Friday, January 20, 2017

A Review of “The Red Pill” Documentary by Cassie Jaye

Prior to viewing The Red Pill, which is, for those unaware, a documentary chronicling the journey of a woman named Cassie Jaye as she follows the Men’s Rights Movement (MRM) and explores the modern “war of the sexes,” I read several pre-existing reviews of the film by anti-Men’s Rights Movement sources, and by unaffiliated reviewers. After having watched it myself, I think that most of them, particularly those of the former category, missed the mark, and the point, intentional or otherwise.

At the outset, one important aspect to note regarding the substance of the documentary is that anyone who has observed the MRM for many years, as I have, and who is well-versed in men’s issues, isn’t likely to learn much new about either. It was no surprise to me that, after an opening biography of the director, Cassie Jaye, the following scenes were items that I had seen many times on the internet; demonstrations orchestrated by Men’s Rights Activist (MRA) groups, or against them, shouting contests between numerous individuals, and, especially, the obnoxious rantings of a feminist dubbed “Big Red,” who became somewhat (in)famous on the internet years ago for said rantings, and who seemed to have attended all of the aforementioned events shown, making it difficult for anyone else to get a word in edgewise.

Cassie Jaye purports in the film to be a former feminist, if not a radical one, and her own experience as an aspiring actress provides a few examples of why so many women are drawn to feminism in the first place. She then explains how she came across the AVoiceforMen (AVfM) website, a flagship of the MRM, while looking for information on the Steubenville High School rape case. Here, I could complain about how that happened in 2012, and much was written on it, and the story continued to garner attention on social media long after the mainstream media had moved on to other topics. But, looking back on this two-hour movie, it was probably merciful that she didn’t go into detail regarding what put her on the subject, and within the first five minutes, we are into the chief business of the documentary. Avoiding 20 minutes of background material kept me engaged in something which I didn’t expect to find all that interesting.

The format of the film throughout consisted largely of a series of interviews that Jaye conducted with about eight people. I say “about” because I can think of a few that are not in the show notes, which list eight by name. I will simply mention that those eight were interviewed at length, while a few others made short comments. Interspersed with these interviews were video diaries by Jaye, and videos depicting events being discussed, such as public gatherings of MRA or feminist groups, and the conflicts which arose as these groups came together with all the ease of oil and water.

Having seen such tempestuous situations in videos online dozens of times already over the last few years, I am glad that the excerpts were brief. Watching a feminist known today as “Big Red” using expletives dozens of times, expecting to convince adversaries or neutral parties of anything, would have put me to sleep. That collective footage, I surmise, was likely drawn from one MRA source or another, since it could only serve as an embarrassment to any feminist organization.

The structure of the film was more by subject than by interviewee. As in, while I suspect that Paul Elam, the founder of AVfM, was interviewed only once or twice (if more than once, as he never changed clothes), his comments were interspersed throughout the film as it progressed from one topic to another. Other people who received a fair amount of screen time were Warren Farrell (author of The Myth of Male Power and other books), Katherine Spillar (editor of Ms. Magazine and founder of the group Feminist Majority Foundation), Michael Kimmel (an American sociologist, specializing in gender studies at Stony Brook University), Fred Hayward (the founder and director of Men's Rights, Inc.), Marc Angelucci, Esq. (a practicing attorney involved in high-profile cases including paternity fraud and male victims of domestic violence), Harry Crouch (the president of the oldest organization for men, the National Coalition for Men [NCFM]), and so on.

Betwixt major segments of the film, there were scenes of Jaye driving along various interstates with road signs indicating locations such as “Los Angeles 35 miles.” A review of the film on a website entitled The Village Voice, which I read directly prior to watching the movie myself, had led me to expect to be put off by these transitional scenes (that review was more a rebuke of, and commentary on, the production quality of the documentary than the content itself). However, these transitions were not dead space in the production, since Jaye, in her own voice (as the narrator), employed them to set up the purposes of the next sections of the film. I have seen this sort of framing done poorly, but in this case, it was shot and used well. In fact, the production of the documentary, generally, was good. There was never a point at which I felt like opening other tabs while the film ran. Having expected to skip ahead at strategic times, I watched the entire documentary from start to finish.

