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Posts Tagged ‘masculinity’

The mythic idea of the road is everywhere in America, even today. Reading Eyerman & Lofgren’s Romancing the Road, one realizes just how prevalent this idea is in his or her own life. Even favorite songs, evoke the road without notice. Tracy’ Chapman’s Fast Car is one of these favorite songs.

Fast Car is a celebration of the road as an escape. The road becomes a chance for a new life. It also is a journey between two people and possible romance. It evokes traditional views of the road, but it also speaks to mainstream America, known more often than not as the opposite of the road – opposite of freedom.

From the beginning of the song, Fast Car takes on what Romancing the Road describes as, “car travel itself becam[ing] an adventure saga of magical quality”. (59) The car for Chapman is an escape, a magical thing that is “fast enough so we can fly away.” Fly away like Peter Pan flying away from adulthood. The article states, “Road’s liberating potential…. [is] possible to push the accelerator to the floor and leave all that was petty and bourgeois behind” (58). Like films in the road trip genre, Chapman’s car is an escape. Instead of escape from “claustrophobia of petit-bourgeois life” (62), Chapman’s escape is from, “injustice and from an intolerant ‘normality’” (62). This injustice and intolerable normality is her father’s drinking problem, her mother leaving and the responsibility she must take on by quitting school to take care of her father. Chapman’s responsibility of taking care of her father represents the traditional role of women as caregivers. Here she is escaping the confines of mainstream culture. The escape is so urgent Chapman sings, “Leave tonight or die this way.” The road takes on “a therapeutic role” (64).

I want a ticket to anywhere

Any place is better

See my old man’s got a problem

He live with the bottle that’s the way it is

He says his body’s too old for working

His body’s too young to look like hi

My mamma went off and left him

She wanted more from life than he could give

I said somebody’s got to take care of him

So I quiet school and that what I did

 

Is it fast enough so we can fly away?

We gotta make a decision

Leave tonight or live and die this way

By the end of the song, the car becomes yet another way to escape Chapman’s disappointment in the new life. She has yet again become the caregiver. Her partner does not have a job and drinks, neglecting his family. Chapman sings:

I’d always hoped for better.

Thought maybe together you and me find it.

I got no plans. I ain’t going nowhere.

So take your fast car and keep on driving.

This part of the song also takes on the risk of the road. In stating:

So take your fast car and keep on driving.

You got a fast car. Is it fast enough so you can fly away?

You gotta make a decision.

Leave tonight or live and die this way,

Chapman alludes to her desire for the car to become another escape; only this time the car will take the problem away. She will not be taken away from the problem. “Leave tonight or live and die this way” can be seen as a challenge for the presumably male partner step up, mature and be a man.

You got a fast car

I got a job that pays all our bills

You stay out drinking late at the bar

See more of your friends than you do of your kids

I’d always hoped for better

Thought maybe together you and me find it

You got a fast car.

Is it fast enough so you can fly away?

You gotta make a decision

Leave tonight or live and die this way

The American tradition of mobility, in the physical sense of the mythical road is a huge part of Chapman’s song. Romancing the Road describes this mobility: “movement itself became a symbol of hope. Going down the road, symbolized not only a way out, a going to and getting away from, it represented possibility, risk and romance” (57). Chapman’s desperate need to find a way out is expressed in the beginning of the song: “I want a ticket to anywhere…any place is better than here.” The lyrics “starting from zero got nothing to lose,” ushers in the road’s symbolism of possibility and opportunity. Chapman sings about the possibility of making something, getting jobs in the city and finally being able to live. Evoking the city as a place to experience life and acquire a job is a common American phenomenon. Throughput history the city has been the place of jobs. And as youth culture came into existence, the city turned into a place of adventure. It was and is a place to experience while you are young. “We go cruising, entertain ourselves,” represents this carefree attitude and continues to paint a picture of the car as an escape, as a way to have fun.

As the song goes on Chapman’s vision of life matures, representing the idea that the road fosters experiences for, “a new person…new sides to their personality, mellowing, maturing” (67). Chapman sings:

You’ll find work and I’ll get promoted.

