So… Star-Lord made a pretty glaring mistake in INFINITY WAR. In fact, it could be said that Peter Quill was one of the largest contributors to Thanos’ victory. A lot of people are understandably upset at him because he royally messed up the only plan against Thanos that was working.

However, I think Quill’s mistake is perfectly understandable. It’s also a great example of how toxic masculinity can cause pain to not only the men suffering from it but to the people around him. Of course, Peter Quill would have a violent emotional outburst. The films he has been in so far make it incredibly clear that Quill has a lot of emotional issues. The environment he grew up in, his idea of what an “ideal” hero is, and the lack of time he’s been given to mourn his losses have all combined into an extremely unhealthy position for Quill.

Like most situations involving toxic masculinity, everyone suffers for it.

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Toxic Masculinity

The MCU isn’t new to toxic masculinity — there’s been a lot of discussions recently of Tony Stark’s place as a smug, self-absorbed protagonist, and whether his anxiety and pain excuse lashing out at others. However, there’s been a lot of focus on Tony Stark almost exclusively. This probably has a lot to do with the fact that Iron Man is almost always in the limelight. That said, Tony is far from the only example of toxic masculinity in the MCU.

Quill toxic masculinity
Image courtesy of Marvel Entertainment

Peter Quill is probably a close second when it comes to MCU protagonists struggling with toxic masculinity. That said, the Guardians are pretty chock full — Rocket certainly counts, as well as Yondu. Quill gets a lot of focus in the films, though… and, unlike a lot of other MCU protagonists, very little growth.

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In a lot of cases in the MCU — Thor, for example — protagonists have received some sort of arc of growth and healing. Especially in the recent MCU, creators have been giving us stories of men relinquishing their masculinity and need to conquer. It makes it a bit jarring to sit down to watch INFINITY WAR and remember that Quill hasn’t gotten to have a healing arc of his own. Instead, he’s still struggling just as heavily with allowing himself to have emotions.

Peter Quill & Idealized Heroes

We know from the very first GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY that Quill is fixated on media. Quill’s comparison of himself to Ren McCormack (or rather, Kevin Bacon) from Footloose is amusing but hints at a bigger problem. Quill doesn’t just want to be a hero. He wants to put on a very specific heroic persona. Who Quill wants to be, as a person, is a stereotypical mash-up of tropes that he adores. This doesn’t leave room for him to face his emotions.

Quill toxic masculinity
Image courtesy of Marvel Entertainment

Who needs emotional depth, who needs to face their own sadness, when instead they can build a humorous persona? Quill hasn’t fallen out of this idea of needing a heroic persona by GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL 2, and it’s definitely still present in INFINITY WAR. He has genuine trouble not joking around even when Gamora pulls him aside to ask him to promise to kill her.

Quill is falling into the same emotionless void as people who idolize grim action heroes. Instead of a serious, knowledgeable ladies’ man, he’s built a persona of a snarky, rebellious ladies’ man. While other men might fixate on the “paradigm” of masculinity that is James Bond, Quill is clearly more of a comedic hero type of guy. Either way, these men show a version of masculinity that doesn’t allow for emotional vulnerability.

Whether someone chooses to repress their emotions with a cool exterior or with humor, the result is the same.

Environment

On top of the idea of media heroes Quill has built, there’s the matter of how Quill grew up. Yondu and the Ravagers didn’t exactly provide a caring environment for a young man to grow up in. The environment of Quill’s childhood is one that didn’t allow for weakness. It’s the idea of a father who won’t let his son cry taken to a fictional extreme. Instead of the threat of a beating, there’s the threat of being fed to a bunch of aliens.

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Quill clearly realizes that the environment he grew up in was bad for him. In fact, he calls out Yondu in GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY.

“Twenty years you’ve been throwing that in my face! Like it’s some great thing, “not eating me!” Normal people don’t even THINK about eating someone else!”

The writing uses the bizarre situation to give a nod to the typical “I didn’t throw you out on the street” parenting model. This mode of parenting obviously negatively affects anyone, of any gender. However, Quill was specifically placed in this situation after losing his mother, surrounded by violent masculinity from that point on.

Quill toxic masculinity
Image courtesy of Marvel Entertainment

In GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY VOL 2, Yondu redeems himself somewhat as a father figure. Even in this movie, though, Yondu and Quill clearly struggle with expressing their emotions. It’s common to see characters in movies only admit their emotions in absolutely dire situations.

This is extremely true of both Yondu and Quill. However, if they were to allow themselves to be vulnerable outside of life-or-death situations, there might be fewer issues for them in the future.

Coping — Or Not

By INFINITY WAR, Quill has lost not only his mother but has also lost both his biological father and his father figure. On top of that, it turns out that his biological father murdered his mother. In INFINITY WAR, when he finally breaks down, he’s also lost the woman he loves. As someone who’s been repressing his emotions for multiple reasons for his whole life, Quill simply can’t deal with the pain anymore.

