In the July 12/19, 2008 issue of WORLD magazine, Megan Basham writes an interesting review of the film Wanted. While she asks several good questions about why this film (and similar films, like Fight Club and The Matrix) is making such an impact on 18-30 year-old males, she never really goes much deeper than the surface-level of this phenomenon. Although I have not personally seen this film, I believe that the answer to Basham’s question runs much deeper than simply young adult males looking for “significance.” Of course, I realize that her review was not meant to be an in-depth analysis of the issue, but I think it grossly underestimates and misses the main point of this growing trend.
Ever since the first grumblings of the modern feminist movement began in the 1960s, the traditional roles of men and women have been under constant attack. In 2005, the ever-bombastic and verbose feminist Maureen Dowd released her controversial book, Are Men Necessary? In it, she argued that men actually fear successful women. And to some degree I think she’s right, but not in the way that she thinks. While Dowd believes that it is something inherent in the strong women themselves, it actually has more to do with the way that we have been growing our boys into effeminate men for the last 40 years. With the gradual decline of the working class in America, our fathers have been slowly trading sweat-soaked blue-collars for permanent-press white or gray collars. Along with their uniform change they have also traded 40-50 hour workweeks for 60-70 hour ones. This supposed upgrade had the little-noticed effect of removing dad from the family equation and leaving mom at home alone to raise the children.
This trend toward essentially one-parent homes has left a gaping role-model hole where Dad was supposed to be. Since he was always at work (either physically or mentally), Mom was left to provide not only the female but also the male role to their developing sons and daughters. Danielle Crittenden’s book, What Our Mothers Didn’t Tell Us: Why Happiness Eludes the Modern Woman, published in 1999, made this case quite clear. But the male counterpart to this book never arrived. While Crittenden argued that feminism failed in delivering its promises of fulfillment and equality for the modern woman, the boys were left to fend for themselves. Although several books have appeared in the meantime—John Eldredge’s Wild at Heart immediately comes to mind—they were all stop-gap measures that encouraged men to take up manly activities on the weekend to satiate the testosterone that was going to waste during the workweek typing spreadsheets and giving sales presentations. Even though the intentions of the authors were good, this weekend-warrior advice only served to guarantee that fathers would be out of the house even more often, effectively worsening the problem.
The role of the absent father was not missed on Tyler Durden—the “Mr. Hyde" personality of the protagonist in the film, Fight Club (also released in 1999)—where Durden makes the connection that their earthly fathers were their models for God and when the fathers bailed out, God did too. Durden makes this point very clear when he tells the nameless narrator: “You have to consider the possibility that God does not like you. He never wanted you, in all probability, he hates you.” As Basham rightly points out, Durden’s answer came through “dominating others.” But, she continues, “At least Fight Club dared to question whether that kind of significance is anything more than self-delusion. Wanted never does.” However, Basham misses the bigger point—that although Wanted takes a seemingly insignificant office worker and turns him into a highly significant assassin—the assassin trainee is nothing more than the protégé of a better-qualified and more significant woman, played by Angelina Jolie. Wanted informs us that even though men are allowed to attain a certain level of significance, they’re still inferior to the feminist. The boys can only play as long as Momma allows it.