Dictionary.com defines “machismo” as follows:
a strong or exaggerated sense of manliness; an assumptive attitude that virility, courage, strength, and entitlement to dominate are attributes or concomitants of masculinity.
In a galaxy far, far away in a time long, long ago machismo was a subject that almost every important artist dealt with. Hemingway never shied away from it or his very pure belief in what makes a man a man both in his writing and his life. Eastwood dealt with it in films like his “Dirty Harry” franchise. Stallone, Willis and Schwarzenegger were seen as examples of machismo and patriotism due to their films of the 80s, which were all seen as a result of the charismatic, macho president: a man by the name of Ronald Reagan. You may have heard of him.
What is the point of all of this? It’s simply this: machismo and its varying degrees and definitions have vanished from the big screen (though they thrive in literature. Please read anything by Hemingway or modern authors like Vince Flynn and Stephen Hunter). Nowadays, Hollywood likes their heroes jaded, without identity or loyalty to woman or duty to country. Hollywood likes their men to be little boys that look like they shoot underwear commercials in their spare time and spend an hour in front of the mirror in the morning. What happened to the days of men like Dirty Harry and Dutch. Sure, these men were fantasies, but they were offshoots of beliefs and actions by other men and artists i.e. Hemingway’s characters were fantasies, but they represented human experience and were inspired by his life and beliefs.
The 80s brought the most exaggerated idea of machismo, but can we blame it? I mean, with guys like Schwarzenegger and Stallone in the movies and Reagan in office, I’m sure it was difficult not to over exaggerate.
To get more specific, let’s focus on the man who is probably the most blown up form of machismo on the big screen. Behind the scenes (i.e. reality) he’s a man who lived through abuse by a Nazi father, worshipped the films of John Wayne, dreamed of America, served in his country’s Army, became a world renowned body builder, became a movie star, became a Republican governor, lost it all and now has one final shot at redemption. If that’s not the embodiment of the American dream then I don’t know what is.
Arnold Schwarzenegger was once a strong voice of conservative and macho friendly philosophies (he still is…to some extent). But, let’s focus on the Schwarzenegger of the 80s and the Hollywood of today. Schwarzenegger defined the over exaggerated man with characters like Conan the Barbarian and Dutch from “Predator.” Nowadays, Hollywood is taking the idea of man and restructuring it. Specifically, they have remade or rebooted almost every Schwarzenegger film and how can you do that? The man never created characters. He was a force, a movie star that movies were centered on much like John Wayne. They rebooted the “Terminator” franchise with “Terminator Salvation.” Instead of Schwarzenegger or even Michael Biehn, we got Brit Christian Bale doing his best grumbly Batman voice for everyone. Things just got worse after that. Next, they rebooted the “Predator” franchise with “Predators.” Instead of Dutch chomping on cigars, we got skinny Adrien Brody holding an AA-12 shotgun and to quote the great Sam Jackson: “That gun was bigger than he was!” We also recently received a remake of “Conan the Barbarian” starring Jason Mamoa who looks like Schwarzenegger, at 65, could chew him up and spit him out for breakfast. He also did the grumbly voice thing to little avail. Next, we will see remakes of “Total Recall” and “Commando.” But why?
Going back and watching these films we see that they are perfectly fine. In fact, some seem un- remakable (that’s what I thought about Conan) because their ideas and their star are so clearly defined. They still hold up. But, new Hollywood doesn’t understand these flicks or their star. They understand the new beta male and wish to remake these films with their idea of a hero. This does little since most of these films flopped.
Is it that Hollywood doesn’t understand or the audience? It’s Hollywood. Most artists today working in the film world are more likely to identify with the idea of a hero like Jason Bourne than a hero like Dirty Harry. The ideas of men, real men, are becoming as extinct on the big screen as cavemen, for better or worse. The audience is still out there though. Most of the men mentioned are still working within the same fields today. Stallone’s “The Expendables” was a surprise box- office hit and was an homage to the films of the 80s and their old school ideas of machismo. He’s now working on a sequel and has said he wishes younger actors would come full circle and make these films since they love them so much. Eastwood’s “Gran Torino” was a film that practically defined manliness to its bones as Walt Kowalski took a young man under his wing and taught him duty and hard work (albeit with some humor and mild racism).
Hollywood has grown accustomed to their new idea of a hero and a man. For now, all we cavemen have are some old kooks like Stallone and Eastwood (and even Schwarzenegger) to feed our desire for real heroes saving the day for real reasons. We also have literature, but that’s about it. Whether that’s good or bad is up to you.