Quill’s cover-ups for his grief are easy to predict, especially considering his hero persona. In a lot of the movies, we see him use humor often to divert meaningful discussions. However, his other cover-up is equally recognizable to those familiar with toxic masculinity: anger. Quill, in moments where he is unable to use humor and unable to fully cope with his emotions, goes into a rage.

This isn’t new — when he discovers Ego murdered his mother, he flies into a rage.

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It’s not that his anger isn’t understandable. In fact, it’s completely understandable why he would be full of rage at the killer of his loved ones. However, because Quill has been repressing his emotions so regularly, he isn’t just angry. He’s angry without direction or sense behind it. His anger is an amalgamation of all the emotions he’s been continuously shoving down. Instead of a form of anger he can direct and use towards his heroism, it’s something that causes him to go rogue.

What Quill’s Mistake Teaches Us

A lot of focus on toxic masculinity is how it hurts the men who are carrying it around. Certainly, Quill is hurt by his own toxic masculinity. The fact that he can’t allow himself to feel his emotions or have meaningful, emotional discussions with his loved ones is likely awful for him.

However, a lot more focus should be on how toxic masculinity hurts the people around men. Quill’s decision to attack Thanos and disrupt the plan in INFINITY WAR exemplifies this perfectly.

Quill toxic masculinity
Image courtesy of Marvel Entertainment

Sure, Quill is in a lot of pain. In fact, his pain is entirely understandable even before factoring in the life he’s led up to INFINITY WAR. Still, Quill lets his emotional pain destroy everything around him. People who are fixated on the scene shouldn’t just spend their time being mad at Quill. They should spend their time trying understanding the environment that led up to this, and how it mirrors our own society.

The lead up to his breakdown in INFINITY WAR doesn’t excuse his mistake. Instead, it stands as an important lesson. Quill is an example of toxic masculinity that can pass under the radar. He’s a fun, funny guy — it’s easy to forget that he’s still an example of emotional repression. At the end of the day, the kind of toxic masculinity that he embodies has just as much destructive power as the “typical” example.

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It’s easy to track how the situation ended up this bad. That’s true of a lot of situations in the real world as well. It doesn’t excuse the men who hurt people with their outbursts… but it helps us better recognize the warning signs. Quill’s mistake is worth examining, to stop men committing real-world equivalents.

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One Comment

  1. Wendy C.

    May 28, 2018 at 7:46 pm

    Why is Peter Quill’s “toxic masculinity” (which is really him being upset at having yet ANOTHER person ripped away from him) so obsessed over in media yet EVERYONE gives the ugly thumb a pass for wiping out trillions and shedding crocodile tears over tossing the woman he tortured for years like garbage? I am baffled at all this Quill hate.

    All this bandwagon hate has taught me is that people will happily excuse (verbally masturbating over, even) a fictional monster for murdering a woman and actively killing trillions because he looked sad for 2 seconds. But God forbid a character who is actually good and has saved the universe twice, has an emotional reaction 2 seconds after hearing yet another important person in his life was torn away from him. He is not perfect like you and apparently 20m people who hate Quill are. And he inadvertently prevented Thanos from killing everyone on Titan. The writers even publicly stated that Thanos is still powerful w/o the gauntlet, if you spent even just a little bit of time thinking outside the box then you would remember Strange said “This was the only way.” They had to lose the battle to win the war, it’s so clear even toddlers should see it but you’re all tripping over yourselves trying to paint Quill as having ‘toxic masculinity’ while happily ignoring that he PULLED THE TRIGGER because Gamora wanted him to. He listened to her, first and foremost.

    So this article is complete bullshit and written by someone who wants all their heroes to be perfect and logical like Cap (who rolled up to T’Challa asking him to send his soldiers to die for a robot to live), Wanda (who took her sweet ass time selfishly keeping her robot boyfriend alive) Gamora (who went after Thanos even after she said in Vol. 2 that “I don’t know if it’s possible” to kill him), Nebula (who got captured by Thanos while trying to kill him after Gamora warned her not to), Tony (who refused to call Steve and instead went into space to battle Thanos with a bunch of strangers and a teenager), Loki (who has actively attacked NYC, snatched the Tesseract and couldn’t use his dozens of tricks against Thanos), Thor (who prioritized monologuing at Thanos instead of going for the head), and Thanos himself (who actively did the snap, has killed billions already, tortured kids he kidnapped, and murdered the only person he loved.) I really hope these ‘STAR-LORD IS THE REAL VILLAIN!!!’ thinkpieces die down and more thinkpieces about Thanos’s toxic masculinity get written because that is where the real analysis should be.

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