Monday, 17 July 2017

A Response to The Truth About Maleficent

Once again I indulged myself into another one of Stefan Molyneux' 'The Truth About' series in regards to the movie Maleficent because apparently people think my bewilderment on Twitter about these videos is funny. Long story short: this man should not be allowed near movies because holy crap. In The Truth About Frozen there's an obvious undercurrent of his disdain for these women, in The Truth About Maleficent he goes into outright rape apologia and takes personal jabs at Angelina Jolie. Hence, I'm less patient with him than last time.

Note that this movie has a main character named Stefan, so to differentiate him from the maker of this video I will refer to this character as "King Stefan" or variations thereof and I will refer to Stefan Molyneux mostly as "Molyneux".

And of course, there will be spoilers for Maleficent.

The Spindle of a Spinning Wheel
Or A Response to Stefan Molyneux' The Truth About Maleficent
Full text [Here]

1. Introduction

Whereas I think Frozen is a good movie that has flaws, I think Maleficent is a bad movie with enjoyable aspects. It's obvious Angelina Jolie (Maleficent) and Sam Riley (Diaval) had fun with the roles and it absolutely shows. Their scenes are often delightful. Where it turns me off is that, rather than just turning Maleficent into a more complex character with deeper motivations than mere pettiness, it turns her into an outright hero who was just having a particularly bad day when she cursed princess Aurora. It was really King Stefan, a benevolent character in the original movie, who is now the true villain. Here we have the most iconic villain in the Disney animated canon (depending on where you stand with Fantasia's Chernabog) who even has a name that sounds like an alternative spelling of "malevolent", but somehow she was actually good all along. Those parents must have really hated their child when they named her.
In the end, Maleficent is not a more modernized remake of Sleeping Beauty. It's a completely different story that only really shares its basic characters and the cursing scene with its original incarnation. Then the movie ends by confirming this is the real story because the narrator is revealed to have been Aurora: a character not born for roughly half the movie, and asleep for a portion of the latter half.

After having done Frozen, it was interesting to me how Molyneux would react to Maleficent. As I said last time: Stefan dislikes representations of the state and he disproportionately blames female characters for slights he either imagines or unfairly subscribes to them. Whereas in Frozen those two aspects were centralized into a single person, namely Queen Elsa of Arendelle, here we have a situation where it's a woman, Maleficent, against a kingdom.
Unsurprisingly, he still shifts blame primarily to the female characters, but this time he somehow almost completely absolves the male characters. Because when a male villain does something despicable, it's either not actually despicable, or it's the writers inserting "[0:52] Nazi-levels of anti-male propaganda". Yes, really.

He then ends it by chastising women for demonizing men, including a graphic of how children are harmed when there's no father figure present in the life of a child. This might all be true in a real life context, but it's once again Molyneux being offended because he's reading his own conspiracy theories into a Disney fairy tale movie that happens to be about a man that grievously harmed a woman. Yes, both kings in the movie are shown to be overly ambitious monsters, but just like in Frozen, it is not maleness that is vilified, but reckless ambition. By contrast Frozen's Kristoff might be anti-social and cynical about people, but he's also a hard worker who understands sacrifice and has a deep moral center. He might not have a beard but he's nonetheless manly. Diaval in Maleficent leans closer to a pretty boy stereotype thanks to being portrayed by Sam Riley and his raven features giving him more of a goth look, but he's nevertheless a man with a deep moral center. Apparently it's the beard that's the defining characteristic of being male.

2. Oh, Magic is no Longer Madness

Oddly missing in this video is Molyneux' previous assertion that all magic in all of fiction is always a metaphor for madness. This despite the fact that the movie is about a young boy who enters a magic kingdom where mankind isn't allowed to go, befriends a fairy who he then betrays, and later actually goes completely mad with paranoia attempting to kill that fairy who threatens his power.
From this lens where magic is always madness, it can thus be argued that Maleficent herself is not real, but merely a metaphor for King Stefan's growing insanity and paranoia as he gains and then tries to protect his political power, projected onto an external tormentor. Not really of course, it's just telling that Molyneux foregoes his own framework fully because otherwise he couldn't be blaming women for being everything wrong with the world.
Last time when Queen Elsa's accidental ice powers got out of control and she exiled herself to keep her subjects safe, Molyneux deemed her a mad queen who would subject the kingdom to tyranny. When King Stefan actually does go insane for 16 years and redirects all his kingdom's wealth into a war with a woman he himself mutilated for personal gain ... well, it's her fault because she demanded he give back a gemstone he stole as a child.

