Fallow Heart: The Male Gaze for Daze and Days

How I stopped thinking and chose to just finally wrap this piece up

I’ve kept myself fairly busy this week in the development of a brand spankin’ new and no foolin’, genuinely troubling character flaw: I’m now the guy that randomly yelps the word “EROTIC!”, prompting all those within the immediate vicinity to defensively reach for their crotches, wallets and/or the hands of their loved ones. Whether at the bittersweet tapering of what had earlier been an enjoyable soiree, during the dreadful hush that falls across the assembly as the mohalim is fastened upon the ‘guest of honor’ at a bris, over the stifled moans of the bereaved at a candlelight vigil, within that tense sliver of silence as the DJ’s attention momentarily wanders at a sweet 16 gala or emanating from the musty crawlspace directly behind your office, you can just never be entirely sure when I’ll… wait…wait… “EROTIC!” Ah. There I go.

“Mr. Johnson, I regret to inform you that your wife’s wake has officially been… eroticized!” [cue the balloon drop]

My theory is: people are seriously going to dislike this novel development in their day-to-day but there’s only one way to know for sure and that’s testing, testing and more testing. And who knows? EROTIC! could well prove to be the next “Did I do that?” or even, “Ayuda, Policia, Porfavor; Madre de Dios!”

What exactly inspired this brave advancement in social science? Could I possibly pin the blame on Opeth given my complaints RE: their disappointing pandering to male fantasy in their videos as referenced in my previous post? I certainly have no idea. After all, I’m just a dumb, sexy bro with little to no actual agency (here, the author bites his lip coquettishly and winks). EROTIC!

That said, I was inspired by the aforementioned subject to do a bit of metal-video spelunking in context with the notion of “male gaze” in film. The concept itself’s relatively simple but can be bizarrely slippery when considered from the masculine  perspective; my theory? We’re all to some degree oppressed by the physical form that we currently occupy, but I choose not to really address that concern within the gunwales of this work. Janice Loreck of Monash University describes the concept this way: “[while] the male gaze takes many forms, [it] can be identified by situations where female characters are controlled by, and mostly exist in terms of what they represent to the [male] hero.”

Consider Rhapsody of Fire’s long-form, five-minute-plus skid on a banana peel, “Rain of a Thousand Flames,” video as an example. The tepid allusion to a narrative here’s clearly oriented around a ‘Morgan le Fay’ type fatale who slinks around topless, casting spells, murdering extras and just generally fucking shit up for our heroesi.e. the band. In this particular joint, the antagonist isn’t controlled by anyone per se, (least of all by a blouse, snap!) but she’s provided with zero motivation or rationale for her animus or even her existence. Her function is merely to arouse the viewer, (one can imagine the CEO’s at Kleenex©️ clapping each other on the back and passing out cigars,) and to incite the ‘good guys’ into action, (which is mostly shredding and silently screaming the word ‘No!!!’ towards the indifferent heavens,) after which she can be quickly disposed of without a backwards glance.

1950s film director Budd Boetticher once said, “What counts is what the heroine provokes, [emphasis mine] or rather, what she represents. She is the one, or rather the love or fear she inspires in the hero…who makes him act the way he does. In herself, the woman has not the slightest importance.”

Through the optics framed by Boetticher’s statement it becomes difficult not to see most women on screen as much of anything other than devices or mechanisms to spur a narrative along. But why should such obvious social and ethical miscarriages fester in plain view without the outrage or at least, the general accession of the public? Well, consider again the source material for the imagery used in the video above. In Medieval legend, women were largely either wickedly crafty or were otherwise treasured contrivances manufactured to be inspired by and then to be stowed away for safekeeping, (in a tower stronghold or a foresaken stripe of wilderness or-fuck it- in the back of a drawer, ‘cause who cares?)

