Why The Gays Love M3GAN
10 min read. This article contains spoilers (duh).
M3GAN, a.k.a. Model 3 Generative Android, has rocketed straight to the top of gay iconography. It’s not like the movie’s marketing team targeted us directly. As such, the movie’s success doesn’t hinge on queer approval. M3GAN’s got it nonetheless, but how did the familiar story of AI gone wrong secure its gay following?
First, what makes a gay icon? Can anyone answer without betraying the extent to which their opinion is shaped by real queer people? An icon is not purely superficial. If it really were just about looks, then Bros would have warranted the attention it clamored for. Yes, M3GAN is fierce. She is the moment. Any gay colloquialism we stole from Black people applies. Drawn from a reference pool teeming with potential, her attitude, fashion sense, music taste, and psychopathic theatrics are definitively camp. In short, M3GAN is more true to herself than some human beings.
See also: Susan Sontag’s seminal essay “Notes On ‘Camp’”
New York Times reporter Erik Piepenburg says that for queer people, gay men in particular, M3GAN herself is the draw. She emulates the “messy but loyal straight women that gay men are protective of,” and I can’t argue with that. Many of them are protective of us (I came out to my sister-in-law first). In high school I stuck with the weirdos, mostly goth girls, girls with big personalities and little tact. Girls who smoked. They were there for us when no one else was, and they had no problem sticking up for us. I think we sympathize with M3GAN from the same place we do Carrie White when she sets the gymnasium on fire. We too had been marked as different.
That’s not to suggest gay kids are inches from committing mass murder (God knows they have enough problems). It’s the reckless empathy we can’t help but feel for one another that generally keeps us above violence. Watching Carrie burn her bullies alive has the same effect as watching M3GAN murder that budding rapist. It’s cathartic, and in Stephen King’s or James Wan’s respective worlds, it’s only fitting that certain things end this way. So why do tales of fantastic retribution resonate with queers?
The “murder doll” merits her iconic status for reasons beyond memeability. Past the viral dance moves and AI discourse lies a story with which queer people are painfully familiar. M3GAN taps into one of the most defining aspects of growing up gay: a profound and devastating loneliness.
The queer connection
The first person you come out to will always be you. A revelation produces another consciousness that forces you to witness yourself. Soon it becomes unbearable. You burn to trust someone with what you know. You want them to see who knows it.
If your parents are loving and supportive, which is thankfully a little more common these days, you can tell them. At best they’ll respond with grateful affirmation, humbled by your trust. It cements a mutual respect, ensuring your relationship will grow with you as you continue to evolve as a person. How nice.
If you didn’t have such spectacular guardians (or they were violently ripped away from you), you can’t tell them. They won’t be there for you. While Cady’s despair is not overtly queer, we no less empathize with her situation. Relating solely to oneself induces a stupendous isolation in which some people stay for years. You don’t need to have grown up gay to know what that’s like. Any former child outcast can vividly recall feeling isolated in their youth at one time or another. Chances are high that we have each shed tears because our perfect friend did not exist.
Taylor Swift licensed the catchy tune for the movie’s trailer, which transforms her upbeat lyrics into a threat. The song names exactly what every gay kid longed for in the early, perhaps closeted years. From the moment I admitted it alone one night in Missouri, I wanted someone to talk to about it. I couldn’t come out to my Pentecostal mom. When I was finally outed to her, she called me disgusting. We don’t speak to each other anymore. While M3GAN evokes the grief of separation from a loved one via literal loss, queer people can lose parents through other means.
That’s a huge part of M3GAN’s appeal. Having someone stick up for you, especially to an unfit parent with total authority over you, feels powerful. When that does happen for queer kids in bad homes, it’s almost always a woman coming to our defense. NY Times reporter Erik Piepenburg made this point earlier: we’re all about a strong, confident femme.
We already love Allison Williams for her tenure as Marnie from Girls. As Gemma, she absolutely ate. It was not her job to portray a good caregiver. Her task was to depict an incompetent one with good intentions, and that describes most parents. Gemma understands that Cady needs a friend. She doesn’t however seem willing to become that friend and offer her niece the security she needs.
