Issue 23 : Fall 2012










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Angry White Male:
An Experimental Genre?

by Molly Cox

12 Sep 2012

Hand of the Urine Man, from URINE MAN by Greta Snider

Comment by babybackribs (3 days ago): Joe, I sincerely believe that the real purpose for the mass flouridation of municipal drinking water in the US is the degradation of the part of the brain responsible for critical thinking and independent thought. God Bless.

—Comment from YouTube audience, in Dominic Gagnon’s

The “angry white man” needs no introduction when it comes to American culture. More than one cultural critic, feminist film writer, political analyst or social discourse has described this “type” in explicit detail. Writers Carl Scott Gutiérrez-Jones (Critical Race Narratives, 2001) and Grant Reeher and Joseph Cammarano (“In Search of the Angry White Male,” 1996) have dug deep into the structure of the AWM stereotype, while Stephen Colbert has made us laugh, and Rush Limbaugh, regularly attacking feminists, gays, and people of color seems to have adopted “him” as a routine persona.

“White privilege” is problematized afresh by unsettled crises in American politics, not the least of which is having an African-American President. (1) Indeed, history of the AWM goes back much further, to the white slave owners, immigration policies, wifebeaters, and the Ku Klux Klan. A number of commercially-viable mainstream films, including the flop ANGRY WHITE MAN from last year, have included central, liberal character-types: disillusioned, runaway preppies (Jack Nicholson as Bobby Duprea in FIVE EASY PIECES, 1970) searching for authenticity in mixed-up and crazy (“there is no explanation”) America and Michael Douglas’ memorable performance as William Foster, the failed defense worker and husband, in FALLING DOWN (1993) who, caught up with his personal disappointment, takes it out on everyone else, to name two. These films are high-budget, feature-length works focusing attention upon the individual white male subjects (AMERICAN PSYCHO aside) and their various psychological trips.

“Joetalk100” hand on steering wheel, video still from Gagnon’s BIG KISS GOODNIGHT

But, how does a cultural trope like “angry white male” which feeds off Hollywood-style violence and action, translate as an experimental figure?

Two wonderful examples are the soon-to-be-released BIG KISS GOODNIGHT: JOETALK100 AND THE HOLY SPIRIT AGAINST THE NEW WORLD ORDER (2011) by Québécois filmmaker/director Dominic Gagnon, and top favorite, URINE MAN (2000) by San Francisco filmmaker/director Greta Snider. Albeit shorter, infinitely more low budget, and involved with real-life down-and-out liminal beings, these films offer an experimental, verité equivalent to the bigger scripted works which are devoted to similar male subjects. Both films include a very angry white man as their central “character.” Both focus upon the main character’s autobiographical statements, and in one case the character’s filming of himself. Through verité tactics such as one long, single take (at Urine Man’s request) and self-made footage sampled off of YouTube by the director (“Joetalk100” in BIG KISS GOODNIGHT), both films reveal uncannily similar “plights” and a dedication to monologue, both extremist and hilarious in its reactionary force. Anger, pathetic hubris, sturm und drang, fear and loathing, and paranoia bolster confidence in the strict binary of Kierkegaardian sickness unto death. How will they solve problems of the world and in their shining moment in front of a camera?

BIG KISS GOODNIGHT and URINE MAN, as filmic “journeys,” take us into the unspecified terrain of hysteria—this time “angry white male” hysteria—and are both fascinating excursions to the liminal underclass of the “little guy” and the “outsider,” of deterritorialized subjectivity.

Snider and Gagnon are fascinated with outsider status in their other films. Snider’s subject is frequently, autobiographically, “herself”—woman and artist—while Gagnon, also a theatre director and actor, explores YouTube for flagged webcam or video footage created by anonymous first-persons. (See interview in OTHERZINE 22.) It is difficult to know whether Gagnon’s fascination is more about the “acting out” in front of the camera or about the fact that these videos, frequently focused upon guns, survival, the apocalypse and salvation, are being “censored” by YouTube. Are they actually an important subtext to understanding privacy and surveillance on the Internet, for instance?

Anonymous found art on Limbaugh, from the Internet, 2012.

BIG KISS GOODNIGHT and URINE MAN, as filmic “journeys,” take us into the unspecified terrain of hysteria—this time “angry white male” hysteria—and are both fascinating excursions to the liminal underclass of the “little guy” and the “outsider,” of deterritorialized subjectivity. Gagnon intercuts “Joetalk100”—the sometimes jovial, sometimes depressed, obsessively prolific guy, videotaping himself ranting in his car, helplessly lonely and struggling with his identity, a seeker of truth and “reality”—with responses from his YouTube audience. While the Urine Man only consented to an “interview” if he could call all the shots, and the camera would not be turned off and no questions would be asked. These films are unique because they remove these extreme characters—all around us in the American city—from their usual contexts as unseen, unheard and stick them right in the face of the audience. Thus, they talk to us, to the camera rather, about alienation; its root causes and attributes and the coercive systems which help produce it. What would appear useless to most—some homeless guy—some dude in a car—has been given enormous artistic value. These films let us take a moment to study a perverse form of human subjectivity, if not also a weirdly and wisely prophetic “folk wisdom” about the state of the American white man, and his excessive need for ultimate CONTROL.

Molly Cox is a writer living in San Francisco.

She wishes to thank Dominic Gagnon for his help with this piece.

Links to films and filmmakers

Other works by Greta Snider

Other films by Dominic Gagnon


1 “Rush Limbaugh and the Crisis in White Conservative Manhood” (—Editor’s Pick)