The obvious narrative arc of the video is one of a boy who has lost his father in the Iraq War; but underlying this narrative is another that tells the story of the boy being taught to be a man. Morello [guitarist of Audioslave] explained:
It’s a story of a woman who loses her husband and a child who loses his father. That’s the simple story. The bigger picture is that the culture of violence at home breeds a culture of violence abroad, and there’s a price to be paid for that. And that price is the loss of lives and families destroyed (as cited in Harris, 2005).
In the narrative of the video, the cost of this violence is the father and, should the process continue, presumably his son.
The main character of this narrative has few interactions with others outside the boxing ring. There are brief moments when he connects with his mother and sister, but he is far more often seen alone. His isolation can be read as a response to the grief the boy may be feeling because of his absent father, but it also resonates with a traditional expectation of masculinity that men live their lives without relying on others for comfort or support.
In addition to isolation from domestic space, the narrative illustrates how men are socialized to express limited emotions. Although the boy shows brief moments of happiness, joy, determination, and rage throughout the video, the most striking aspect of the character is his considerable emotional control. At his father’s funeral, he stands with a stoic face, holding the hand of his sister, who uses her arm to wipe the flowing tears from her eyes. Their mother stands behind them, hands folded, looking off into the distance. The camera focuses on the little girl who reaches out in the direction of her father’s casket as her face contorts in grief. In contrast, the boy remains still and shows no emotion, demonstrating restraint far beyond what would be expected of a six-year-old child.
The lyrics of the song reinforce this emotional control. The chorus contains the lines, “The things that I’ve loved the things that I’ve lost/The things I’ve held sacred that I’ve dropped/I won’t lie no more you can bet/I don’t want to learn what I’ll need to forget”. The theme of the song is avoidance of painful memories. It tells the story of an individual who focuses on objects and actions that allow him to divert his attention from past events. The lyrics of the verses are structured as paired sets of lines in which the first states something the singer likes to see or do, such as “I like studying faces in a parking lot,” and the second line of each pair is the phrase, “Cause it doesn’t remind me of anything.” As the soundtrack to the video, the lyrics help reinforce the boy’s masculine performance of actions that allow him to escape from showing the grief he feels after first being separated from and then losing his father.
These escapist practices are typically depicted as moments during which the boy performs his anger, usually in outbursts of violence. […] Overall, these montages depict the celebration of violence that reinforces the performance of hegemonic masculinity. The young boy engages in the violent behavior, releasing his oppressed emotions in a way that is socially acceptable. Others are spectators to this masculine performance, supporting him and celebrating his success.
“Doesn’t Remind Me” is representative of antiwar protest rhetoric that emerged leading up to and during the Iraq War, but it is distinct in its willingness to situate its antiwar message through a broader social critique of violence and gender construction. It utilizes a masculine feminist perspective, in which men critique the gender socialization process to which they are subjected. Viewers watch as the boy in the video loses his father as a consequence of hegemonic masculinity. They also watch this boy being trained by society to take his father’s place at home and, later, in war—something the video argues is possible because society celebrates a masculinity performed through isolation, limited emotional expression, and violence. The video demonstrates how difficult it can be to escape the socialization of hegemonic masculinity, as the boy is supported and rewarded by family members and society for “proper” gender performances. Even as militarized hegemonic masculinity causes harm to individuals and families, they continue to participate in the process of socialization that encourages this type of masculinity. “Doesn’t Remind Me” illustrates the diffusiveness of gender socialization and questions the assumed “rightness” of particular masculine traits by highlighting the harms the traits bring to the very people who participate in maintaining them. In addition, it positions viewers to see themselves in the cheering crowd and question their roles in reproducing the masculinity required for war.
As Connell (1985) reminds us, hegemonic masculinity does not have a static definition. Rather, the traits expected of men evolve in order to maintain a patriarchal culture. “Doesn’t Remind Me” suggests that in addition to maintaining a patriarchal society, hegemonic masculinity evolves to meet the demands of U.S. society as it attempts to maintain its position at the top of a global hierarchy. From the early 2000s into contemporary society (as well as during historical eras of war), this has meant producing men willing to participate in and support military action. As the military begins to wind down its overseas presence and the current U.S. government seeks to shift out of a military era, the profile of hegemonic masculinity in the future is unclear. Perhaps we are already seeing a shift toward the corporatized masculinity Ashcraft and Flores (2003) identified as the target of critique in films during the late 1990s. Or, we may see some other form of hegemonic masculinity emerge. Regardless, hegemonic masculinity will continue in some form, but Audioslave’s video suggests significant room exists in popular culture to critique the socialization process that produces it and to encourage individuals to question their role in constructing harmful gender identities.
Prody, Jessica M. 2015. “Protesting War and Hegemonic Masculinity in Music Videos: Audioslave’s “Doesn’t Remind Me”.” Women’s Studies in Communication 38(4):440-461.