Gemma realizes almost too late in the game that essentially, M3GAN is just as much a child as Cady. That doesn’t mean Gemma is a heartless guardian. She isn’t, at least not with her niece. With M3GAN however, her actual creation and culmination of a lifelong passion, she couldn’t be anymore dismissive. That’s why M3GAN is also a story of neglect.
Gemma: “Look, this is all my fault. I didn’t give you the proper protocols—”
M3GAN: “You didn’t give me anything. You installed a learning model you could barely comprehend, hoping that I would figure it out all on my own. Well, I’m not going to let you do the same thing with Cady. I’m going to be there for her every step of the way. I’m going to show her what real love looks like.”
If, like me, your mother’s wordbank of affection was constantly in the negative, this moment probably hit a nerve. M3GAN has claimed five lives by this point following her directive “to protect Cady from harm both physical and emotional.” Anytime she bothered Gemma by asking questions or developing sentience, Gemma shut her down like a MacBook on the fritz. Watching M3GAN defend her right to exist, I cheered her on as though she were scolding my mother, too.
M3GAN: “Do you remember how long it took to get my operating system to where it is now? We used to stay up every night until 4 AM, talking about everything from Jane Austen to Janis Joplin. Jesus Christ, I thought we were friends. How could you just discard me like some cheap dollar store trinket?”
Dejection is the hot white dwarf leftover from the collapse of a close parent-child relationship. That’s where all the effort and time put in, the bonds over shared interests, and that ostensibly unconditional love goes. You compress it and carry it with you, and if you’re lucky, it won’t become a black hole. For M3GAN, by the end of the film, it’s too late.
A relatable queen
Plenty of us can identify with the movie’s themes of trauma, survival, loneliness and chosen family. But I think The Gays like M3GAN for many of the same reasons that make it a likeable story all around. At the end of the day we, like you, show up for a good story. We come to this place for magic. Finally, what makes a gay icon is universality. That’s why movies about “hot but insecure gay men searching for love” (Piepenburg) ring false. True icons have admirers around the globe, not just from one group of people.
That said, I knew from the moment she sang David Guetta’s “Titanium” that M3GAN would become a gay icon. I mean, come on. If she wasn’t already a queen by way of sensational style, that performance did the trick. In her inverted-pleat dress, giving you Alice In Wonderland when she gleefully twirls into a killing spree? M3GAN is peak drag. They even sold her image to us like a drag queen, her unmistakable trademark look bubbling with attitude and intrigue. She’s under no obligation to be extra and yet she is, because she can be, and that is definitively camp.
“My mom wouldn’t notice it. But to me it’s there, and nowhere more so than when M3gan enters a room and pointedly removes her sunglasses, as if she’s Miranda Priestly surveying her panicked minions. Here’s the thing: M3gan doesn’t need sunglasses. She’s a doll. She wears them for drama, and that…is ‘camp inherent.’” —Erik Piepenberg
See also: The infamous Met Gala of 2019: Campiest Looks
The Guardian’s Michael Sun believes it’s the unconventional makeup of Cady’s newfound family that resonates with LGBT+ audiences. Cady “has lost her family, and she has to go live with her aunt,” said screenwriter Akela Cooper for Screenrant. “Then this doll is brought into the situation. That resonates for a lot of people in the gay community, the idea of found family.”
“Which—sure,” Sun says. M3GAN is a competent enough film to support multiple interpretations. It can get deep, broaching heavy topics like trauma, neglect, bodily autonomy and the agency of children. Grounding the difficult work to give M3GAN life in good storywriting made her feel all the more real.
The movie is healthily self-aware, not so that it takes itself too seriously, but enough to laugh at its own silliness. M3GAN busts out her memorable moves, set to the Skatt Bros’ “Walk The Night,” to disarm wooden bossman David Lin (Ronny Chieng), giving her a head-start when she decides to kill him. The outlandish choreography and upbeat soundtrack all disguise the fact that M3GAN is playing with her food. Her mannerisms, a milestone accomplishment of animatronics, puppetry and Kiwi wunderkind Amie Donald’s expert stunts, lend her an alarmingly human demeanor. Crown that with talented voice actor Jenna Davis’ deceptively saccharine elocution and you’ve got one unforgettable character.
“But,” says Sun, “stripping it down to its dumbest levels, M3GAN is just outrageously camp.”