It is contended that elements of Rutherford’s statements are invalid when applied to contemporary media representations of masculinity. Rutherford’s argument is threefold. Firstly, he contends that his contemporary media portrayed two polarised images of men; they were either sensitive “new” men or they were more stereotypical, patriarchal “retributive” men, arguing that there is no grey area in between or overlaps apparent. Secondly he proposes that this was an aspiration and thus an unreal construct; that these states were desired and that men strove to meet them, as they were somewhat out of the reality that most men conceived.
He also here appears to imply a value judgement- that the media intended to influence the shaping of men and through an idealised perception. Thirdly he argues that in the late 1980’s the new man was repressed and that the retributive man was the public face of masculinity. While the validity of Rutherford’s arguments in his own time is certainly open to debate for its inaccuracies and oversimplification over the portrayal of masculinity, it is contended that much of it is also invalid when applied to the contemporary media portrayal of men.
It is proposed, here, that while the modern media still utilises these polarised images of man, it allows for a more well-developed and rounded conception to be ordained- masculinity is not necessarily conceived as one or another. It is also contended that these images are also not always used as an ideal, as Rutherford naively argues- there portrayal in the modern media is used for more than aspiration in purpose. It is also contended that modern media portrayal no longer represses the face of the new man, while publically acknowledging the patriarchal man as an aspiration.
Making particular reference to the misogynistic elements of Hip Hop music and contemporary films to articulate a growing mysogionistic tendancy, but also highlighting the indistint macro nature of ideals within post modernity I wish to show that while elemets of what Rutherford states are still true. The definitions surrounding masculinity are not so clear cut. Polarised images of masculinity are still apparent in modern media representations, showing a competition between two of the competing elements of man, which does validate part of what Rutherford argues.
For example we can now see an almost nostalgic representation of male patriarchy within the film ‘Fight Club’ (Fincher, 1999). Although this film has been seen by many as a stinging indictment of consumer culture. Others take as a as key to understanding the new realities concerning masculinity. Primarily using the work of Laura Mulvey and Henry A. Giroux I believe that it is clear to see that the themes and issues which are central to Fight Club are based primarily on gender. Additional to this, the fragility of man and narratives surrounding masculine supremacy are present throughout, and undermine any notions of critical morality.
One of the key issues which Giroux raises is that Fight Club tries to suggest that consumerism has destabilized masculinity in effect masculinity has been emasculated. “Ostensibly, Fight Club Appears to be a critique of late capitalist society… But Fight Club is less interested in attacking the broader material relations of power and strategies of domination and exploitation associated with neoliberal capitalism than it is in rebelling against consumerist culture that dissolves the bonds of male sociality and puts into place an enervating notion of male identity and agency” Giroux, 2000:3.
The roles on which men and women are often portray within film narratives is an area which Laura Mulvey has explored in her essay (first published in 1975) ‘Visual Pleasure and Narrative Cinema’. Within this piece of work Mulvey outlines that both men and women occupy different areas of the text. Women are defined by Mulvey as being the “object of the look and men as being in control of the gaze” (Nelmes, 2003:254). This in essence places the men and women as being in binary opposition to one another. This is not to suggest that men are not looked at during the film of course this would be futile.
But what Mulvey suggests is that the men are looked at by other men, not in terms of object but as a projection of who we would like to be. She identifies Lacan’s childhood development theories regarding reflection as key to this understanding: “As the spectator identifies with the main male protagonist, he projects his look onto that of his like, his screen surrogate, so that the power of the male protagonist as he controls events coincides with the active power of the erotic look, both giving a satisfying sense of omnipotence.
The male movie Star’s glamorous characteristics are thus not those of the erotic object, but those of the more perfect, more completely, more powerful ideal ego conceived in the front of the mirror” (Mulvey,1989:20) Later Neale countered this argument. In his essay ‘Masculinity as Spectacle’ Steve Neale argues that there may be some drawbacks to the work of Mulvey and others who have examined the role of men and women in feature films. The main issue for Neale is that the discussions involved are centred on the repression of women, largely due to discourses at work being those from a feminist standpoint.
As Neale points out, Up until the 1980’s “Only within the gay movement have there appeared to be specific discussions of representations of men. Most of these as far as I am aware, have centred on the representations and stereotypes of gay men” (Quoted in Cohen and Hark, 1993:9). It is Neale’s view that details or theories regarding representations of heterosexual males outside of the idea that they are ‘controllers of the gaze’ (Quoted in Nelmes, 2003:254) should not be overlooked. It is precisely this viewpoint which Rutherford seems to disregard in describing ‘new men’ as ‘repressed’
However it is Mulvey’s work which Giroux argues is now more relevant in terms of understanding the masculine representations within Fight Club and in terms of understanding how the role of retributive man still seems idealised in at least some of our most famous contemporary representations; as we see and indeed have seen growing discontent among males and perceived feminisation of the male gender. As Giroux puts it: “In Short, Fight Club provides no understanding of how gendered hierarchies mediated by misogynist psychic economy encourages male violence against women.