In the Rhapsody of Fire vid, they show us both iterations via a ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ damsel in distress motif. If you’ve watched the piece, you’ll know precisely what I’m referencing here but just in case you haven’t, picture a beatific female figure—for some inscrutable reason swaddled in white gauze—eyes closed and entirely immobile. Our antagonist looms over her suggestively for a moment—Kleenex©️, stat!—before murdering her. The female antagonist? She’s oh-so-terribly effective in the pursuit of her ill-defined desires and plus she’s now offed our super-serviceable, chaste woman who hadn’t even yet breached her ‘sell by’ date. She must be violently marshaled, you know, through the power of Metal. By comparison, our dearly departed feminine ideal had zero goals. She was granted no character traits other than ‘really sleepy’ and then mmmbob! she was jettisoned from living memory with her purpose duly served. Huh, I kinda miss that window-dressing/lady. Jeez, that sorceress gal is a real bitch, am I right, guys?  

“Does my sexiness upset you? Does it come as a surprise/ that I dance like I’ve got diamonds/ at the meeting of my thighs?”

-Mayou Angelou (presumably right before being brought down by a swarm of federal agents.)

The shallowness and conspicuous abuse woven into this age-old potboiler’s been sufficiently driven below the threshold of our consciousness by way of generational retelling. The stories themselves can operate in an entirely supraliminal fashion while maintaining a subliminal coda within our respective societies through sheer repe…wait.. Oh dear God, no; not now please… I beg you… oh, no… EEEEROTIC!!!…  Damn. Terrible, terrible timing I’ll admit, but I fear that I’m no longer in the driver’s seat on this one, ladies and gentlemen. Erotic! has the damnable wheel now and may God have mercy on us all.

Anyway, when mentioning the sturdiness of this narrative to a friend—who, given the topic, preferred to remain nameless for fear of attracting some degree of online bile her way [a potential sequence of events which is, in and of itself, buck wild when you stop to think about it]—she laughed and said, “You think this narrative’s existed since Arthurian times? Hah! Try Adam, Eve and Lilith, bitch!”

And while my long-suffering pal refused to watch more than a minute of the aforementioned video owing to the sheer acrimony it raked up within her, she did consent to imbibe all of Alestorm’s “Drink” masterstroke.

This video serves as the perfect counterpoint to Rhapsody of Fire’s in respect to the topic of male gaze. We’ve thus far considered an aspect of the concept that accented the quality of male fear re: feminine self-determination. In contrast, Alestorm provide the depiction of women as commodities mindlessly awaiting masculine direction.

Let’s saunter through the scenario together—EROTIC! (Ignore that one, folks, I beg you.) We see a smallish assemblage of young women, I presume at a conservatory, wearing concealing, mid-nineteenth century dress at dinner. They’re demure, remote and entirely joyless. If you’re already bored, don’t worry, I agree. It’s an unacceptable scenario and mos def, not erotic. If only an armed gang of crusty ol’ alcoholics would threaten them at gunpoint to, you know, live a little! It’s fun! I mean, it’s actually terrorism if you boil it down but nobody gets hurt here… [cough] because the women do as they’re told… Otherwise, it likely would have turned into a stomach churning bloodbath as opposed to a cheerful lil’ escapade.

My buddy offers her perspective, “[this isn’t] the most egregious [offending allegory] by a long shot, but it has a couple of tropes that really drives me crazy: women’s terror as a comedic prop and the male fantasy that a thing, whatever that ‘thing’ might be, forced onto a woman will somehow unleash something that is pleasurable. Also the role piety and virtue play in [the narrative]. They only serve to make the women’s ‘deflowering’ more exciting. It doesn’t make any sense with the content. Why would you go to a religious home to steal copious amounts of booze? It is literally just the idea of “unleashing” something carnal in these women, but it very obviously began with the women showing fear. … it’s clear that the idea of [the women’s] fear is a central part of the [the men’s] gratification. I’m so fucking tired of fear being treated this way.”

Fear as a catalyst for lust or gratification wasn’t something I’d considered in this context but it makes sense. Fear is the lever for submission within any feeling creature whereas control over our environment and its relative largess is something that we tend to desperately crave from the time we exodus the womb. Which reminds me: thanks, ladies for breathing us all into being; you’ve done humanity a real solid. Nice one. Well… I guess it’s back to the proverbial mines objectifying you guys. Here’s hoping all those dumb mother’s day cards placate you for another year and don’t forget: we prefer the crust cut off our PB&J’s, for Christ’s sake.

