A certain type of masculinity has been in the news recently, and really, it’s been in the news ever since a certain orange fellow decided to run for President in 2015. It’s a type of masculinity that is brash, bold, angry, vicious, and really doesn’t account for the wants or needs of anyone except of the person performing it. It’s a macho masculinity for guys who’d love to have thrown a punch, but are afraid to actually fight anyone.
This post is NOT about that type of masculinity.
Today, I’m writing about an alternative masculinity that can pop up in fiction and in real life: the masculinity of the Cinnamon Roll. And I don’t mean the breakfast pastry.
A Cinnamon Roll, at least according to memes like this one, is a character who is sweet and charming and would never intentionally harm anyone. The Cinnamon Roll is generally relaxed and has little ego. I believe that some characters, like Thor and Captain America, have shades of Cinnamon Roll in them, but that’s not all of who they are. The two characters I’m examining today are Cinnamon Rolls through and through:
On the left, we have Korg (Taika Waititi) from Thor: Ragnarok. On the right, we have Akhmenrah (Rami Malek) from the Night at the Museum movies. Two sweet, mild-mannered Cinnamon Rolls. AREN’T THEY ADORABLE?!
One thing I’ve noticed about these two characters is that people just thoroughly enjoy them. They’re both so much fun! What’s interesting to me is that these two characters are clearly coded as masculine, but once we meet them, we never see them as aggressive, angry, or threatening. Both Korg and Akhmenrah are fully themselves, without succumbing to toxic masculinity*.
*A quick note on toxic masculinity: This does NOT mean that all forms of masculinity are toxic. Toxic masculinity is a certain type of masculinity that states that the ideal man represses all of his emotions, except for anger. In this version of masculinity, an semblance of the feminine is punished (which is why people who express this type of masculinity may use “bitch” or “pussy” as an insult), while women themselves are treated as objects. Here are a couple of articles about toxic masculinity for further reading. Characters that embody this type of masculinity include Batman and Iron Man. Real people that embody this type of masculinity include Donald Trump and Brett Kavanaugh. However, before anyone starts raging, I’d like to point out that toxic masculinity is a set of performed behaviors prescribed by society, not a set of inborn/biological urges. The point of this essay is to showcase two characters who perform nontoxic forms of masculinity.
Now that we have that explanation out of the way, let’s start by looking at Korg.
Firstly, I have to point out that the Korg we meet isn’t technically the first version of the character that we meet onscreen.
The character on the left appeared in Thor: The Dark World, and he didn’t officially have a name, but Marvel Studios bigwig Kevin Feige apparently called him Korg, and this big villain that immediately got decimated by Thor’s hammer Mjolnir is evidently closer to the Marvel comics version of Korg. This disappoints me greatly because the Korg we meet in Thor: Ragnarok is a much more engaging, memorable, and interesting character. You see, both of these characters are Kronans, a species of human rock people, but while The Dark World‘s Korg behave in a way we would expect a rock person to act (brutal, voiceless, aggressive, intimidating), Ragnarok‘s Korg behaves in ways that subvert the audience’s expectations.
Ragnarok‘s Korg (henceforth referred to as just “Korg”) is made of rock**, but he’s quiet the softy. You can see this in just about all of his prominent scenes. He’s friendly, nice, humorous, sweet, and helpful. As soon as Thor enters the gladiatorial holding pen on Sakaar (the trash-planet run by Jeff Goldblum), Korg immediately greets him, makes a “Rock, Paper, Scissors” joke and helps explain Sakaar’s gladiatorial system to Thor. The only time see Korg anything close to angry, it’s when he sees Loki’s illusion/magical hologram in the holding pen, and when it disappears, he runs at the spot where the illusion had just been and shouts, “PISS OFF, GHOST!” This is not remotely threatening, since he’s yelling at air. He also mentions that he tried to start a revolution (but didn’t print enough pamphlets) and that he hates his mother’s boyfriend, but he says these things in such a relaxed manner, and when he says he’s planning another revolution and asks Thor if he’d be interested, he sounds like he’s inviting Thor to a party. Everyone has the potential to be Korg’s friend, including a trickster like Loki and a hardened badass like Heimdall, and he approaches them that way.
**”Perishable rock,” as he’s quick to point out.
Also, while Korg is clearly made of rock and has a broad-shouldered build, he’s not so alien that we can’t relate to him. Part of what makes him relatable and fun is his fairly high voice and his way of speaking (which Taika Waititi apparently based on Auckland nightclub bouncers). I believe the thick New Zealand accent helps us relate to him, too: to audiences outside New Zealand, Korg’s accent helps him seems like an easygoing foreign friend or visiting exchange student rather than an alien. Also, his facial features are proportioned like that of an adult male, so while his body is made of a material that is unusual to us, the way his features are set are familiar to us. One thing that I’m kind of surprised Marvel did not do is give Korg big eyes. This is rather unusual for a friendly alien in a Hollywood film. In her video on othering aliens onscreen, YouTuber Lindsay Ellis describes how if a filmmaker wants an audience to immediately identify with an alien character, they give that character big baby eyes so that less screen time is needed to get the audience to identify with them. (E.T. is the most prominent example of the big baby eyes on an alien, but Ellis also lists Christopher Johnson from District 9 and Bumblebee from Transformers as additional examples.) However, the omission of the big baby eyes from Korg’s character design is probably intentional. Instead of using an easy visual cue like that, Waititi allows Korg to appear as an adult rock-person, and lets his personality endear us to him.