We’ll move out of the shelter.

Buy a bigger house and live in the suburbs.

This idea represents social mobility as well as physical mobility. Chapman dreams of being promoted and making enough money to achieve the American Dream –moving to the suburbs. No longer does she fantasy of freedom on the road. In its place is the dream of settling down. The desire for maturity can also be seen as Chapman sings, “I’d always hoped for better. Thought maybe together you and me find it. You gotta make a decision. Leave tonight or live and die this way,” urging her partner to mature.

Throughout the song, the subtle hint of romance is witnessed:

And your arm felt nice wrapped ‘round my shoulder.

And I had a feeling that I belonged.

I have a feeling I could be someone, be someone, be someone.

These lyrics also describe the feeling that the beat generation was looking for on the road in the 1950s and 1960s – acceptance.

If we presume Chapman’s companion is a man, the fact that Chapman is a woman also plays on the traditional idea of the road as a man’s world. In the beginning of the song, she is the one asking to hitch a ride and get away. She has the plan, not the man. By the end though, tradition and mainstream gender roles seems to win out. Chapman wants to settle down in the suburbs with a family. The last two lines, “You gotta make a decision. Leave tonight or live and die this way,” suggest the man will get back into his car and drive away, continuing the idea of solace for outsiders.

(Even the video has roads in it!!!)

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brokeback-mountain

Set in a different era, Brokeback Mountain does not subscribe to the traditional Western but it does ascribe savagery and civilization to certain kinds of masculinity. Set in the 1960s, the very beginnings of Gay Liberation, Brokeback Mountain plays on the fears of homosexuality. The first sexual encounter between the men ends with each confirming their masculinity: “You know I ain’t queer.” “Me either.” “It’s a one time business.” Both men are ashamed because of the spector of traditional masculinity hovering over them.

The film expresses the savage and the civilized through each man’s life. Ennis most set on keeping his sexuality a secret,  protects his family, believes in being the sole supporter – his job is more important than his wife’s job, and sleeps with his wife regularly. He is a violent, stereotypical tough guy. As a result, Ennis’s life falls apart. As he clings to masculinity his family is destroyed through divorce – the ultimate destruction of family values. On the other hand, Jack, wanting to be open with his sexuality, prospers. Jack’s wife breaks gender roles as the breadwinner, and “fast girl” unlike Ennis’s good Christian wife. Jack is never seen sleeping with his wife and spends his marriage being berated by his father-in-law. Thanksgiving shows the men’s differences as Jack challenges his father-in-law in response to “want your boy to be a man?” His masculinity is represented as he finally carves the turkey. In contrast, Ennis uncomfortably watches his ex-wife’s new husband carve the turkey with an electric knife.

The fact that Jack’s parents know of his sexuality greatly contrasts Ennis’s violent reaction when confront by his ex-wife about his time with Jack. To the end, Ennis continues as the stubborn violent one, afraid of his sexuality – the savage. Jack wants nothing more than to be with Ennis, not afraid of his sexuality – the civilized one. The most poignant example of heterosexuals as savages and homosexuals as civilized is in the story Ennis tells. Two men lived together. One day, one of the men was found murdered, dragged around until his penis ripped off. The story foreshadows Jack’s death as he is later murdered for choosing to express his sexuality. Who is the true savage: the man brave enough to express who he is even if that is a homosexual – an outcast or the man who is afraid of homosexuality and conforms to the praise of traditional idea of masculinity despite its destructive nature?

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Winchester ’73 was made in the 1950s, a time when men were mostly at work then returning home to their families at night. This movie clearly shows that to be a man one must partake in violence or at least forcibly take something of value. This can be seen even in the opening scene of the film where we are shown young boys and older men staring at this new and great Winchester gun. This shows that guns are desirable and that once a boy has a gun, through purchase or skill, he then becomes a man. We also see this use of a violent skill with the hero of the movie, Lin, who wins the prized gun in a sharpshooting contest. This movie also makes the viewer side with whoever has the most skills in violence, which also in this case is Lin.

