Michael’s Mask (What’s with the possessed men of Love Island?)
This series has thrown up some interesting male behaviour - not least the weird shift into zombie mode some of the man take when dealing with emotionally challenging situations. What's going on here?
Ah, the men of Love Island. How interesting they are. How nice they can be. They’re not as funny as last years’ crop but they’re nice enough. Except when they take a sudden turn…
Yes one of the major talking points this series has been the sudden ‘possession’ of Michael and Curtis, where, when put under emotional pressure, they suddenly retreat from their eyes and speak as if they’re locked in a dream.
In particular, what is up with Michael? Why does the scouse Fireman act so weird sometimes? How can he go from a perfectly engaged, caring, “sound” guy to a blank faced emotion assassin in a heartbeat. Last night he went from a crying man in crisis, filled with remorse for not leaving the house with Joanna when she was voted out, to a cold authoritarian figure commanding his previous girl Amber to “sit down” before “savagely” (his words) spelling out that he’s not interested in anything with her even with Joanna gone.
Where did this new Michael come from? The same one who appeared to initially dump Amber for Joanna in a bizarre about face which prompted Anna to cry, “Who are you? Where is Michael?”
Well, I’d argue he’s in there somewhere. Indeed this is classic masculine behaviour which we can all be prone to: a donning of the man mask.
The man mask is much akin to the Michael Myers mask from Halloween. Blank, unfeeling, and if its appearance is not always followed by the slaughter of teenagers, it is certainly unnerving for those who see it; and for those who wear it, believe me. It doesn’t fit, it chokes you, it’s not really you at all – and yet you put it on anyway when you think the circumstances call for it…
Michael keeps on donning an image of a ‘man who sorts things out’ with no compromise and no feelings, only pure action borne from a judgement informed by his own needs in the moment, and to hell with everything else, including his conscience. Plainly, it’s not truly him, as the ‘Invasion of the Body Snatchers’ look that grips him attests. He’s acting out what he thinks a ‘real man’ should do in that situation. Namely, act rashly, coldly and deny any thought that he may be in the wrong.
Now this is of course not what men do, it’s just what he thinks men should do.
Patently the realest man in the house, if we are going down this path, is Ovie, a man who is in touch with his own emotions, tries to understand other people, and has a talent for getting to the heart of the matter without being cruel. Ovie weeps in front of the group when he’s forced to vote his mates out, deals with rejection in an empathetic, mature fashion and robot dances when he does the ironing. While Michael is busy acting like a man, Ovie is being a man – a human. He doesn’t have all the answers, but he’s keeping an ear out for them.
I actually feel sorry for Michael in these situations. He was clearly quite devastated when Joanna called him a “fucking snake” for not leaving with her when she was voted out, accusing him of not following through with his promise she was the one he was looking for. Obviously she was fearing he’d get together with Amber again, but it clearly wounded Michael’s pride, and Michael, the epitome of male display with his guns, tatts and piercings, is all pride. He spent the next day in pieces in bed and crying on the couch.
Instead of getting a handle on his feelings though, his way of dealing with the situation was to act to quell Joanna’s fears and deliver a give Amber a talking to, like a combination of Christopher Walken and the Night King. He was cruel, callous, and unnecessarily horrible to poor young Amber who merely had the temerity to declare her affections for him.
I’ll bet Michael felt he had to do that, he had to take charge and be brutal, as a man should.
Where on earth do such ideas come from? It must be informed by societal and cultural expectations about being a man, but also this is about a lack of emotional teaching – Michael couldn’t understand what he was feeling, so just ‘sorted it’ by lashing out. In his book ‘The Descent of Man’, Grayson Perry writes:
‘Boys grow up steeped in a culture that says that their feelings are somehow different from girls’. Boys have fewer feelings and theirs are simpler than girls’; boys are more robust, they don’t care about things so much. But this downplaying of their emotional complexity is, I think, the aspect of masculinity that we most urgently need to change. Men need to transform their relationship with violence, performance, and power. That change must begin with their emotions, by allowing boys and men more emotional space.’
This lack of emotional space is often why men end up isolated and alone, or turn into brutal horrible fellas – they don’t have the language to process their emotions, and instead fall back on acting out a part. This part isn’t quite them, but they will defend to the death rather than admit the truth that they are frightened by the chaos in their heads. They perform being a man rather than truly live as a person. How tragic. How uncomfortable to watch. How horrible for the women to be on the receiving end of it. How horrible for the men to be trapped inside of it.
These body snatched men! These strangers to themselves! How can we help them to live outside of the movie in their own heads and listen to other people and live in the moment? Like Ovie! It’s give and take in his interactions, not just a laying down of rules and codes and drawing lines of power in the sand everywhere. You’ll end up in a corner on your own.
The mask is a desperate measure. We need to encourage boys and men to express their feelings by creating that emotional space for them. That way leads to a better life for everyone.
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