*. The Red Pill is a creation of the Internet. I mean several things by that. First of all, it was inspired by documentary filmmaker Cassie Jaye’s being sucked down the “rabbit hole” of the online men’s movement. Second, it was funded on Kickstarter. And third it is very much part of a debate that is mainly taking place online.
*. The red pill movement is an Internet phenomenon, where it’s sometimes designated the manosphere. Jaye’s movie goes to talks and rallies and interviews real people not over the Internet but by sitting down and talking to them, but the world she’s dealing with is a mostly digital one. And in fact you can watch hours of extra footage at the movie’s website, making the whole project an extended online resource.
*. Some explanation of the title is necessary. It comes from the scene in The Matrix where the hero Neo is given the option of taking a blue pill and remaining in a state of comfortable mental torpor fed by illusions, or taking a red pill and waking up to the true nature of reality. This is, of course, Plato’s parable of the cave booted into the world of virtual reality, signifying that most people live in a state of conformity with illusions while a select few are able to see life directly and see it whole.
*. In the context of the men’s rights movement, being red pilled means rejecting the notion of this being a man’s world. It means pushing back against critiques of the patriarchy (or the patriarchy, at its most monolithic). Or at least that’s what being red pilled meant in 2016. Another part of this being a movie born of the Internet is that it is timely in the extreme. Today, red pill philosophy has mushroomed into a whole garden of beliefs, complete with a special language for those possessing the proper gnosis. There are even black pills now for men who aren’t just unplugged but who are living off the grid. It’s also less about custody battles and domestic violence against men these days, which are the main focus of this film, and more focused on dating and relationship advice from PUAs and MGTOW gurus.
*. What’s driving all of this, aside from the power of the Internet at disseminating combative ideas that upset people, are two things: stats and science. In particular: the data gleaned from dating sites and an increased interest in the various “truths” of evolutionary biology. Much of this, however, belongs to a discussion of the red pill community today, and it’s not something that we need dwell on here.
*. Jaye structures her film around the idea of a personal journey. She’s a feminist investigating the world of “toxic masculinity,” with MRAs being a misogynist hate group painted as the gender equivalent of white nationalism. But as she goes on she becomes sympathetic to the messaging of the men’s movement, documenting her own doubts about their demonization in a video diary. By the end she has come to renounce the label of feminist, which seems like a fairly big deal even if it’s not clear what being a feminist means anymore.
*. Without taking either pill, I found it a ramshackle film. Jaye interviews people from both sides of the debate but doesn’t do a lot of fact checking for either. In general the men’s movement interviewees come off a bit better as they are presented as mellow and non-confrontational. Indeed, they seem a very sad and beaten-down bunch of guys. Protestors at men’s rights talks come off less well. “Cancel culture” hadn’t fully blossomed by 2016, but you can tell where things were heading. Indeed, screenings of The Red Pill were canceled at universities all over the world. With enemies like this, you had it made. Just ask Jordan Peterson (a bit conspicuous in his absence from this film, given how much of it was shot in Toronto).
*. Polarization makes money in the new media because it ramps up outrage, which draws eyeballs and engagement. One example of how this works can be seen in the reception given The Red Pill. Just look at the huge gap between critical and audience/user ratings of it on any of the aggregators. Such a division is often taken as evidence of the sort of media bias that the men’s movement calls out. You see: They’re getting the shaft from the mainstream media again because they’re trying to defend men!
*. I call it a ramshackle film though because it doesn’t make a clear case about much of anything and tends to wander around a fair bit. I’m sympathetic with Jaye’s view that infant circumcision is a barbaric practice, but I don’t see why she threw in a couple of minutes of footage of it at the end along with the story of a boy whose penis was mostly severed in a botched job. What did that have to do with anything?
*. Another thing: It’s one thing to mispronounce “perpetrate” as “perpetuate” when you’re reading text that’s right on the screen, but how did that get left in after editing? And totally as an aside, what did the one fellow mean when he said he was teaching his early-teen son who was having obesity issues how to read a scale? Is that something you have to teach kids how to do? Who can’t “read” a scale?
*. I also wish Jaye had pursued some parts of the story a little more. Erin Pizzey suggests that what changed in the feminist movement in the 1970s is that it went from being class-based and anti-capitalism and became focused instead on attacking men as a more direct route to gaining money and power (a very capitalist strategy). And the idea that Boko Haram only turned to targeting women and girls, after killing men and boys for a decade, as a way to get media attention from the woke West was worth developing. I would have been interested in hearing more about this as I remember it bothering me at the time and getting into arguments with people about it.
*. For all of Jaye’s earnestness, empathy, and DIY spirit I didn’t find this a very stimulating or eye-opening documentary. I didn’t think any of the speakers were very persuasive, though they all seemed sure of themselves. I think both sides probably have good arguments and counter-arguments to make, but they weren’t making them, or being allowed to make them here. My feeling is that the MRAs who are trying to help men in need are doing good work, as are feminists trying to do the same for women. When the two sides just go after each other I tune out. Call me a critic going my own way.