Individual Study) and then, hopefully, a thesis. Last spring I read Blood Meridian: Or, The Evening Redness in the West by Cormac McCarthy and so Westerns have been buzzing in my skull, particularly how Westerns are male dominated. In my research I’ve come across a wonderful book that deconstructs the genre. West of Everything: The Inner Life of Westerns by Jane Tompkins is an effort to understand the components of Westerns and reveal them as the antithesis and “answer” to the Sentimental novel that became popular during the early 1800s.
She says of them:
“For the Western is secular, materialist, and anti-feminist; it focuses on conflict in the public space, is obsessed by death, and worships the phallus. Notably, this kind of explanation does not try to account for the most salient fact about the Western—that it is a narrative of male violence—for, having been formed by the Western, that is what such explanations already take for granted” (28).
Now obviously there is the phallus connection, and action films (at least the ones made in the 1980s) can hardly be considered bastions of feminist sentiment. Tompkins goes to elaborate on this point,
“Westerns either push women out of the picture completely or assign them roles in which they exist only to serve the needs of me” (39-40).
In the film the only female character is Anna and she has two roles, the first is to help Dillon answer questions about the guerrillas the CIA is looking for, but later she the witness to how the Predator operates. Once she’s given them this information she fades back into the jungle as part of the scenery. And now it must be observed that the writer has produced almost no quotes in this essay. That is because there is little conversation that actually takes place in the film. When the men aren’t shooting or blowing shit up they’re usually not talking. Tompkins elaborates on that point as well and offers a possible reason for this:
“To speak is literally to open the body to penetration by opening an orifice, it is to mingle the body’s substance of what is outside it” (56).
Scwarzenegger watches the last man of his squad die before he lifts a machine guns and fires randomly into the jungle before he is shot with the Predator’s laser cannon. By literally opening his mouth and revealing his emotion he suffers a physical wound that “penetrates” him.
Hopefully by this point my effort here is clear. Action films like Predator came onto the scene in order to fill a vacuum that was created as the Western, made popular by Jimmy Stewart, John Wayne, and Kirk Douglass began to die away in the late 1970s. Working-Class men, needing space from women and responsibilities, trying to find solace with other men, have created a New Western in the form of the action movie. The reason films like Predator and Commando and The Expendables are terrible films yet still generate mass appeal is because they create a space in which men are able to explore their base impulses and creativity without fear of having to satisfy feminine or political sentiments. The action film is a space where thought is put aside and men can operate on impulse rather than contemplation or introspection. Tompkins explains this tendency when she says,
“I think it is no accident that men gravitated in imagination towards a womanless milieu, a set of rituals featuring physical combat and physical endurance” (44).
Despite the snide remarks I’ve made in this article I do love the movie Predator for all of the above described traits. The film may be vaginalphobic, and a metaphor for men’s desire to operate in a phallus-worshipping-all-male-intensely-homo-erotic-atmosphere, but it does provide solace for men who, after a long day at work may just want to
have a beer and watch something blow up. Catharsis is necessary for mental health, and working class men in our society, who are probably more likely to enjoy such films, are entitled to enjoy and flock to narratives that satisfy such aesthetic desires.
And speaking as a guy, occasionally you just need to hang out with the guys and share a dirty joke:
Hawkins: Billy. Billy! The other day, I was going down on my girlfriend, I said to her, “Jeez you got a big pussy. Jeez you got a big pussy.” She said, “Why did you say that twice?” I said, “I didn’t.”
[Billy stares blankly]
Hawkins: See, cuz of the echo.
[Billy pauses, thinks about it. Starts to laugh a deep laugh]
Finally, concerning the title: While I’m sure many aspire to be a Sexual Tyrannosaurus, remember the visual of that and your ambition might be checked by the cruel absurdity of such a reality.
If you scrolled down here, shame on you for not finishing the essay. Go on. Now I don’t feel like telling you…oh alright. The green blood that the Predator sheds in the film was actually made of the combination of the glowing fluid of light sticks and Astroglide, the personal lubricant used for sex.
Makes the argument all the more potent wouldn’t you say? If you said it made it more slick you’re disgusting and I’m totally stealing that joke.
Alright, I need to make sure people still understand this is a place for the Humanities discussion so here is a connection to literature. Are you happy now? I hope so because I am, this movie would be amazing. The lighting, the costumes, the music, Kiera Knightly, it would be everything you would ever want out of a film.