In short, male violence in this film appears directly linked to fostering those ideological conditions that justify abuse towards women by linking masculinity exclusively to expressions of violence and defining male identity against everything that is feminine. (2000:12). Fight Club then seems to highlight the retributive aspects of Rutherford’s statement, it is clear from the research undertaken into the film that it also represents male Fragility and distinct unease with the need to repress masculinity in order to fit into the ideal of the new man. Women are as binary and as such treated almost as the enemy.
This said though, the modern media representation of masculinity may not be as clear cut as Rutherford imputes in his argument in the above statement. This may seem quite apparent from the chorus of ‘Smells like teen spirit’ the male lead singer Kurt Cobain is presenting the scenario as one in which he is not happy or at ease. One feminist perspective on why this might be is because he feels threatened by a women who he perceives to be strong or superior. The idea that a male should feel threatened by a woman goes against the values and norms of our western, patriarchal society.
He wants ‘Lights out’ and feels he has to ‘entertain’ women -not just the one in the song, but also all women. Kurt Cobain’s lyrics are typified by his almost neurotic emotional state. His portrayal of masculinity seems almost emotionally out of control. A far cry from repression. In fact he seems to be releasing the repressed emotion of an entire generation, rather than repressing any sense of retributive patriarchy. To use music and an example of the retributive mans decline however is to ignore the most popular strand of the most popular music form in the world.
That of ‘Gangsta Rap’ Here we are faced with a form of communication which is popular all over the world but with has often been accused of blatant misogyny; even the epitome of the ‘retributive man’ strong, dominant, competitive and misogynistic? In his Article “Attack on Rap Music” Peter D Slaughter makes the point that African American people in America have no real sense of identity “the Macho image that African American men have of themselves is a distorted Image that comes From a White supremacist male point of view.
Since the days of being brought (rather bought) here as slaves, African American males have never had their own definition of being or model of being black”(1997). I so according to Slaughter; in the absence of a sense of who they are the African American males have taken there sense of masculinity from a sense of cultural disenfranchisement, dominating or being in charge of what they can; women being one of those area’s. As Leola Johnson points out on media studies. du: “A lot of Gangsta Rap lyrics are revenge fantasies”(1994) The idea of revenge fantasies was something that immediately struck me particularly its sexist tendencies. The entire musical form is a fantasy, part revenge part pastiche- a key element of post modernity. The African American community in many poor areas of America and the west wants its revenge for years of oppression at the hands of the white establishment, the prospective “Gangster rappers” dream of becoming rich and successful just like those they see as oppressors.
When someone tells you that an acquaintance doesn’t like you or that they think your work is not good enough, what’s your first reaction? Is it ok they’re entitled to there opinion? Or would it be “right then I don’t like them either”, or “well in that case I’ll make sure I do a better piece of work than them next time” Then imagine that this is a person who has oppressed you and treated you like your second class for years. The African American community wants to show the ruling classes that it is not second class that it is in fact as good if not better.
The problem comes that as Slaughter pointed out The African American community has no real reference point accept the capitalist system which surrounds them and has exploited them for generations. The “Gangsta Rapper” is an exaggerated pastiche of the “respectable” business man driven by money and success. The misogyny an exaggerated extension of the sexism which has and in many cases continues do dominate the western culture which has so cruelly dominated the black community for years.
The misogyny on display which is the very antithesis of Rutherford’s ideas of ‘the new man’ etc are therefore in accordance with Halls more pluralist approaches which have highlighted the need to examine masculinity in terms of historical context (quoted earlier in this essay) The social imbalance suffered by African American communities has therefore contributed greatly to a more misogynistic view of masculinity.
But how does that account for the music’s popularity and the tolerances even identification toward is masculine manifesto amongst society at large? Is it not the case that in today’s post modern society we are all somewhat devoid of a clear sense of identity. The post structuralist viewpoint pioneered by such writers as Foucault will argue that the social construction of the African American identity has rendered it misogynistic. But that has no relation to why it is now the most popular music form in the world.