There were many characters who did not live until the end of the movie for they lacked such gunfighting or skills in violence. One character was Steve. Steve, who already seemed cowardly and lacking in masculinity when he ran away from the Indians, almost did not have a choice in fighting Waco. Steve needed to prove his masculinity by standing up for his woman, Lola.  Because Steve was killed, it is clear that he did not have enough gunfighting skills or masculinity traits to move further in this movie.

The other note about masculinity in this movie is shown through the very obvious villain in the movie, Dutch Henry. It’s curious that both Lin and Dutch Henry are seen being very masculine through their acts of violence, but that only dutch Henry’s acts are seen as bad, even though we do not know what he did until the very end of the movie. I believe that this is because we see Lin fighting for justice, protecting those around him, and only harming those who get in the way of justice. This movie tells that to me a man, one must be skilled in violent acts but only use partake in those acts if necessary.

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Superman Qub

The American icon of superman is considered by many as the most powerful superhero of all time, tall in stature, short black hair and large muscles all create the perfect image of masculinity which superman represents. First introduced to comic books in 1938 superman soon became the perfect man which American men would strive to become and American women would dream of meeting. Superman represents many things such as the immigrant and the hero however the one characteristic which stands out the most is his masculinity, no other superhero is portrayed as masculine as superman.

Superman is portrayed by two characters with Clark Kent being his normal personality which hides superman himself. Clark is interesting because he is a completely normal person who works as a journalist and even wears a pair of glasses which emphasises this normal person. The well known scenes when Clark Kent tears off his suit and becomes superman is a showcase of how everyman can be as masculine as superman as Clark Kent tears off his shirt and tie and removes his glasses to reveal the perfect man in superman. When growing up Clark is taught by his dad to control his own strength, an important lesson which is taught to every young man.

Superman’s relationship with Lois Lane is significant as he continuously like many other superhero saves the helpless woman from the villain in the story. This again is a showcase of masculinity as the strong and brave man is needed to save the frightened woman who he in the end falls in love with. Clark Kent grows up in America not knowing exactly who he is and feeling like and outsider in a foreign land just like many immigrants did in the 20th century on arriving to America. Superman represents these people as he figures out who he is and what his role in American society is giving immigrant men the inspiration to pursue their roles and happiness for them and their families.

The recent superman film was a huge success in the box office as superhero films seem to have a renewed popularity and therefore rivalry between one and other. The masculinity of each superhero is a subject of rivalry with iron man in the recent avengers film taking the opportunity to emasculate superheroes like superman who wear tights.

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“The myth of Superman asserts with total confidence and a childlike innocence the value of the immigrant in American culture.” Just like so many immigrants came to America in the mid 20th century, Clark was somewhat like an immigrant himself. Clark Kent arrived on a spaceship and landed on earth. He did not know who he was or where he landed. The immigrants were in a completely foreign land. The immigrants were like nomads, never staying in one place for too long.

Superman is the epitome of the American Dream. He can move at lightening speeds. “Superman’s incredible speed allows him to be as close to everywhere at once as it is physically possible to be.” The American need to keep moving suggests the need for adventure.

Clark Kent had to reinvent himself because he did not know who he was or where he came from. He had to make something of himself. Immigrants had to do the same in mid-20th century America. They tried to find work and a home to keep their families on their feet.

Similarly with Clark Kent, Americans had a reality and a fantasy. They lived in reality, which was much less desirable than their yearn to have the ‘American Dream’. The character of Superman and Clark Kent is a duality and is what makes Clark Kent so interesting. The reality is Clark and the fantasy is Superman, with a purpose to save the world.

