Mötley Crüe’s ‘The Dirt’ Falls Victim to Identity Politics
The highly anticipated biopic on the life and times of Mötley Crüe, The Dirt, finally hit screens this week after almost two decades in the making. Based on the New York Times bestselling book of the same name, it tracks the band’s journey, from an upstart playing West Hollywood’s famous Whisky a Go Go in 1981, through the many triumphs and bumps in the road thereafter, culminating with their eventual reunion in 1996.
True to Mötley Crüe’s career, the fans love it and the critics hate it.
As of writing, Rotten Tomatoe’s critic ‘tomatometer’ gives it 43%, whilst the audience score is 86%, exactly double. The critic consensus on this site is that ‘The Dirt celebrates the rude debauchery that Mötley Crüe’s fans enjoy — but does so with the dispiriting lack of substance that the group’s critics have long decried’.
The band’s chief protagonist, Nikki Sixx (portrayed by Douglas Booth), said on Twitter that “the album is number one. The fans are going crazy over The Dirt. The critics hate it.”
Why Critics Hate It
Lorraine Ali resorted to name calling and condescending adjectives from the get go in her write up for the Los Angeles Times; “the book put the washed up metal band back on the radar with lurid tales of bad-boy debauchery. Remarkably, the new Netflix movie takes the same pathetic approach”.
Somebody please remind Ali that the movie is based on the book, and that name calling is no substitute for making a constructive argument.
She went on to say that the film arrived in a streaming service bubble, “unaware that the culture has moved on and that Netflix is brimming with content written, directed and starring strong women”.
Yes, that is awesome, and it is also cherry picking. Netflix is also brimming with classics from a pre-MeToo era, documentaries on the sordid lifestyles of pornstars and features countless hours of standup comedians spewing forth all sorts of material that critics would be quick to label sexist. It seems that the only one living in a streaming service bubble here is Ali; perhaps that’s what’s wrong with Netflix’s recommendation engine, it serves us content that serves to harden our pre-existing beliefs and tastes.
She was promply shut down by many when fishing for attention on Twitter.
The Atlantic’s Spencer Kornhaber called the film a celebration of Motley Crue’s apparent soullessness. “Self-indulgence is the individual’s prerogative, but Crüe’s involved more than just the self and more than just indulgence. That others got hurt or destroyed by Crüe’s rampages is hinted at in The Dirt’s litany of the members’ girlfriends and wives who were cheated on and casually insulted”.
Yes, the Crue hurt their wives and girlfriends. As human beings, we are inclined to hurt each other every day, especially those closest to us. Pretending these things don’t happen doesn’t mean they don’t. Who among us goes through our entire lives without hurting anybody and without making any bad decisions? As one tweeter put it above, “when you court the devil, you don’t complain about the cost”, and this applies to the women portrayed in the Motley Crue biopic. These women weren’t forced into relationships with members of the self-proclaimed most notorious rock band in the world; they opted into them, for reasons entirely of their own.
As for being soulless, the film explicitly deals with Nikki Sixx’s childhood trauma stemming from a severed relationship with his mother and runaway father, manifesting itself in heroin addiction during the height of the group’s fame. A light was shined on guitarist Mick Mars’ battle with the clock as he battled the debilitating spinal degenerative disease, ankylosing spondylitis. Finally, Vince Neil’s vehicular manslaughter of his friend, Hanoi Rocks drummer Razzle (portrayed by Ryan Dunn) whilst under the influence, and the death of his four-year-old daughter Skylar, illustrated the painful realities that members of the Crue lived through, and a more human side to their debauchery-seeking alter egos.
Kornhaber also came under fire on Twitter.
#MeToo and Sexual Liberation
Finally, NME’s Dan Stubbs, played the #MeToo card and said that there was possibly no worse-timed film than The Dirt. “The Dirt is the film equivalent of a Twitter egg spouting #meninist viewpoints to nobody”, he wrote. Nobody?The film’s soundtrack going to number one with a bullet on iTunes’ album chart begs to differ. Somebody must be taking note.
Sexual violence is at the heart of #MeToo. As far as I can tell, all of the women engaged in gratuitous sex scenes were, for the most part, groupies, who willingly sought out and engaged with the troupe. They were not up and coming actresses being taken advantage of by studio executives, nor were they subject to sexual violence. It was consensual. It’s as if the writer forgot that people enjoy having sex. Contrary to what would seem to be the wish of a growing minority, you can’t turn off or magically undo tens of thousands of years of biological evolution.