To summarize my thoughts on the film: if, as I mentioned above, you are already familiar with men’s issues, this work will present little that you do not already know. For you, it will be more instrumental than instructive. It looks to be meant, at least in part, to persuade the uninitiated or even antagonistic to rethink conventional notions on men’s problems and place in the world, and in this regard, it has merit.

Yet, the film’s greatest strength and weakness is, I believe, the self-referential focus on Cassie Jaye. On the one hand, she presents the uninitiated or perhaps even antagonistic viewer a figure with whom to relate. On the other hand, the concentration on her experience, I would contend, limits its general appeal.

In other words, while Jaye’s journey might appeal significantly to those already engaged in sex issues discourse online, and indeed it has, her relative lack of eminence outside of that sphere may be more likely to leave those less involved wondering why they should care, if they bother at all. And, where it succeeds in introducing a number of men’s issues on a fundamental level, it falls short of providing much detail on any of them in great depth, in part due to its focus, again, on the story of its director’s journey.

All in all, The Red Pill will not likely be a culture-shifting juggernaut, but it may very well serve as a good starting point for pursuing further mainstream recognition of men’s issues.

I will refrain at this juncture from spoiling the review with Jaye’s conclusions at the end of the film, although they are probably somewhat predictable. What follows are my own final observations regarding the subject matter, with a few references to how the film covered them.

The West, and particularly the United States, has been through a number of years of “political correctness,” often enforced by people (typically those of left-leaning sociopolitical persuasions) called “Social Justice Warriors” by their opponents. The controversies which regularly motivate these individuals tend to involve feminist concepts, but also race, political affiliations, ethnicity, and religious beliefs. There are signs that we are in the middle of a backlash against the “SJW” and PC methods, if not their point of view in full, and The Red Pill represents a fair example of that. Except, the documentary does not go so far as a wholesale dismissal of feminism. Toward the end, Harry Crouch (NCFM) asks if we even need a Men's Rights Movement. Answering his own question, he states that what we require, instead, is “common sense.” But, he likewise adds that, if there is going to be a movement which only addresses women's issues, then we need something to counterbalance that. Finally, he says: “I hate to see either one of them. I think it’s a shame; it's destructive.”

If there is a better encapsulation of the film’s ultimate message, I can’t think of what it would be. Over and over in their answers, the people being interviewed throughout The Red Pill, possibly without realizing it in certain cases, provide examples of how the rights of women and men need not be in conflict at all. The “zero-sum game” which myriad activists prefer to present may, in reality, have more to do with their needs to raise funds than with any genuine efforts to solve problems. Playing on people's emotions of fear, anger, or pity is an efficient way to separate folk from their money, and most activists know this. What many don’t appear to know is that government funds for women’s shelters needn’t result in less funding for men any more than we ought to only have hospitals which solely serve either women or men.

The other factor that receives mention only briefly in the film is that conditions for women have vastly improved as the new century opens. It is not the “70’s” anymore. Women are outpacing men in educational institutions and elsewhere, and not merely in fields with few job prospects, such as “women’s studies.” While women’s groups are famous for contending that whatever helps women automatically helps men, there seems to be little in the way of serious proposals from these groups regarding how to attract more boys to pursue college, despite the fact that boys are increasingly falling behind in education at the lower and higher levels as girls advance, and the system persists in catering more and more to the learning needs of female students. This is one of the perils risked with single-issue groups: they frequently have a blind spot for recognizing “mission accomplished” conditions and altering their priorities to match.

The majority of the public might still be ignorant of the sexed conflict which pits women’s and men’s groups so viciously against one another at times, and with any fortune, as conditions continue to improve and inequities dissolve, these groups can fade away, and the public at large can remain ignorant of them as the emphasis is placed on improving the human condition holistically.

Author: Krista Milburn [@Femitheist]
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NOTE II: My review has been moved here because Trigger Warning is down.