In the 1930’s we see the emergence of American cartoon characters like Superman with his enormous prominent jaw, a physical feature scarcely seen in any painting or sculpture on earth before that period. Was Superman created to show the idyllic masculine man in mid-20th century America? In the mid-20th century, men went to work and were the breadwinners for their families. They had a lot on their shoulders by being the dominant figure in the family. You could say that a lot of men thought and still think they have to be Superman for their wife. There are even songs written about Superman, even subtly. The Scrubs theme song says, “I’m no Superman.”

http://books.google.co.uk/books?id=ErDDedsbBnYC&pg=PA13&lpg=PA13&dq=superman+masculinity+mid+20th+century+america&source=bl&ots=56lLCgovIx&sig=b1eAlaJyUZ7FsisuHasVHF0MyXY&hl=en&sa=X&ei=uf4cU_GwNM7Q7AbmsYCwBw&ved=0CDIQ6AEwAg#v=onepage&q=superman%20masculinity%20mid%2020th%20century%20america&f=false

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‘Superman’ is one of the most well known superheroes across the world. His iconography has continued to be popular with numerous comic books,  TV shows, films and merchandise being made in his name. The success of his persona is based on the idea of American masculinity. Superman reflects the triumph over evil and the fact that America as a superpower has the ability to defeat enemies across the world.

However, like most icons, Superman is not all- American figure and it can is understood that he is in fact an immigrant. Shuster and Siegel who created the character and were Jewish immigrants themselves wanted to create an immigrant figure that could be transformed into an American icon.  Superman’s masculinity is present through his muscles, his superhuman abilities and through his actions of saving the world. Hence, Superman is the only  figure who can do this effectively, not because of the trains just mentioned, but primarily because he is a man.

The idea that Superman has two identities, one normal and one superhuman is very interesting for the idea of masculinity. It almost hinting to the idea that men should always aspire to something better as they had the ability to reinvent themselves in 20th Century America. This ideal is alien to femininity  at this time, women could dream about  better life but they could not achieve it. Women unlike men did not have the ability to save the world like Superman, they only had the ability to be saved by men and this explains Lois Lane’s character in the Superman chronicles.

 

   Image

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The more I think about Superman and all he’s come to represent in America, the more I believe that he speaks to yet another contradiction of ideals. There is the obvious “American Dream” connection – immigrant comes to America, grows up in a small working-class town, works hard, gets job, does well. There are elements of the American cowboy as well – as Weinstein notes, “the misunderstood outcast, the rootless wanderer,” even as he classifies those themes as particularly Jewish. Then, of course, follow the typical tropes of masculinity – Superman is really strong, really fast, really muscular, really handsome, and really good with the ladies. All of these elements are portrayed in a positive light, which makes their underlying reality all the more interesting: in America, you will be praised and idolized for everything you are as long as you are not really yourself.

In short, Superman is the hero – not Clark Kent. Definitely not Kal-El.

Jonathan Kent captures it pretty accurately when he talks with Clark about his super strength at the beginning of the movie: “You’ve got to hide it from people or they’ll be scared of you.” Although “it” now refers to Clark’s inherent difference as, well, an alien. Weinstein hints at this idea throughout his article but never quite says it outright, merely sticking to assimilation as a driving force for the Jewish people even as it wasn’t wholly successful – particularly evidenced by Superman’s two creators, who published the comic under a decidedly non-Jewish name and sold the rights long before receiving their due credit. You will be praised and idolized for everything you are as long as you are not really yourself.

That seems to be a pretty American concept when you get right down to it. You can be a military hero, but only if you’re straight (and a man). You can be a successful politician, but only if you don’t do anything too “weird.” You can be a great woman, but only if you’ve never had an abortion, or slept with too many men, or slept with other women, or got divorced. You can be an American hero, but only if you’re really from America, or your parents are white.

Superman didn’t have two identities to protect himself – he had three. One he used in everyday life, where hiding his powers meant hiding his heroism and therefore being ignored; one he used while donning a suit made of colors that called to mind the American flag; and the one he has had from the very beginning, his arguably true self, who he can be with absolutely no one on planet Earth. I think we can all identify with that a lot more than any of us would like to admit, and I think that’s definitely part of the reason behind Superman’s staying power.

You will be praised and idolized for everything you are as long as you are not really yourself.

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