Murphy’s Law – Calling for an end to the intense stare-down

Joel Murphy 

Joel Murphy

Earlier this week, Warner Bros. released a new teaser poster for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part II, the final chapter in an epic battle between magical forces of good and evil. The poster features Harry and his nemesis, Lord Voldemort, staring each other down.

Their faces are mere inches apart, filled with scorn for each other and separated only by a magical wand that Voldemort is waving between them for some reason. They are so close that if Voldemort had a nose, it would practically be touching Harry’s.

In the minds of the parties involved, this poster conveys the intensity of the moment. Undoubtedly, the Harry Potter poster makers wanted to depict the contempt these two characters have for each other as they head into their final confrontation. It’s a classic “ticking time bomb” situation – two men staring each other down as they barely contain the fierce rage boiling just underneath the surface. They are both, as Vincent Vega would say, race cars in the fucking red.

There’s just one problem – it looks ridiculous.

Now, before I get hate mail from the Harry Potter crowd, I’m not just picking on this one poster. Their pose is one you’ve seen countless times before (albeit normally without a magic wand separating the two adversaries) and it always looks ridiculous. The intense stare-down has become a staple of movies and sporting events. You can’t have a boxing weigh-in or a main event wrestling promo without the two combatants invading each other’s personal space to grimace and scowl.

It is meant to look bad ass, but it always just looks silly. And frankly, I don’t understand why people insist on doing it.

At its core, what the two adversaries are doing in that moment is having a staring contest, something elementary school kids do to mess with each other on the playground. It’s hard to convey what a tough guy you are when engaging in an activity that traditionally ends with either one or both parties giggling uncontrollably.

And there’s another big problem with the intense stare-down. It always, inevitably, looks like the two men involved are about to make out. Think about it – the only other time in cinema you seen a tight shot with two people’s faces inches apart is when two characters with years of sexual tension are about to give into their feelings and finally kiss (a moment typically broken up by some contrived circumstance to keep the tension going and the viewers watching).

In the Community episode “Comparative Religion,” Britta Perry offered up the following theory: “The real reason men fight is to release their pent up gayness.” (A theory Abed later backs up by adding: “You know, she has a point – in boxing you fight for the purse and the belt.”) It’s really hard to argue with that theory while watching two sweaty men bring their faces inches apart from each other like they are participating in a Truth or Dare challenge that’s going a little too far. (It doesn’t help that when the scenario involves athletes, they are typically shirtless at the time.)

To quote Seinfeld: “Not that there’s anything wrong with that.” If you are a dude who wants to make out with other dudes, I highly encourage you to stare deeply into each other’s eyes right beforehand. I think it will heighten the moment for you. But if you are a tough guy looking to convey “I want to rip your head off right now” instead of “I want to rip your clothes off right now,” then I suggest avoiding the stare-down altogether.

Latent homoeroticism aside, the intense stare-down has another problem – it always ends up feeling incredibly contrived. Think about the fights you’ve seen in real life – the bar room brawls or sporting event crowd confrontations that end in fisticuffs. There is typically a lot of shouting and perhaps even a little pre-fight shoving, but how often do the combatants actually take a few seconds out before the fight to silently stare each other down? The fact is that people who are actually going to fight each other don’t just “sing it,” they bring it. The only thing they want their foe to stare at is their fists (as they are punching them repeatedly – they don’t want them to literally stare at their fists, that would be weird). The intense stare-down is, at best, something reserved for the “you better hold me back” crowd.

So next time you are creating a movie poster or staging a boxing weigh-in or holding a UFC pre-match press conference, just avoid the intense stare-down altogether. Keep it out of the ring and save it for where it truly belongs – the bedroom.

Joel Murphy is the creator of HoboTrashcan, which is probably why he has his own column. He loves pugs, hates Jimmy Fallon and has an irrational fear of robots. You can contact him at murphyslaw@hobotrashcan.com.

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Comments (1)
  1. Aaron Davis March 30, 2011

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