The further absence of this argument is interesting in that there is a dichotomy of good and evil (mad) magic in the movie itself. When Maleficent is using benevolent magic, such as when healing trees, her magic is a golden yellow. When she's using malevolent magic, most notably when she casts the curse, it's green. The difference between the two is most clear when Maleficent tries and fails to undo her own curse before it comes to pass. The scene shows her benevolent magic clashing with the malevolent curse. Hence the color of her magic is a rather convenient method of telling what state of mind Maleficent is in. Humorously enough the color of her magic is also golden-yellow when she's merely playing pranks on the three fairies.

Maleficent, when in a state of destructive anti-societal anger, or in other words 'mad', is conveniently color coded green. The fact that there's a difference between the two types of magic is however evidence that magic is not always and forever a metaphor for madness, as one type is clearly based around benevolence and healing.

3. Protecting Your Property is Theft

[1:23] This interaction is completely insane – and immoral. A starving boy picks up an unowned gem so that he can eat, we assume, and the little witch takes it – just to throw it away. She does not offer him food, or gold, or anything else - she just takes away his treasure and trashes it. Can you imagine meeting a starving, orphaned child who is about to eat a banana, ripping that banana out of his hands, and grinding it underfoot? [24:24] However, it seems to have crossed no one’s mind but mine that Maleficent did the boy an enormous wrong, and sent him down a very dark path through her imperious theft. 
The future King Stefan enters a land his kingdom is explicitly at war with, only to rob its precious stones. It's never mentioned that he's starving, only that he's poor and intends to move up in the world, which he does in spite of not having stolen the gem. However Maleficent is somehow in the wrong because she didn't allow an invader to steal from her land and returned the gem to where it came from. Not to mention young King Stefan got a powerful sorceress as his best friend out of the deal. A relationship which he then squanders for personal gain until he once again needs her.

The very fact that he stole a gem and not food shows in the narrative sense that it was greed, not hunger, that inspired him to steal. Compare to the movie Aladdin (1992) where the titular character steals a loaf of bread, but then gives it to other hungry children in spite of his own needs. This shows Aladdin is a moral character despite being a thief who puts the needs of others before his own and only steals what he needs to survive. By contrast King Stefan already starts out in a more gray area because he sought riches in a place he wasn't even supposed to go. Maleficent only "throws the gem away" in the sense that there's no visible treasury the boy took it from because this is fairyland.

The fact that it crossed no one's mind but Molyneux' that this is an enormous wrong on Maleficent's part is that it's an insane conclusion to begin with. Once again Molyneux places disproportionate blame on women for slights only he imagines.
[1:55] Also, I don’t know if you have been to a mall lately, but if I recall rightly, women don’t seem to be particularly partial to taking expensive gems, and throwing them in a river. It is women who are responsible for the rape of the earth called diamond, mineral and gold-mining – not men. Angelina Jolie had a quarter of a million dollar engagement ring made for her, for a year, by Brad Pitt.
What amazes me about this bit is that it's so obviously a lie just to take another jab at women in general and Angelina Jolie in particular. It's not like we're mining the Earth exclusively to provide women with jewelry. What are all your fancy electronics made of? If you haven't upgraded to electric yet, where does the fuel in your car come from? 80 percent of mined diamonds are unsuitable for jewelry and is instead used industrially anyway. Only half of newly produced gold is put into jewelry. What a brazen lie or profound ignorance to pretend we only maintain the mining industry to provide women with precious jewelry.

