What drives a man to take his own life? Not my usual topic, I know, but I’d like to take a moment to reflect on the epidemic of male suicide in the United States in my own peculiar way by seeing what films and TV shows have to say about it.
Let’s go back 50 years to a couple of pieces of popular entertainment that approach the problem of male suicide from two very different angles: Mary Poppins and the classic Twilight Zone episode “A Stop at Willoughby.”
Mary Poppins is about two children who desperately wish to spend more time with their middle-aged father. “A Stop at Willoughby” is about a middle-aged man who desperately wants to get away from his miserable life. What on earth could these two seemingly disparate things have in common with each other? Read on and it will become quite apparent.
The Big Boss
Mary Poppins tells the story of Mr. Banks, a man who loves his job. He has a real sense of pride whenever he talks about the bank where he works. He has an overbearing boss, but Mr. Banks treats him with great respect because of his position.
“A Stop at Willoughby” tells the story of Gart Williams, a 38-year-old advertising executive. He’s managed to have a successful career, but the problem is that he hates his job. His overbearing boss constantly pushes him to work harder and close more sales, but all Mr. Williams wants is for him to stop bothering him.
Already, you can see the connection and the difference. These two men are successful in their line of work, but one loves his job while the other hates it. Why do they do what they do? Mainly because of their families.
Men used to be the primary breadwinners in almost all cases for their families. Times have changed. Men used to be willing to live with a less-than-ideal job and stay with a company for decades, but the rise of job-hopping has done away with that old idea. Plus, fewer men are graduating from college than women each year. This is definitely going to have a major impact on the way families and organizations are structured in the future.
Mr. Banks loves making his wife and children comfortable, thanks to his lucrative career. He tries to remain aloof at home, and that’s just his way of dealing with the pressures of his life. Although Mrs. Banks is a fierce women’s rights activist who claims that all men are “rather stupid,” she still listens to her husband, even when she disagrees with him.
Mr. Williams finds no such peace at home. He has no children and his wife treats him with contempt when he tells her he’d prefer a quiet life. The woman who should be his biggest support and confidante gives him no support or respect. She just considers him to be a human ATM, allowing her to be comfortable through his misery.
Mr. Banks derives great satisfaction out of straining himself so his family doesn’t have to worry about material things. But no matter how much Mr. Williams toils and suffers, his wife is never satisfied. He just continues to get more miserable and wonders what’s the use of continuing on.
It’s not hard to find examples of people claiming that men are stupid or otherwise inferior to women. What was a joke in Mary Poppins has become serious business over the years. Men are supposed to be emotional punching bags, accepting any undeserved punishment as a fact of life, and if they ever speak up against injustice they are condemned as unmanly, wimpy, or worse.
Escaping to Another Time and Place
Mary Poppins features a magical nanny who is able to transport people into different realities. At one point, she helps Mr. Banks’s two children jump right into a sidewalk painting, and they emerge in a cartoon world filled with sunshine, warmth, and pleasantness. It’s a welcome change from the dreary streets of London. Later, the children tell their father all about it. At first he’s not enthused to hear that they are spending their time daydreaming, but at the end of the film he, too, wishes to join them on just such an adventure.
In “A Stop at Willoughby,” Mr. Williams falls asleep several times on a train heading between his home and New York City. Each time he finds himself transported to a different time and place. It’s a small town called Willoughby, and it’s in the late 19th century instead of the mid-20th century. In a welcome departure from the cold winter in a busy city, Mr. Williams finds himself transported to a beautiful summer day in an easy-going town. At first he is confused and doesn’t know what to make of this strange vision, but by the end all he wants to do is get off the train and stay in Willoughby forever.
Escapism is a big theme in both of these stories. Mr. Banks thinks fantasy lands are foolish and even dangerous, but he learns to embrace them because they make his children happy, and he wants to share in their joy. Mr. Williams tries to look for a logical explanation for his vision of another reality, but he eventually gives up and gives in to its allure. He’s convinced he’ll never be happy in real life, so he just prefers the fantasy.
I know it’s cliché, but perhaps this is why some young men choose to escape into video games and other forms of entertainment. All they hear is how terrible they are and they see the deck stacked against them in family courts, prisons, hiring, education, and just about everywhere else, so why even bother? Just stick to the fantasy. It’s safer there.
Bearing Full Responsibility
Mr. Banks has no one to turn to with his troubles. He is forced to succeed or fail on his own merits, and he can’t appeal to people’s pity if he ever fails in his duties. Case in point: Mary Poppins manipulates Mr. Banks into taking his children to the bank one day. However, the children wind up causing a panic at the bank. Mr. Banks can’t blame Mary Poppins or his children for the disaster. He alone is forced to bear full responsibility for it.
This one is pretty clear. These men have no one else to help them or take the fall for them. They are alone in their responsibilities.
It’s not easy to bear such a heavy burden. This is why men used to receive so much respect. They are the risk-takers, the adventurers, the ones who get things done. Where much is expected, much is given. It seems that people have forgotten this. There is no conspiracy to lift men at women’s expense. There was just a need for men to rise as high as they could so they could pay for their own families’ (and, by extension, society’s) needs.
Mr. Banks gets fired from his job one night, even though what happened wasn’t his fault at all. When it seems like all hope is gone and he has no reason to go on, he is reminded of his loving family. Their love for him brings him back from the brink. The next morning, his wife is deeply concerned because he’s gone missing. Some close friends believe he may have killed himself. But it turns out that Mr. Banks has been hard at work repairing his kids’ kite in a gesture of goodwill. He shows that what he wants more than anything is to spend time with his wife and children. And everything turns out just fine for him at the bank, as well.
At a critical moment when Mr. Williams is feeling the weight of the world on his shoulders and is teetering on the edge, he calls his wife and begs for reassurance. But she just brushes him off and abruptly ends the call. He promptly quits his job and rushes home. On the way, he has one final daydream and he finally goes outside and meets two children who instantly befriend him and welcome him to their town. However, it turns out that in reality he jumped off the train and killed himself. “Willoughby” turns out to be the name of a funeral home.
Mr. Banks found the love and support he needed in the form of his family. They will always love him, no matter what anyone else thinks of him, and that brings him back to them safe and sound. Mr. Williams unfortunately has his last tie to this world severed when his wife leaves him. He has nothing to live for, neither his job nor his family. He is virtually forced to find solace in suicide.
Nowadays, men don’t get much support from their families, churches, or other places they used to be able to turn to in times of need. I believe this is why we have seen the huge increase in the number of male suicides. It is also why we have seen the rise of the MGTOW (Men Going Their Own Way) movement. Some people prefer to go Galt and shun romantic relationships and institutions they see as hopelessly biased against them. Either way, men are increasingly opting out.
A Positive Path
Mary Poppins focuses on preventing male suicide by giving men a reason to live. “A Stop at Willoughby” offers men the comfort that even if their lives are terrible and it seems like they’ll never improve, at least there’s something much better waiting for them in the afterlife.
Mary Poppins provides a positive path to follow. Women deserve equal rights to men, of course, but we must not raise women at the expense of men or seek to abandon all the good things that have come from stable families and strong men and fathers. “A Stop at Willoughby” shows what the future holds for us if we continue down the path we’re on. Eventually, men and women will realize that they don’t like being forced apart, and something will have to give.
If we could just learn to get along and deal with our differences rather than ostracize each other over them, I submit that would be practically perfect in every way.
This is the Deja Reviewer bidding you farewell until we meet again.
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