It seems as though a thousand books and documentaries have been made about women and their body issues. The multibillion-dollar beauty industry—abetted by Vogue, Cosmo, and countless other lady-mags—is built on making females feel bad about the way they look. But something has shifted in our culture: Men are shaving their chests and genitals, getting pumped up on steroids, and resorting to plastic surgery to look like the stars of pro wrestling, Hollywood action movies, and porn.
Sometimes called body dysmorphic disorder (or BDD), this is the broader, more serious subject of the documentary Unhung Hero, which follows Whidbey Island native Patrick Moote on a journey toward bodily self-acceptance. But to get there, first the viewer needs to accept the film’s premise. This is a movie about dick size, starting with Moote’s, and it traces his efforts to increase it by consulting various quacks, experts, doctors, and the nation’s leading sex columnist, Dan Savage.
“It’s not men being objectified or women being objectified, it’s people,” says Moote by phone during a visit home to Whidbey Island. He’s been in Los Angeles for a decade, having followed his comedian brother, Brian Moote, into showbiz. That means auditions and constant judgment, based largely on his looks. He writes, does stand-up, and has earned a half-dozen IMDb credits to date (including a bit part on How I Met Your Mother).
“My parents got me involved in community theater as a kid,” he recalls. “We didn’t even have cable. On Whidbey, we had a theater with, like, one screen. Going to the movies in Seattle was a big deal for Whidbey kids. I remember one of the greatest cinemagoing experiences ever was going to see Jurassic Park at the Alderwood Mall. I was a big fan of Mel Brooks films. Here, I was a little embarrassed about doing theater. When I moved to L.A., it was about a love for theater and film.”
Flash forward to December 2011 at a UCLA basketball game. As we see in the film, Moote arranged for the “Mistletoe Cam” to be trained on him and his girlfriend when he popped the question—then everything went wrong (and found its way to YouTube). Later, off camera, his unnamed ex gave him the reason for her very public rejection. “Apparently I have a small penis,” says Moote in the doc, which was born from that moment of shame. Filmed by director Brian Spitz, Unhung Hero trails Moote back to Whidbey, to the Bay Area, and Asia on a quest to see what’s normal, what’s too small, and what men are doing to rectify the situation. In form, the first-person-y doc resembles Morgan Spurlock’s Super Size Me (sorry!), as Moote tries humiliating pumps, inteviews penile experts, and delivers sad-sack confessions to the camera.
Says Spitz, joining us on the call, “Patrick and I made a conscious decision that we’re not going to go out and make a dick movie. There’s a pattern of investigative journalism that we tried to follow. We had to cover the spectrum of penis-size experts, from urologists to porn stars to sexual anthropologists. Just out of our own curiosity . . . we stumbled on a penis festival in Japan and people hanging weights from their penises in Taiwan. To see how other cultures dealt with these issues.”
Moote tried some of these remedies himself—an embarrassing-enough task even without the camera rolling. This is where his comedy background helped, he says. “Stand-up was a huge part of my willingness to do this film, because stand-up is the process of digging into yourself. I’d gotten used to that, to being a little bit embarrassed. I’ve always incorporated a good amount of my life into the act.”
How much does he show? Where does he start (in inches) and where does he end? You’ll have to see the movie, the screening of which Moote and Spitz will attend at SIFF.
They both agree the film evolved from something personal and comic to a larger set of concerns.“When we were testing [the movie] with our friends, girls would identify with this project just the way guys did,” says Spitz. “Men were never the subject of sexual or physical scrutiny the way women always have been. We live in this pornified culture, and it’s really sort of bleeding into the everyday view of guys and girls.”
Moote adds, “The old ’70s porn stars, they look like human beings, like your dad. They don’t look like G.I. Joe crossed with Barbie.” But today, he worries, young teens of both sexes are being exposed to unobtainable bodies in both the conventional media and the X-rated realms of the Internet.“They’re instantly being made insecure about their bodies. You don’t have anything compare it to, and the first thing you see is, like, a foot long. But that’s just an image you’re seeing, that’s not the way you’re supposed to be. That’s just an image that’s being sold.”
UNHUNG HERO Pacific Place, 600 Pine St., 324-9996, siff.net. $10–$12. 6:30 p.m. Tues., June 4 and 4 p.m. Wed., June 5.