Thursday, September 22, 2016

Hancock: Mary Part Deux

So Hancock the movie spends the first hour establishing how systemic racism (primarily through class signals, and not explicit antipathy towards blackness) degrades black men who become depicted as angry and slovenly and thus not worthwhile members of society, even when they have so much to contribute.

Having done that, Peter Berg goes for the hat trick by applying the same lens to feminism and intersectionality too. It's so great.

A convincing feminist argument is not one that conveys to someone who's already feminist "yup I agree with this", but one that can demonstrate to someone who's not already on board what's difficult about life as a woman in modern America and how they can help fix it. Mary does that in about 20 minutes of screen time in her second mask - that of a parallel to Hancock's black-malehood-as superhero.

She goes immediately from being the helpful housewife, to someone who is angry, violent, and dressed to kill. She goes on at length about the long history she's had with Hancock and how it's ruined her life, holding him responsible for things he knows nothing about, expecting him to follow her train of thought. It's not productive and it leaves both us and Hancock mystified.

MARY: It always end the same way Persia, Greece, Brooklyn.

HANCOCK: Brooklyn? I’ve never been to Brooklyn.
MARY: I have put up with your bullshit for the last 3000 years and I’m done.
HANCOCK: I don’t know what you are talking about?
MARY: Done! You Listening?
HANCOCK: I don’t know what you are talking about!
MARY: I am happy, okay, finally I’m happy! You are not going to mess it up.
HANCOCK: Look at me… I don’t know what you are talking about? I hate to burst your little crazy lady bubble but it must not have been all that great ‘cause I don’t remember you. 
MARY: Call me crazy…. one more time.

HANCOCK: Coo coo!

And then she hits him with a truck! It's so great. We've seen this interaction three times before from Hancock's side, and now the film is explicitly telling us that the same dynamic has plagued women, just with a different twist.

Just imagine what Mary's life must have been like. When Hancock shows his powers, people are afraid of him and demean him. When Mary tried to tell people about hers ("my husband just got mugged by these men who attacked us for no reason and he's losing his superpowers") people must have dismissed her as crazy, denied her, and refused to help her. Hell she probably got the Sarah Connor treatment. After enough times of this, she just gave up. She started living a normal life as a normal human who pretended she was weak and would never bend steel bars, and when no one's looking, she'd sneak out and save the world from the Cuban missile crisis. 

The morning after we see her reveal, she asks Ray to open a jar of sauce for her because "you're so strong," and we know all about the double life she's forced herself to lead. It's more comfortable than Hancock's abnegation, but it's still a mental prison.


It's important to remember that the movie isn't saying assholish and crazy behavior do not exist. Hancock does act like an asshole. Mary's rant to Hancock does (to him and us) sound absolutely crazy. The core lesson of this movie is that it is wrong to call people those terms anyway because they dehumanize the target.


To return to discussions of intentionality in art. I think it's likely that director Peter Berg thought about and purposefully included most of the elements we are discussing here. He's done a lot of very class conscious work (most notably Friday Night Lights, which you should watch.)

But even if he didn't mean it, so what? What would the conversation have been like that led to this scene?

HOLLYWOOD DOUCHEBRO 1: Okay, so he's arguing with Mary, what if we took that same funny interaction where he says "Call me asshole. One more time" and then kicks their ass, but now she gets to say it.
HOLLYWOOD DOUCHEBRO 2: That's great that's great, but is she even an asshole? Would he call her that?
HD1: Right. Well let's just call her crazy instead.
HD2: Oh yeah! And you gotta really sell it. Make the whole scene a "Brittany Spears breaking down in the streets of Santa Monica" type feel.
HD1: Brilliant. Aren't women and black people hilarious. What next? I'm thinking brewskies.

Now oops, you've stumbled upon important elements of how the power structure views minorities. It's still good art, worth analyzing why it made sense to these random douchebros. Which is to say, everyone knows about how our society oppresses people, and good art helps express that directly.

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