Theatre Thursdays: A Man’s Gotta Do What a Man’s Gotta Do; or Masculinity and Dr. Horrible

Dr%20Horrible%20Captain%20PennyIn my last Theatre Thursday, I discussed Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, the problematic themes of stalking, and the general disenfranchisement of our female lead Penny’s character. At the end of that post, I briefly mentioned that perhaps the reason Penny’s character leaves something to be desired is because of how the musical discusses masculinity.

As much as Joss Whedon is considered by many to be a feminist, I often wonder if he plans some of the themes I see in his work, or if it happens by mistake. Whatever the case, this musical makes some strong statements about masculinity and what it means not only to be a man, but to be a man in relation to a woman.

Dr. Horrible:
A man’s gotta do
What a man’s gotta do.
Don’t plan the plan,
If you can’t follow through.
All that matters
Taking matters into your own hands.
Soon I’ll control everything
My wish is your command—

These lyrics from the song “A Man’s Gottta Do” are the first hint we get about how Dr. Horrible views what it means to be a man. Before this song starts, there is a scene where Penny approaches Dr. Horrible, asking for signatures for a petition to help build a new homeless shelter. This is the first chance that Dr. Horrible has had to actually talk to Penny. She recognizes him from the laundromat and seems genuinely interested in talking to Dr. Horrible, but he practically ignores her because he is so distracted by his current project of trying to steal wonderflonium for his freeze ray. Penny eventually leaves when she realizes Dr. Horrible does not seem interested in her, and Dr. Horrible seems torn between going to Penny and heading down his path to supervillainy. After Penny leaves he says, “She talked to me. Why did she have to talk to me now?” Then he quietly mutters, “Maybe I should…” He takes a step toward Penny before stopping, turning away, and starting to sing “A Man’s Gotta Do.”

a man's gotta doThe message of the song in the context of this scene is clear: being a real man does not mean spending time with the girl you are in love with and signing petitions for a new homeless shelter. Being a man means staying strong and doing what has to be done, even if “what has to be done” means stealing and becoming a supervillain. To Dr. Horrible, being a man means having power and control; only then will he feel fulfilled as a man. Furthermore, it’s clear that he thinks Penny wouldn’t be interested in him unless he has this power and control over literally everything. This idea is reinforced when Captain Hammer appears and uses his superpowers to save Penny.

Captain Hammer:
Stand back everyone,
Nothing here to see.
Just imminent danger
And the middle of it, me.
Yes, Captain Hammer’s here,
Hair blowing in the breeze.
The day needs my saving expertise.

A man’s gotta do
What a man’s gotta do
Seems destiny
Ends with me saving you
The only doom that’s looming
Is you loving me to death
So I’ll give you a sec to catch your breath

Thanks to his abilities, Captain Hammer already has the power and control that Dr. Horrible craves. Instead, what we see in Captain Hammer is vanity and ego. He does good and saves people, not because of any true altruism, but because he needs both his power and his control to be constantly validated. He wants everyone to recognize that he’s a hero because he is aggressive and willing to fight. Furthermore, he needs his “alpha male” status validated through how many women he is able to sleep and/or get to fall in love with him. The lines “the only doom that’s looming is you loving me to death” paints the picture of someone who cares only for himself and no one else. Captain Hammer uses other people to enforce the idea that he is in fact a strong manly man, even if it means he has to hurt those people.

captain hammerDr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog, despite all appearances of being a fun, goofy, lighthearted musical about superheroes, is actually a tragedy, and in every tragedy the hero has some tragic flaw that ultimately dooms them. I would say that both Dr. Horrible and Captain Hammer have the same tragic flaw—they believe society’s stereotype of masculinity.

Captain Hammer, who constantly needed validation that he was the “alpha male”, is cut down and humiliated by Dr. Horrible. As he was shown to be “weak” by being capable of getting hurt, society rejects Captain Hammer, who is unable to deal with both the rejection and the humiliation and has a mental breakdown as a result.

But Dr. Horrible suffers much more than Captain Hammer. Dr. Horrible is finally able to convince everyone that he is in control and powerful by killing Penny. It is only after this event that he becomes a man that society cares about. The news media swarms him, people seem to love to hate him, Captain Hammer’s fans become Dr. Horrible’s, and Dr. Horrible finally gets the power he craves by becoming a member of the Evil League of Evil. But he realizes too late that what he really wanted was Penny. The irony is, of course, that if Dr. Horrible had just been Billy—if he had just been himself—then he probably would have been happy and with Penny.

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