The Mustache of Self-Actualization

I use this blog to hash out ideas for papers sometimes. Writing weekly helps me get ideas sorted or even just to keep churning out 600-800 word rants essays keeps me on my toes. One thing I’ve found myself needing to work on recently is zeroing in on one aspect of a work rather than only looking at the big picture. So I thought I’d do that.

“All great men have mustaches,” says Andy Samberg’s character, Rod early in Hot Rod, hence his choice to wear a fake one while attempting to defeat his stepfather, Frank, in hand-to-hand combat to earn his respect. That is to say, Rod wants to be respected by a “great man” and he believes that the only one who can bestow that on him is his stepfather. Since Frank cares little for Rod’s amateur stuntmanship, Rod’s only recourse is to beat him in a fight, a seemingly impossible task.

Essentially, Rod seeks self-actualization, “to realize one’s own maximum potential and possibilities” [x]. The mustache becomes a symbol of Rod’s desired manliness and: his dead stuntman father had one; Rod adopts a fake one when attempting stunts and combating Frank. Rod can’t grow one (due to a “hormone disorder”), but sees it as necessary to the manly identity of the adults he respects. In a sense he’s playing at being being a man, wearing the mask of who he wants to be.

The occasions where Rod wears the fake mustache reinforces this. Initially, we just see him wearing it when jumping ramps on his moped and fighting Frank. But after he finds out about Frank’s fatal condition and hatches a plan to save him, we also see Rod wearing it while doing stunt work to raise money for Frank. Here Rod is doing things of his own to raise money, entering the sphere of adulthood on his own terms.

But when his plans come crashing down both in the short term, losing the money raised save Frank, and in the long, finding out his father was not a stuntman, Rod grows disillusioned. He tears down posters of stuntmen, stomps on his cape, and, notably, rips apart the fake mustache. Rod is later seen wearing a tie, looking for all the world like a normal adult, albeit one without a mustache.However, he still does not have Frank’s respect and his crew, who’ve stuck by him thus far, leave him. Here he is called out by his love interest, Denise: “You’ve always done exactly what you wanted to do, and everybody else just grew up, and got boring, and sold out, but you stayed exactly the same.” Rather than continuing to emulate the ideas of manliness which he worshipped before, Rod has forfeit his mustachioed goals in favor of becoming boring and selling out to the mainstream conception of adulthood.

So now it’s fitting at the film’s climax when Rod attempts to jump fifteen school buses in a last ditch attempt to earn money for Frank’s surgery, he is once again waring a fake mustache, though this one presented to him by his reunited crew. The use of the mustache is key: his friends already believe that he’s a man worthy of respect both for risking his own life to save his stepfather and for doing it regardless of what other people will think. Rod then attempts the jump and fails. But unlike the last two jumps we’ve seen, where Rod shorts it and crashes into a mail truck or falls into a pool, Rod overshoots and raises enough money to save Frank. After they both heal, Rod — now able to grow his own mustache — confronts a healthy Frank and defeats him, forcing his stepfather to admit that Rod is, in fact, a man.

But Rod has a real mustache in that last scene — and thus is self-actualized — before he defeats Frank. Though he thought that defeating Frank was his goal, it was not the means for his graduation into manhood. Rather he is able to grow a mustache after making something of himself on his own terms: by being a stuntman not because his father was, and not because it was inherently masculine, but because it was taking matters into his own hands and doing what was necessary to achieve his goals despite the setbacks along the way. Rod’s arc culminates with his self-actualization, not by the approval of his stepfather, but by growing from a imitator of men to a person who had discovered what it meant to be a man in his own right..

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