As Sixx told Rolling Stone, “I stand 100 percent behind the #MeToo movement. I think we’re in a very great time for equality and we’ve got room to grow. Even though we were fucking animals and the shit that we did was fucking crazy and the shit the girls did to us was crazy, there was never a moment ever that anybody in the band took that as an opportunity to wield power. I’m not saying we were angels, but it was all consensual.”
Furthermore, the feminist movements of the 1960s had a hell of a lot to do with women being sexually liberated, to do what they want with who they want. If that happened to be lusting after a rockstar then that was one’s choice. The sex-positive feminist movement of the 80s similarly opposed actions that control sexual activity and any form of sexual repression.
Today, thanks in no small part to these movements, one in three women admit to watching porn at least once a week (which suggests that the actual number is higher). Porn is not exactly free of women-objectifying material, and it is far more degrading than anything that appears in The Dirt.
Shall we ban porn?
Shall we close down nightclubs because of the less than wholesome behavior that often goes on inside?
Shall we go back to a time when women had to cover their knees in public?
These same publications often celebrate rappers like Snoop Dogg, Jay Z or Kanye West, all of whom have written their fair share of what you’d call misogynistic lyrics, such as the latter’s “I know she like chocolate men, she got more n*ggas off than Cochran”, or Jay-Z’s “you ain’t no better because you don’t be f*cking rappers, you only f*ck with actors, you*re still getting f*cked backwards”.
Shall we ban music that doesn’t fit a specific ideology as well? Oh wait, they already tried. Funnily enough, such voices of outrage previously came from conservative such as Tipper Gore’s Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC) which in the 1980s lobbied to censor violent, drug-related or sexual themes in music, resulting in the infamous Parental Advisory sticker. Still funnier, the sticker had the opposite effect and made artists whose album sleeves featured said stickers in greater demand than ever amongst teens.
Shutting Down Discourse
As English author and polymath John Lubbock once quipped, “what we see depends mainly on what we look for”. The writers of these articles (clearly not heavy metal fans) saw what they wanted to see in this film in order to write the article they wanted to write, the one with the most click-baity headline. They were looking for misogyny and they found it. They could have found triumph over adversity and the undying human spirit in here too if they looked for it. They weaved an explanation into a series of facts. Instead of objectively looking at the merits of the film or the story, they purposely looked for reasons not to like the film that would fit their specific narrative.
Their efforts to put down the film and perpetuate an idea that it is ‘too late’ for such films are dangerous. It’s OK not to like a story. It’s OK to give it a bad review. It’s an entirely different and dangerous thing to abuse the power of a platform like the Los Angeles Times to say that certain stories shouldn’t be toldor that platforms like Netflix should refuse to publish content that doesn’t align with specific ideologies.
The moment we do that is the moment we shut down discourse and the free exchange of ideas. If we shut down ideas, we ultimately shut down progress.
While most human beings are inclined to walk around with social masks on, at the expense of revealing our true selves, director Jeff Tremaine took a tell-all approach. It wasn’t about being liked; it was about revealing the truth. Drummer Tommy Lee’s struggle with domestic violence wasn’t omitted from the film but was foreshadowed in one ugly scene in which he punched his then-fiance in the face. It was far from glorified as some writers would have you believe. Lee (played by Machine Gun Kelly) responded with debilitating regret, confronting his darker side. Sweeping the truth and stories like these under the rug doesn’t help address these realities.
As Variety magazine’s Roy Trakin, who offered a fair, unbiased review of the film put it, “The Dirt shows that there are consequences to our bad behavior, and if the film lacks a feel-good, cathartic ending like Bohemian Rhapsody, it depicts all the inherent pitfalls with stark alacrity, including Nikki’s own abusive upbringing”. This movie celebrates life. It celebrates triumph over adversity and warns of the perils of taking things to the extreme and of the cost of success.
Not only does shutting down stories shut down discourse, but it is also prone to delete history. Sadly, this is not hypothetical and is exactly what’s happening in Universities across the world, as students interrupt classes on the classics to protest perceived ‘Eurocentrism’. Lectures for one of Reed College’s humanities courses on the ancient Mediterranean were canceledafter protesters tried to interrupt the class. Additionally, students at London University are demanding that Plato, Descartes, and Immanuel Kant, fathers of western philosophy, are dropped from the curriculum because they are white.
Why This Matters
This is about something much bigger than negative reviews of a rock band’s biopic. This is about preserving our right to tell stories, and not have them scrutinized, not because of the quality of the story, but because they don’t fit a particular cultural paradigm that certain groups of people subscribe to.
We should all be free to tell our stories.
Whatever we choose to listen to and how we choose to interpret them should be up to us.