However it seems Molyneux can't decide which one is the moral position here. Was King Stefan raping the Earth by taking the gem or was Maleficent doing the boy an enormous wrong for taking the gem back? Are we supposed to show women how they should react 'morally' or are we supposed to show them as they really are according to Molyneux? What exactly are we supposed to take away from his contradictory statements? He just places contradictory standards upon fictional women which they can never meet.

4. Being Raped is the Woman's Fault

[10:37] Taking advantage of their former friendship, Stefan drugs Maleficent, but finds he cannot bring himself to kill her, and so instead burns off her wings with iron – a substance deadly to fairies – and returns them to the king as proof of his victory. It is essential to remember that, on the King’s orders, someone from the castle is going to kill Maleficent – Stefan in fact actually saves her life by only taking her wings.
Molyneux takes it as a given that someone is definitely going to kill Maleficent, a powerful sorceress and protector of a magic kingdom who was just seen demolishing the king's invading army with ease. The fact that the future King Stefan was the only person Maleficent would even allow near the Moors to betray her trust in the first place is apparently an irrelevance. No, she should be grateful he merely drugged and mutilated her for his own benefit.

It's a running trend that when Molyneux calls something a "jaw-dropping sequence" or something similar, that usually means he's working overtime misinterpreting the events that are happening on the screen to fit his biases. So better prepare yourselves because we're now truly going off the deep end.
[11:04] Next comes the most important moral dichotomy in the movie. Immediately after Stefan effectively saves Maleficent’s life by taking her wings, Maleficent comes across a crow in a net about to be beaten to death by a farmer, who is tired of the crow eating his seeds. Maleficent turns him into a man – thus taking his wings!  [11:40] Maleficent replies, “Would you rather I let them beat you to death?”. Diaval mournfully regards his missing wings, and then replies, “I’m not certain.” Maleficent says scornfully, “Stop complaining! I saved your life!” Diaval lowers his eyes and murmurs, “Forgive me… In return for saving my life, I am your servant.” I am so susceptible to propaganda that I did not even notice this until watching the movie for the second time, but it is truly a jaw-dropping sequence.
These two events are apparently equal to Molyneux:
1. An overly-ambitious man betrays the trust of the woman who loves him by drugging her and painfully burning off her wings, and visibly contemplated killing her outright, forcing her to have to relearn how to walk because she no longer carries her wings as ballast.
2. A woman saves a raven from death by turning him into an intelligent shapeshifter.

The next line after Diaval says "I am your servant. Whatever you need." is "Wings, I need you to be my wings". So Maleficent did not in fact take his wings, as made abundantly clear by the one line Molyneux omitted from his reproduction of the script. She needed him to be her wings. As shown on screen when 4 seconds later he transforms back into a raven and flies off. How is this in any way, shape or form supposed to be a moral equivalent? What was done to Maleficent was clearly an act of mutilation, whereas what was done to Diaval was an act of empowerment, which is also why she told him to stop complaining: he didn't lose anything in the first place!

[14:52] Watching the movie, I understood that Maleficent’s “wings” were a metaphor for her breasts, and watching Angelina Jolie – who recently underwent a double mastectomy – awaken from a drugged sleep and howl in agony at the surgical removal of her “wings" made me pretty uncomfortable. I prefer a bit more acting in my movies.
Seriously, what is wrong with this guy? Not only is he making up once again what is a metaphor for what, but he's using it as a personal attack on Angelina Jolie for having underwent a preventative medical procedure. What. The. Hell! It doesn't even make sense as the story would have certainly been written long before Jolie underwent the procedure in 2013. Even if Jolie brought some of those emotions to the forefront during these scenes, why in the world would Stefan then take a jab at her for that? She's still acting! They didn't film her waking up from a mastectomy and then CGI'd a fairy tale landscape around her! God.

