IRON PIG!Walker Feinlein* knows a masculinist metaphor when he sees one. And these days, they're everywhere! Like the movie "Babe" for instance.
Perhaps you are one of the many men who got inspired to read Robert Bly's book "Iron John", only to get hopelessly lost somewhere around the bit about the Red and Black Horses. Well, don't despair! A far more accessible myth for modern men is here, in the form of the runaway movie success Babe. The film, to the awakened eye, is a menís movement metaphor plain and simple. Babe may be cunningly disguised as feel-good entertainment for the family, but is actually the most subversive sub-text ever to hit the dominant paradigm!
Let's cut to the plot. We have a baby pig, in a highly mechanised pork farm. He is bonded to his mother, yet lacks a real sense of identity. "She just called us all babe" he explains later. Yet he alone of the litter stands at the gate, and yearns for her when she is taken for bacon.
Because he is still near the gate, Babe is chosen when the vicar comes to collect a guess-the-weight piglet for the county fair. Here organised religion can be seen as a helping hand on the way to man's salvation, at least in the early phase. At the fair, the real magic starts to take place. Babe is noticed by a stern elderly farmer, who "doesn't raise pigs" (i.e. is arrested in his own masculine journey), but is drawn to the little character's squealing (a symbol of the inner piglet within us all). Clearly this is a pig in need of mentoring. The piglet becomes strangely quiet and peaceful when picked up by the farmer. But he wees on him all the same, as if to say "I am vulnerable, but I am male".
The story now begins to hot up, as do the metaphors. We see the adoption of Babe into the sheepdog family, nurtured by the mother dog Fly, (Fly, for goodness sake - what kind of symbolism have we here ??) but somewhat terrified by the father, a 50's Male kind of a dog, who guides a patriarchal farmyard with good will and benevolence. Under confusion and threat to his authority, however, this Dog resorts to domestic violence, and is duly shamed and tied up in a kind of agricultural Duluth program.
Babe, it is clear, is destined to find a better way. He enters the Sensitive New Age Pig phase, is mentored by the Great Mother in the form of an old ewe, who initiates him into the ways of sheep, and learns co-operation instead of confrontation. He is successful with the other "gender", learning the code of the warm woolly ones. They are not stupid, just "different".
But it's not enough. As Robert Bly says, every man has to find something fierce in him if his relationships are to survive, and sure enough Babe pigfully defends the sheep from thieves and wild dogs, with only sheer intensity on his side. This is the force of commitment, stronger than any physical strength. A nineties pig indeed.
In "Iron John" of course, the Wild man is a fully realised being. In Iron Pig, the farmer is a man with his own struggles. Many of us today are attempting to mentor younger men while our own journey is far from finished. It's clear the farmer is stumbling with his own Ashes journey. His wife thinks he is going senile. He can't quite get the self-closing gate (a quirky invention of his own creativity) to work. His farm is a model of tidiness and old-fashioned order, yet there is something amiss. His children have turned into yuppies, and their children into brats. The human story looks like petering out. And so we come to the crucial scene.
The farmer sits, pig on his lap, depressed, in the living room. The pig is motionless, collapsed into an existential crisis after facing the realisation that today's pig is tomorrow's salami.
Yet there's clearly hope. This is the pig that, by the wife's rules, was never even allowed in the house. The male to male intimacy that was never allowed in a homophobic (let alone pigophobic) society, is happening. The man begins to bring his masculine energy back into the home - after two thousand years of exile.
Suddenly, the farmer's male spirit possesses him. He starts to sing to the pig - the only love song he knows. He has transcended sexual addiction and workaholism and begun to love all of life. The pig stirs to wakefulness - and the man, not content just to sing, filled with the Spirit, dances an ancient Celtic jig in the living room. It is the film's most glorious moment, making possible all the triumphs that follow.
In a hundred episodes of All Creatures Great and Small, no man has ever danced. That's why this film is such a breakthrough.
Now the action begins. Pig and man set off to the sheep dog trials. There is a huge clash with the old order. No pig has ever competed at rounding up sheep. Watching the action on the TV with her CWA friends, (away from town, so the key could be stolen from beneath the pillow) the farmerís wife, played by luscious Magda Subzanski, faints in horror. Her man has lost it completely. (Promoting the film, Magda was interviewed by many media outlets, and always stressed that she was wearing false buttocks for the role. What a disappointment! But I digress.)
Naturally, pig and man triumph. They speak the code of the sheep - the inner feminine. They master the wild-pig energies to break the deathly overload of cultural structures - matriarchal and patriarchal. They unite the sensitive new age pig and the dogged, can-do savvy of the fifties man, in the searing fire of realised masculinity. The grandstand crowds - men, women, and children - leap to their feet, and it is hard, sitting in the theatre, not to join them!
"That'll do nicely, pig !"
* Walker Feinlein is Professor of Gender Ergonomics at Hobart University. He was the most influential academic figure behind Steve Biddulph's text "Manhood".
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