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Social Conditions in Men for Sale, Research Paper Example

Pages: 1

Words: 1081

Research Paper

The Film

In 2008, French/Canadian filmmaker Rodrigue Jean filmed and released Men for Sale, a documentary centered on the lives of 11 male prostitutes in Montreal.  There is no plot or storyline to the film; rather, a mostly unseen and unheard presence elicits stories and experiences from the subjects.  These alternate both in intensity and content during the documentary, as everything is presented here to only convey the reality of the life as a male prostitute as these men live it.  Most of the interview segments are filmed in a neutral setting, the filmmaker’s own apartment, which acts as a safe haven for them.  The men are also largely anonymous, and only one name is actually offered.

Given the subject matter and the director’s choice of presentation, this documentary is then a randomized study of a marginalized segment of the Canadian population, and of a specifically urban one.  Each man reveals individual attitudes about the prostitution, as well as differing accounts of how and why they engage in it.  Common elements nonetheless are seen, as most of the men confess to having come from broken or abusive homes.  The men are also young, averaging in their mid-twenties, and all are involved with drugs to varying degrees.  As noted, their stories alternate, and several men are given more screen time than others, seemingly dependent on their willingness to talk about their work and their lives.  The lack of narrative structure translates to no real beginning or end, and the documentary offers no assessments of what the subjects say or how they live.  It is a documentary in the truest sense, using the camera only to consistently present each man’s accounts.  It should be noted as well that, since most of the men are French Canadian, subtitles are used.

Analysis

It must first be noted that the national background of the subject is one admitting to development issues.  If Canada is not typically perceived as a developing nation, the modern reality is that it has essentially reverted to such a status after some years as being among the leaders in development.  Today, China, India, and Brazil rank more highly than Canada in terms of national development (CBC News,  2013), and the nation is clearly concerned with regaining its former status.  The United Nations report making this assessment bases it on income, education, and health, but it also reflects that a critical issue for Canada is an increasingly large gap between the poor and the affluent (CBC News), a factor invariably in place in nations struggling to develop.

These difficulties facing Canada then serve to reinforce several sociological issues presented by the film.  One may be said to be how urbanization deteriorates when a nation is undergoing problems in employment, just as the drug abuse of the male prostitutes indicates similar patterns in other urban arenas.  The primary issue, however, relates to the actual role of the men in terms of their gender, and in a culture and era presumably enlightened in regard to homosexuality.  As based on the testimony of the men, the male prostitution is active in spite of gay rights advances or a gay culture in Montreal.  This points to it as being driven by clients who, for whatever reason, feel the need to engage in sex with men in absolute secrecy.  While the prostitutes make it clear that there are clients who employ them for other reasons, such as unusual desires or an actual preference for the dangerous aspect to the activity, it seems the greater reality is that, modern perceptions of homosexuality notwithstanding, there is a thriving market here for covert gay sex.  Actual figures are unknown, but it is estimated that a full quarter of all prostitutes working in Canada are male (Janoff, 2005,  p. 88), a higher percentage than is seen in developed nations.

What Men for Sale makes most interesting is the alternately empowered and victimized states of these male prostitutes, and this profoundly illustrates the sociological issue of how gender translates within the occupation.  These Canadian male prostitutes, like male prostitutes elsewhere, differ from women in that they are independent.  The male hustler does not rely on a pimp, nor is abused by one, and this furthers the perception that the work is something of a lifestyle choice (Janoff, 2005, p. 88).  In plain terms, and in most societies, men are less in danger of being threatened by physical violence from other men, just as their typically greater physical strength and status as males enable greater choice.  In a sense, the subjects of Men for Sale affirm this reality; they are anxious as to their futures and unhappy with the life, but they also do not refer to having been coerced into it.  Even the drug addictions they admit to do not alter this reality, for the cycle is in place at least partially by choice.  On one level, then, these are men who have voluntarily surrendered to prostitution, as opposed to female prostitutes who feel they have no other options.

At the same time, it is striking to hear these men express very real fears regarding their own safety.  Some discuss the need to be wary of all clients because there is no knowing how violent one may become.  Others talk about how the work actually generates violent tendencies in themselves.  Several of the men define themselves as strictly heterosexual, so it is likely that the work creates in them intense resentment, or even rage.  It is natural to perceive this as a kind of denial, but the sociology of the entire circumstance remains complex.  The documentary inevitably prompts the question: why would young, healthy men in Montreal, capable of entering the mainstream market, choose to take and remain in work that is dangerous, illegal, and to them a contradiction of their own sexualities?  As noted, the film gives no answer.  Nonetheless, this single presentation of 11 male prostitutes raises serious issues regarding gender roles in general.  This is a life that inevitably creates victimization, no matter the gender of the prostitute, as well as likely dangers of drug addiction.  That men, typically empowered to a degree to avoid victimization, fill these roles, and in a modern city like Montreal, is then all the more remarkable.

 References

CBC News. (2013). “Canada Drops Out of Top 10 Most Developed Countries List”  Retrieved from http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/story/2013/03/14/canada-slips-.html

InformAction, National Film Board of Canada  (Producers), & Jean, R.  (Director).  (2008).  Men for Sale.  Documentary.  Canada.

Janoff, D.  (2005).  Pink Blood: Homophobic Violence in Canada.  Toronto: University of Toronto Press.

 

 

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