Or more to the point why the misogyny inherent within it is tolerated on such a large scale The problems which created the misogyny are far removed from it’s perceived tolerance, as the majority who purchase it being middle class white Americans/westerners (both men and women) have no great understanding of the problems faced by those who created it. Is it not the case then that we can understand the situation regarding masculinity much more clearly by looking at the work of those such as Lyotard? Central to Lyotard’s idea of postmodernism is the notion that emancipatory discourses are no longer possible because there is no longer a belief in the truth of foundational meta discourses…
Feminism, like psychoanalysis, stems from modernity” (Phoca & Wright, 1999:89). It is these leanings toward the meta narratives of modernity which according to Hebdidge post modernity ‘negates’: “Firstly, the Negation of Translation, i. e. ntagonism to discourses which address a transcendental subject, defines an essential human nature, or proscribe collective human goals. Secondly, the Negation of Teleology, i. e. whether in form of authorial purpose, or historical destiny. Thirdly The Negation of Utopia i. e. a scepticism about what Lyotard calls the “grand receipts” of the west, the faith in progress, science, or class struggle. “(Quoted in Stam, Burgoyne, Lewis, 1992:216)
Could this now mean that in the absence of cultural identity through and negation of feminism itself; we are now left in a situation where by the misogynistic portrayals of masculinity coupled with the consumerist, individualistic tendencies of post modernity and post structuralist discourses surrounding those ideals, have now left huge numbers of western males not only tolerating, but actively celebrating patriarchal domination?
Or is it that in post modern terms, men are now simply understanding there roles on a individual basis. The fact that white middle class teenagers now nothing of the struggles of the African American communities and therefore should not be able to share in there viewpoints is of no concequence. This is due to the ever growing commercial exessibility of individual consumer trends and fashions, which has in tern created interchangable ideals Rutherford’s analysis of the ideal of masculinity is somewhat limited; the modern media representation of man has a greater purpose than merely inspiring men and holding up an ideal for them to aspire to. For example the films of Martin Scorsese such as Goodfellas, Casino and in particular Raging Bull allow the audience to view the downfall of central protagonists who aspire to certain ideals or codes of masculinity. Equally, in modern media representation, it is no longer valid to say that the new man is repressed and the retributive man public.
What we are left with in our contemporary post modern existence is media representations which have been steadily regressing back to elements of what Rutherford would describe as ‘retributive man’ which early authors concerned with masculinity would perhaps have described as “masculinity characterised by aggression, competitiveness, emotional ineptitude and coldness” (Hall, 1997:296). The new male ethos is rarely more acutely represented by the so called ‘Lads Mags’ such as Loaded, FHM and now in weekly format, Zoo and Nuts.
These offer the images of idealised lifestyles, unattainable women -partly because they are famous and partly because the airbrushed representations of the women involved rarely exist- hugely expensive cars that the average man will never be able to afford. They are the epitome of hyper reality, of the spectacle; They are a mixture of pre feminist masculinity and post-modern consumerist fantasy and there is nothing retributive about them. Masculinity now seems to snatch at the various points throughout the twentieth century, taking only those which work in it’s favour.
We are now living with the post ‘new man’ who makes no apologies. Especially in the face of Post feminism, which to some such as Saundra Corey who writes in her essay, ‘Out Of The Frying Pan’: “Post Feminism is not a political position, it’s a style. There are no groups to belong to, there’s no need to picket, to march, to lobby or to work for women at all. All the barriers are down, it’s every girl for herself and may the best girl win… Now I come to think about it I’m not sure I qualify as post. I’m too old, too flabby and I’m too rude to men.
What’s worse I’m not going to do anything about it. ” (Quoted in Bell & Klein, 1996:276) As hall point out; it is when trying to gain a thorough understanding of masculinity, to locate it “within a wider field of gender relations as a whole; that is, in relation to the contemporary formations of femininity. (Hall, 1997:296) If therefore feminism as a recognisable force for women’s equality no longer exist within today’s post modern existence. Gender relations seem more divided as individual achievement becomes the new mantra. Initially debates within postmodernism had little to do with feminism… more recently however postmodernism has offered feminism a way in which to conceptualise it’s ongoing dilemma: the desire to seek equality within the very institutions and discourses which feminists have attempted to dismantle. ” (Phoca & Wright, 1999:89) In conclusion, it is fair to say that while some elements of Rutherford’s arguments- that the polarised representations of masculinity in the media are used and that they can be used as an aspiration for men- are true, the spirit of his hypothesis is incorrect in this era.
Masculinity is used in the media for a wider range of purposes than he conceived, the masculine image is much more well balanced, and not as polarised as he proposes, and his distinction between the repressed and the public faces of masculinity no longer hold true. What is more apparent is that it is truer to say that those two separate ideals in a state of flux, are now joined. Only with those elements which suit the individual being taken at any one time. If what Lyotard states about Feminism no longer being a viable option, then that is also true that masculine ideals also.