At the end of the video, he does confirm that it's an 'interpretation' that the mutilation scene is analogous to rape, however not only does he fail to mention that this was actually the intention of the scene by the filmmakers themselves and not just an interpretation, he also dismisses it.
[23:31] I have some problems with this interpretation – not least of which is that Stefan’s supposed rape is considered a crime, but not one commentator has mentioned anything about Maleficent’s theft of Stefan’s gem, which really set the whole story in motion. If the young Maleficent had not stolen the boy’s gem, he would never have had to go and work in the Castle, and never would have been infected with the desire to become King, and therefore would never have cut off her wings.
In other words ... Maleficent's rape was justified. Young King Stefan trespasses into a place where he's not supposed to be, steals a gem that doesn't belong to him and gets caught by Maleficent, who demands he gives it back. To Molyneux this somehow means she stole the gem and that she's now fair game to be raped. Absolutely incredible.

He's not even correct that this event is the reason why the future King Stefan has to go work in the castle. His intentions were to get there from the start. We know this because he tells Maleficent when they first meet. His greed was always there, it was just more subdued in his childhood.


5. Metaphors are a Metaphor for Metaphors.

[15:42] If we understand that Maleficent is the King’s mistress who gives birth to a child, the rest of the movie makes a whole lot more sense.
And this is why I feel this man is unfit to analyse media of this kind. He's absolutely incapable of interpreting the events on screen and instead goes into rewriting the script under the guise of explaining "the truth" so that he can spin his moral outrage into it later. Somehow the child of the king and queen is actually the bastard backup child of the king and Maleficent in case the queen proves infertile ... which she isn't because she just gave birth to this very child. Evidently Molyneux is petty enough to use the character Maleficent to mock Angelina Jolie for having a mastectomy but the idea that she could love children she didn't give birth to is too unbelievable.

That's about all I can take from this madness, however there's one last bit I want to include to show just how far he takes all this made-up nonsense.
[18:18] Historically, a spinning wheel was a dowry present for a woman getting married, so this curse is basically for Aurora to die giving birth to a child when she is 16. ("Prick" is slang for “penis,” of course; a finger is a metaphor for a penis, which enters the woman on her wedding night and makes her bleed.) [18:57] So the curse means a continuation of the sexual disasters and dysfunctions of the bloodline – Aurora will get pregnant, just as Maleficent got pregnant, and these disasters will just repeat, over and over again, because Aurora will never wake up to reality, to the truth, which is withheld from her.
Pure. Unadulterated. Fan fiction. If a woman weighs as much as a duck, she's made of wood and therefore a witch: a woman who was pregnant but never actually was pregnant curses a child who was born from a woman who couldn't get pregnant to die in childbirth while also never having been pregnant because the only man she ever knew growing up was a raven who lost his wings because of Maleficent despite being shown flying with his wings intact four seconds later. This is the truth about Maleficent and this is why women hate men because they grow up without father figures. Or something.

6. Conclusion

Just like last time there's a lot more to cover, but I feel I've hit on most of his basic points where it actually interjects with the movie. What I didn't cover is mostly a repeat of the same things he chastised Frozen for (such as Maleficent's supposed unearned expertise in magic, despite the film opening on her practicing it), manosphere talk regarding Maleficent's beta male tree guards and how Maleficent's value lies in how sexually attractive she is or isn't.

In the end this "philosophical review" is just another vehicle for Stefan Molyneux to project his own damage onto a movie. Unlike his review of Frozen however, this time he just completely lets his disdain for women snowball into personally attacking even the main actress. He doesn't actually unpack any truths, he's just feeding the portion of his audience that throws hissy fits on Twitter when a movie has a female protagonist using bile wrapped in pseudo-intellectual nonsense and an intentional misreading of the movie's scenes.

While I disagree with the direction they took with this movie, at its core Maleficent is a movie about an abused person who becomes an abuser herself. Certainly the filmmakers lacked the spine to then take the story to where it was supposed to go (an actual re-imagining of Sleeping Beauty), but that doesn't exactly make it a Nazi-level anti-male conspiracy just because the villain had a beard.

A Note on Spelling:
Last time someone asked me if spelling it "Molyneux'" (apostrophe, no s) rather than "Molyneux's" (apostrophe, with s) was a deliberate choice. My reason for doing so is that I would pronounce it "Molyneus", rather than "Molyneuxes".

Links & References

Stefan Molyneux - The Truth About Maleficent

Images from
- Maleficent (2014)

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