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Musicals For Macho, Macho Men…

A trend I’ve noticed appearing over the last few years is the none-too-subtle attempt to genre-shift movies away from the stereotypical audience demographics associated with those genres to other stereotypical audience demographics. I’m speaking of course of the trend to sell movie genres that have generally been associated as ‘chick fare’ to ‘manly men’. At the moment we have the news that a manly manly musical is being adapted to big screen by Hairspray helmer Adam Shankman – Rock of Ages will be a jukebox musical featuring artists like Journey or Twisted Sister and appears to be a blatant play for the middle age male audience.

Rock on, man...

Rock on, man...

In fairness, I’m not the one making sexist assumptions. To quote Adam Shankman himself:

I had the best time of my life making Hairspray and badly wanted another musical, and when I watched Rock of Ages, I was struck by the fact that not only had much of the audience seen it more than once, every guy in the audience knew the words to the songs.

It’s not the first attempt at a macho musical. Sweeney Todd and Repo! The Genetic Opera both rejoiced in bringing music to the screen amid huge amounts of gore and carnage (traditionally to food of the young male audience) and sticking a showtune on top of it. There have of course been similar attempts to masculinise the mainstream romantic comedy to varying degrees – the overt and forced bromance of I Love You, Man and the somewhat more subtle (it’s a relative term) rough and ready The Ugly Truth, which attempted to have an ‘edge and realistic’ male lead. Realistic, if all men were shallow perverts. There are already rumours of a union between Jane Austin (for the ladies) and flesh-craving zombies (for the fellas) in a movie adaptation of Pride & Prejudice & Zombies.

I don’t think any of the above examples could be considered unqualified successes. Looking at the idea of macho-ing up conventionally female fare, I can’t help but feel there’s something a little sexist in the assumption that only women go to musicals or romantic comedies or that these movies can simply to add gore or violence or rock music and you’ll add an entire gender to the audience that way.

I really like Hairspray – I know a lot of guys who did. I am really looking forward to Nine as one of the highlights of Oscar season. Neither of those needed gore or electric guitar solos to appeal to me. As far as romantic comedies go, I have my own preferences – films like Chasing Amy or As Good As It Gets. You could make the case that the films feature lesbians and Jack Nicholson, respectively, and so are intended to appeal to my masculinity. I loved (500) Days of Summer earlier this year which had neither.

If I do have a problem with cookie-cutter romantic comedies like Love Happens or 27 Dresses, it isn’t because I feel excluded as a man or that I’m not being catered to. I feel offended that people believe that this will automatically cater to (just over) half of the world’s population because of its content. I feel the same way when it comes to the more cynically exploitive action flicks which are clearly designed to make men go “woah!”

Of course, this feeling of personal unease is somewhat offset by the fact that there must be figures somewhere backing this up. Hollywood rarely makes movies based simply on ideological prejudice – though it will make movies based upon money-make ideological prejudices. Somewhere, someone is going to see these kinds of movies and most of them would appear to women or ‘date flicks’. In which case those are arguably really the people to blame – not that I’d want to  go see something like Antichrist on a first date, but maybe something like District 9 or Moon? Never gonna happen. You heard it here first. Date flicks: the real evil of the movie making world.

Part of me wonders – if the statistics and the logic have some basis in fact and we assume that movie genres can be male or female – can the movies that are so cynical win over a larger audience so easily? Does adding a bit of music from eighties rock legends make a movie suitable for male audience members? Being honest, I don’t think it matters. I imagine the women who packed out Mamma Mia! will feel more than comfortable to bring their partners along to Rock of Ages, even if they had hesitated in the case of earlier films. I wouldn’t be surprised were Rock of Ages to do comparable – if not stronger – business than last year’s Abba-themed box office hit.

What I find most fascinating about this melding of the chick genre is that it has almost uniformally involved grafting what would be considered masculine elements on to what have been traditionally feminine genres. It hasn’t worked the other way around. We haven’t seen any grafting of traditionally femine elements on to what are generally considered to be the masculine genres – action, thriller, and so on. Arguably the last such attempt was the grafting of chick-flick sensibilities on to the action movie model with Charlie’s Angels and its sequels. I hate to admit it, but both movies were relatively entertaining for such light fare. However, the trend doesn’t seem to have picked up in recent year – probably because action movies are more expensive than thrillers or action movies, and this is a recession.

So, I’m not sure why all this gnaws at me so much. It can’t be sexist if it’s based on fact, right? If more female audience members go to it, they are chick flicks, right? And, if certain elements are statistically shown to attract male audience members, then applying them to attract a male audience isn’t really sexist – it’s just good business.

Still, I remain a little bit uneasy at the notion that my genetelia makes it possible to determine what movies Hollywood should make for me.

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