That’s where the Cinnamon Roll aspect of Korg is an excellent move. Because he is so relaxed, funny, and nonthreatening, we’re won over by his sweetness, his ability to articulate his thoughts (“It sounds like you had a pretty special and intimate relationship with this hammer and that losing it was almost comparable to losing a loved one.”), and his accent. He’s a little bit spacey, but he’s also fairly intelligent, and he worries about Thor when he’s supposed to face the Hulk because the Hulk kills all of his opponents in Sakaar’s gladiatorial arena. Korg is a chill, fun character who has a very easygoing nature, but also can express his thoughts and feelings in both funny and eloquent ways. Because of this, he stands out in the ensemble, managing to leave a lasting impression while hanging around with big personalities like Thor, Loki, Valkyrie, and Hulk precisely because he is the opposite of them. He rounds out the cast with his chilled-out vibe and his spacey-but-straightforward manner, and I will always love him for that.
Okay, that’s enough Korg analysis for now. Let’s move on to our other Cinnamon Roll, Akhmenrah (Fourth King of the Fourth King, Ruler of the Land of His Fathers).
This is what Akhmenrah looks when we first meet him in Night at the Museum: he’s wearing his mummy wrappings, but his face and his hair are exposed. Later on, he tends to wear golden crop-tops and skirts and a big golden headdress, but here, he’s just escaped the locked vault where he lay screaming from 1952 to 2006. He was kept locked up because the previous night guards and the other exhibits thought he would turn out to be evil. When Larry the Night Guard (Guardian of Brooklyn, as Akhmenrah calls him) and his son Nick actually meet him, he’s perfectly nice, polite, regal, and friendly. This is a subversion of the typical movie monster mummy, which is usually overtly evil and often says very little. Also, the most stereotypical movie monster mummies usually have their faces covered with their wrappings, but Akhmenrah’s face is exposed, as is his curly brown hair. What else do we notice about this mummy’s face? He has boyish features and big, sympathetic-looking eyes, which I mentioned in relation to designing aliens for the screen a few paragraphs above. While Akhmenrah is technically a human character, he is also a mummy, an embalmed dead Pharaoh and the kind of creature that has been vilified onscreen since The Mummy (1932), which was the first Universal horror film. Allowing his face and hair to appear uncovered and also allowing him to speak immediately undoes all of those mummy-related tropes, and lets the audience know that this is a character we can trust. And he remains a polite, kind, friendly, and trustworthy character for the rest of the film series. (Here are two more clips featuring Akhmenrah because he’s so darn cute!)
Now we need to talk about Akhmenrah’s main costume:
Since he’s a Pharaoh, he wears a lot of golden clothing, and his robe and his skirt are quite flowing. I think we currently associate flowing clothing with femininity, so this costuming choice might make Akhmenrah seem somewhat adrogynous, maybe he does to some viewers. However, any feminine associations we might make with his flowing clothing are offset by the fact that Akh never really wears a shirt, so he’s always showcasing his abs. So his costume has both masculine and feminine aspects to it; if you look at the bottom right picture, Akhmenrah’s costume is a sort of bridge between Sacagawea’s (exposed arms and legs) and Attila the Hun’s costumes (only his face and hands are exposed) in terms of coverage.
I bring up the combination of masculine and feminine aspects of his appearance because these may contribute to the fact that a lot of young people are/were fond of him and in some cases attracted to him. You see, my sister recently sent me a video of Rami Malek appearing on Jimmy Kimmel Live! to promote the upcoming biopic Bohemian Rhapsody, and when I decided to read the comments section for that video, I found a few threads where people (mainly young people, I believe) declaring that they first saw him in as Akhmenrah in Night at the Museum, and several people in one of those threads declared that he was their first crush. I understood where they were coming from: I was a senior in high school when NATM came out, and I thought Akhmenrah was really freaking cute. Most of these people had either gender-neutral or feminine usernames, except for one person, who had a masculine username and declared, “I had a crush on that mummy before I knew I was into guys.” See, we tend to think CGI Cinnamon Rolls like Korg are cute like puppies and kittens are cute, but when the Cinnamon Roll in question is played by a good-looking and charming actor, viewers’ feelings can get a bit more…interesting.
Did you know that there’s Akhmenrah fanart?
Yes, there is Akhmenrah fanart, and these examples just scratch the surface. (Note: I found all featured images, including fanart, on Google Images, and as such, none of these images belong to me. All credit for the fanart goes to the original artists.) Also, these pieces exist:
Here we have both Lancelot (who appears only in the third film) and Attila the Hun carrying Akhmenrah bridal-style. Whoo, internet! (I do think these are really cute, though.)
There’s also this Night at the Museum/Mr. Robot crossover piece of fanart:
Isn’t that the cutest?
Okay, I should wrap this post up before I get too carried away.
Male characters who are Cinnamon Rolls are absolutely endearing. They’re charming because they are sweet, friendly, and sincere. With Korg, we looked at how a Cinnamon Roll can function within a story, and with Akhmenrah, we looked at how a Cinnamon Roll’s appearance can blend aspects of masculinity and femininity, and at how viewers react to the character’s personality and appearance. The existence of this character type shows how men do not have to be detached, stoic, or angry all the time to be liked and/or loved. They show that there’s an alternate path and that sweetness can be a charming trait in men/masculine people. Also, the Cinnamon Roll personality type can also make character types like aliens and mummies more sympathetic to a viewing audience. Overall, they appeal to their audience because they are easygoing and friendly and not remotely intimidate, which is something that I can definitely relate to right now.