Like most self-absorbed teenage boys, my perspective on love in 2012 was complicated, to say the least. I was unattractive even by 14-year-old standards, I hadn’t had my first kiss, and every show or movie I got my hands on was about a nerdy guy with a beautiful girl. I felt like the story I had been told about relationships was wrong, like I had been lied to. I didn’t look much worse than the funny guys in the movies, so why do they get to succeed where I am doomed to fail? I was a dramatic kid.
Completely ignoring that the guys in the movies were adults, and had senses of humor beyond the latest internet memes, I started to become obsessed with these indie romantic comedies that furthered my belief that one day, if I was quirky enough and shy enough, some girl would throw herself into my arms and I would live happily ever after. Adventureland, Ruby Sparks, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, and anything Michael Cera got within a hundred yards of; these were my rocket fuel against the loveless, sexless future I was doomed to live in.
This is all starting to sound a little disconcerting, right? Like the person thinking these things is not only vastly misreading these films, but he could become a true d-bag if something doesn’t intervene?
It’s an uncomfortable truth that a lot of the people involved in Men’s Rights activism, often shortened to Meninism, started out this way, around the age when adolescence is really ramping up. If you’re unfamiliar with Meninism, it’s a group of men who believe that feminism is toxic to gender relations in the modern world, and that victories for women take away the social benefits of being a man, fearing a world where men are second-class citizens. It often festers when a man feels personally victimized by a woman in a relationship sense, because without feminism and female autonomy, they would be much more willing to “give him a shot” and go out on a date with him. According to Meninism, female autonomy in relationships = the discrimination of men, especially not traditionally attractive men.
As my worldview started to go down this path of self-pity, I was trying to get my hands on any twee romantic comedies I could find. One day, I found it. A little film with a charming, dorky dude and a beautiful girl on the cover. The film was called (500) Days of Summer, and I rented it from my local library, loved it, and immediately bought a copy of my own. I saw myself in Tom, the romantic goofball whose heart gets stomped on by a wishy-washy woman who friend-zones him. Summer’s mixed signals hurt to watch, and seeing Tom’s visions of the future crumble brought me to tears multiple times. Seventeen times, as a matter of fact. With every viewing, my opinion grew stronger, and the effect it had on my real-world perception did too.
I got angrier and more vindictive; I took pride in my loneliness, and I thank every single one of my lucky stars that I wasn’t as active on Twitter then as I am now. I would have been as difficult online as I was in my own head, and made a lot of enemies.
Here’s the thing though: over the course of one year, I watched (500) Days of Summer 18 times. The eighteenth time, I had just gotten rejected by a close friend I asked out. I was devastated and I needed to watch something that would validate the short-sighted pain of a child. Ironically enough, the child in the film pulled me out of my haze. Tom’s sister has a line early in the film: “Just because some girl likes the same bizarro crap you do, doesn’t mean she’s your soul mate.”
The entire meaning of the film fell into place. Tom wasn’t the befallen hero, he was a fool who was trying his best to put this girl into a box, hoping she would solve his problems. His ending, where he meets a girl named Autumn, isn’t a happy one, it’s tragic. It’s all going to happen again. This is all going to happen to me again, isn’t it? Tom was wrong, so that means…that means that I was wrong too.
This film that I had rested my entire worldview on had truly revealed itself to me, and once that eighteenth viewing was over, I cried for a long time. I couldn’t handle being this wrong, this foolish, this beholden to a philosophy that wasn’t true. I got quieter after that, less angry, more willing to listen. Long story short, I became a far better person. Those seeds of anger that lead to the Meninist philosophy were torn out from my head, all because of the film that I thought was on my side the whole time.
We’ve all seen these people on Twitter, these obnoxiously angry guys who get dunked on with a thousand quippy quote-Tweets. I’m not saying these people shouldn’t be pushed back against, or sometimes mocked. But sometimes, just sometimes, they need a piece of art to show them the light. If someone you know starts saying things like “feminism is sexist against men,” “I’ve been friend-zoned again,” or god forbid, “it’s actually about ethics in game journalism,” just show him (500) Days of Summer. And then strap him to a chair Clockwork Orange-style and show it to him seventeen more times. It worked for me.