The Great Santini exemplifies what we now call toxic masculinity

Wednesday, February 2nd, 2022

I recently watched The Great Santini, and it opens with the titular protagonist leading his Marine aviators against Naval aviators in one-on-one dogfights, lining up their sights and declaring when they would take the kill shot. This seemed odd to me, because the setting was 1962, and the fighter jets were F-4 Phantoms — which did not have old-fashioned guns going into the Vietnam war. (That was one of the major points of Boyd: The Fighter Pilot Who Changed the Art of War.)

Sure enough, the Phantoms were an update to the book:

The story, for the most part, follows the book. The movie’s major divergence is the absence of Ben Meecham’s Jewish best friend Sammy. The spelling of the family’s surname was also changed from Meecham to Meechum. Also changed is Meecham’s aircraft; in the book, he flies and commands a squadron of F-8 Crusaders, while in the film the fighters shown are F-4 Phantom IIs.

The F-8 was the last American fighter with guns as its primary weapon, earning it the title “The Last of the Gunfighters”.

The Great Santini exemplifies what we now call toxic masculinity, and his wisecracking older daughter compares him to Godzilla — which got me to look up the illustrious monster, who made his American debut in 1956:

Gojira is a portmanteau of the Japanese words: gorira (“gorilla”) and kujira (“whale”), owing to the fact that in one planning stage, Godzilla was described as “a cross between a gorilla and a whale”, due to its size, power and aquatic origin.

I was surprised when the oldest son’s high school basketball coach made a reference to — pardon my French — poontang, because I thought that was a term only popularized after Vietnam, but the term goes back decades:

1920s: alteration of French putain ‘prostitute’.


  1. Grasspunk says:

    In most of France “putain” is pronounced with the “n” very soft or even silent, but here in SW France it makes an “ng” sound like “putaing”. It’s a core part of the SW accent. Did the American usage of “poontang” have some SW France origin?

  2. Isegoria says:

    I had naively assumed the term came from the Vietnam War, so I would’ve assumed it was a twice-butchered pronunciation, as it went from French to Vietnamese and then from Vietnamese to American English.

    But the term goes back before World War 2, so it might come from Navy visits to Marseille?

  3. Gavin Longmuir says:

    “But the term goes back before World War 2, so it might come from Navy visits to Marseille?”

    Possible. But why not long ago from French-culture inhabitants of Louisiana? Or from Americans across the border from French-speaking Quebec? Or from French immigrants to the US?

    So many routes for language to evolve!

  4. Altitude Zero says:

    It could have also been American WWI doughboys, who picked up lots of things in France…

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