What were we talking about? Ah, yes! The satirical threat of sexual violence. I haven’t watched the “Drink” video even once without getting a bit nervous about where the story was going. Could the band or the director simply been unaware of the allusion to rape that they were making?

“That’s the joke,” assures my friend. “It’s played for laughs.” And the laughter may very well ensue. Why not? The women here are forced to yield all of their house’s alcohol (damn, that is fucking nonsensical) at ‘the point of a gun.’ But it all works out. The men get exactly what they demand and the women in the scenario find that what they really wanted all along was… well, what the heroes in this narrative insisted upon already so it’s pretty damned user-friendly. Take your clothes off and drink, stupid! You’re so dang stuffy. Loosen up or I might fucking murder you in front of your equally powerless friends. EROTIC! (We are of course aware that alcohol tends to play a pivotal role in most acts of rape and sexual abuse but Alestorm are just funnin’ so everybody keep their mouths shut because it feels icky to overturn the stone that paves this awful, slipshod narrative.) That narrative, BTdubs, maintains that our mothers, sisters, daughters, nieces, trusted friends, lovers, service people, military personnel and so on are unworthy of their own individual aspirations and identities. So fellas, guard the holy narrative around the women in your lives. Guard your image of those women as if some patchouli transuding rando had just emerged from the shadows just behind their bar stool and joyfully shrieked the word ‘EROTIC!’ because that could happen at any moment. Worship your personal image of the women in your life and clutch that image really, really tightly. Maintain an ideal for your women, write songs for them and even, (but only if they’re like, super stubborn,) fucking slaughter them but remember that control and buoyancy of the narrative remains your primary objective. Eyes fixed always just beyond the women themselves and onto the narrative that you’ve been carefully fed.

Of course, oftentimes, men are led to believe that they’re behaving righteously but have been merely hypnotized by a stubborn, antediluvian flame which offers a kind of rationale or perhaps a diagnosis regarding their daily annoyances. Ultimately, the aims of women as depicted by the flame are nothing more than an alarming, errant spark or else they’re simply the refuse of the machination itself. The bonfire is the point of worship damnit; look no further! Those chancy sparks are to be quickly stamped out and the ash is merely the flame’s byproduct waiting to be swept away as a nuisance.

The Hawkeye Initiative is a super insightful Tumblr which tackles ‘the gaze’ through the lens of comic book culture. In the words of contributing artist Bridget Ayres, “If you can’t put Hawkeye (or another male superhero) in the place of a heroine’s pose/costume without it looking straight up ridiculous, it’s probably sexist.” Pretty straightforward, but upon scrolling through the imagery, the contrast depicted is yanked upward into the relief of positively baffling foolishness. How have we allowed these disparate plates to wander so far afield? We’ve been traversing wildly broken ground for so damn long now, our gaits themselves must be semi-permanently warped.

Ultimately, I’m suggesting that you begin scouring the content of the media you engage for their subtexts. If your concern’s about ceding your own power to another entity—in this particular case, I mean to women—don’t fret. You’ve agency aplenty even as your peers and loved ones share it with you equally. This old narrative that’s developed itself around a specific, finite power structure is like a sort of mass internal parasite that’s been cheerfully gnawing away at all of us. It’s not real, it’s not real, it’s not real or, at least, it doesn’t have to be, I promise. The parasite desperately requires us to believe in its actuality but you, and I’m specifically addressing my male readers here because God knows they don’t get enough attention, are far better than that. Unlash yourself from the goddamned mast. In doing so, you’re tipping the earth a bit further rightward on its axis. You lose zero power here; you only come to know yourself and your true wherewithal more intimately. Be brave and let go of the bannister for just a sec (and then, let go forever and ever). Your limitless potential awaits. Amends to our sisters is made first and foremost by way of our own liberation from the tropes that were contrived at the blind ignition of this stupid, dimensionless story. This weathered plot we’ve devised is incredibly tired. It’s time to collaborate on another one together. No more of this scenario:

“The Irritating Gentleman”

—Berthold Woltze

I invite your derision on Instagram: @Fallow.heart