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Analysis of Masculinity in Film and Contemporary Media

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Words: 2453 |

Pages: 5|

13 min read

Published: Aug 14, 2023

Words: 2453|Pages: 5|13 min read

Published: Aug 14, 2023

Table of contents

  1. Deconstructing the Ideal: Masculinity in 'Fight Club' and 'The Wrestler'
  2. Celebrations and Critiques of Masculinity in Film and Television
  3. Stereotyped and Toxic Masculinity in Media 
  4. Conclusion
  5. Reference List

Do contemporary media representations offer celebrations or critiques of masculinity? Contemporary media representations of masculinity in film in film and television is the main theme of this essay to analyse. The traditional ideal of masculinity is critiqued, as there is “not only one version of masculinity, but many possible variations of male behaviour: there are many masculinities”. Thus, through the contemporary media representations of many masculinities in film and television, masculinity is celebrated as there isn’t one strict set of characteristics that defines masculinity.

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All media representations are constructed. Society and the world we live in are deeply influenced by the ‘media-world’. The desired values and traits of men and masculinity are closely related to the values of patriarchal society. ‘Western society encourages competitiveness and individuality. It also encourages aggression and violence as ways of solving problems. ‘There is a dominant ideal of masculinity,’ this ideal was epitomised during the 1980’s, with renown Hollywood stars such as Arnold Schwarzenegger and Clint Eastwood representing masculinity through their sheer ‘strength, toughness, attractiveness, heterosexuality and whiteness.’ This idealist representation of masculinity became a challenge for many men, as it is extremely difficult to achieve and maintain. The 1970’s sparked a revolution of masculinity, with people in the Western culture describing masculinity in crisis, inferring that traditional ideas of masculinity aren’t ‘universally accepted’ and ‘people have begun to question what it means to be a man’. Contemporary media representations in film and television offer both celebrations and critiques of masculinity. The traditional ideal of masculinity is critiqued, as there is “not only one version of masculinity, but many possible variations of male behaviour: there are many masculinities”. Thus, through the contemporary media representations of many masculinities in film and television, masculinity is both criticised and celebrated as there isn’t one strict set of characteristics that defines masculinity. This concept of masculinity is supported through the media texts of David Fincher’s ‘Fight Club’ and Darren Aronofsky’s ‘The Wrestler’.

Deconstructing the Ideal: Masculinity in 'Fight Club' and 'The Wrestler'

Contemporary media representations in film and television offer both celebrations and critiques of masculinity. All representations are merely constructions based on reality, they aren’t real reflections, they are constructed, this idea is very important when considering the representations of masculinity in film and television. Representations of ‘mass violence’ in Hollywood films became very popular during the 1980’s. The filmic narratives were thoughtfully constructed to give actors an instant rise to fame, through using the ‘stereotype of individual men pitted against overwhelming hostile forces and deploying an extraordinary degree of violence and destruction to overcome them’. These ‘hyper-masculine warriors of the cinematic glitterati stormed fearlessly into alien territory and demolished everything in sight using grenades and Gatling guns.’ This was evident in films including ‘Rambo First Blood’ and ‘First Blood: Part II’ with Sylvester Stallone, ‘Commando’ with Arnold Schwarzenegger and ‘Missing in Action’ I and II with Chuck Norris. Contrastingly, contemporary films are highlighting there is no one masculinity. There are many ‘masculinities’ and voluminous ways to be a man. Films are now both celebrating and critiquing the traditional ideas of masculinity. This is evident in many popular Hollywood films, such as David Fincher’s ‘Fight Club’ and Darren Aronofsky’s ‘The Wrestler'.

‘Fight Club’, directed by David Fincher and ‘The Wrestler’, directed by Darren Aronofsky both feature interesting representations of men and masculinity. The film’s both celebrate and critique the ideal of the ‘macho American male’ and the emerging culture after the 1980’s. ‘Aggressive violence’, both external and internal and the concept of a ‘performative male body’ are both central features in the films. “The film presents itself as a critique of contemporary consumerism and how corporate culture positions men in jobs and lifestyles that are a threat to their hegemonic masculine roles leaving them to seek refuge in self-help groups.” The protagonist character feels powerless, meaningless and isolated, he is left to ‘resort to the consumer product’ turning to a ‘modern versatile domestic solution to fill the void’. In a critical scene, the protagonist is captured “flipping through an IKEA furniture catalogue, staring at a full-page photo of an entire kitchen and dining room set. Fincher communicates the idea through a voice-over - ‘I would flip and wonder, what kind of dining room set defines me as a person?’” .

The protagonist despises his corporate job and wants to escape his IKEA-magazine lifestyle. Although he lacks the courage to do this on his own, he creates Tyler Durden, “a mentoring father figure who will help integrate his self with sex and violence. He is a mythic mentor figure intent on re-claiming masculine performative roles that are now non-existent.” Tyler, is the epitome of masculinity; conforming to the masculine ideology, he is cool, confident and everything the narrator dreams to be. Tyler helps the protagonist narrator transform his life and feel like a man again.

“Fincher’s film exists to serve as a signpost; a cautionary sign of the times for men anxious about the now-redundant, archetypal male roles at the turn of the century.” Through this idea, Fincher both celebrates multiple masculinities and criticises the ideal of traditional masculinity.

Fight Club can be compared with The Wrestler, as there are many similarities in the male characters and the representations of masculinity. Both films celebrate and critique the idea of masculinity. “In both the films, inflicting pain on the body becomes a means of exhibiting endurance through discounting visual signifiers like blood, cuts and bruises. Wounding the self is a way to experience the certainty of existence known only through pain. Fighting and wounding are the only means by which the men can feel truly ‘alive’… This new, narcissistic/masochistic male is perhaps a symbol of the ‘crisis of the masculinity’ widely experienced and reported at the turn of the century in America”.

The films are “dominated by the performative bodies of white American masculinity, desperately wanting out of the crisis and the failure of the masculine performative strategies that they grapple on to.” The narratives feature “obliteration and masochistic violence… Violence here is more than ritualistic kitsch. It becomes a sport—a crucial component that lets men connect with each other through the overcoming of fear, pain and fatigue—while revelling in the illusion of a redundant masculine culture.” The idea of the hero is switched with the “spectacle of heroically suffering men.” The fighting acts as a “physical punishment,” allowing a sort of rebirth and “re-masculinization” of two men who once didn’t conform to the traditional idea of masculinity. Through both films, traditional masculinity is criticised, and modern masculinity is celebrated, as there are many masculinities and many different ways to be a man.

Celebrations and Critiques of Masculinity in Film and Television

 These contemporary media representations offer the perspective that men do not have to conform to a strict set of guidelines defining what it means to be a man. These contemporary media representations can be juxtaposed and contrasted with media showcasing the traditional ideal of a man. The famous advertisement titled, “The Insult that Made a Man out of Mac” is a prime example of the traditional ideal of masculinity and how a man should act and look like. The ad was issued a couple of decades ago by Charles Atlas, the famous bodybuilder, and was common in many comic books, read primarily by boys. The ad summarises human sexual psychology in seven comic strip panels. The comic illustrates a skinny, weak young man known as Mac. He who is embarrassed and self-conscious about his appearance. Mac is threatened and put down by other; stronger and more ‘masculine’ men and attractive women. He then makes and puts to action a plan to get fit. He goes back to the beach when he is strong and muscly and punches the bully. Mac wins the fight, and he wins the girl. The comic brutally highlights the traditional idea of masculinity as encompassing ‘strength, toughness, attractiveness, heterosexuality’ and violence. Men are forced to toughen up. They do this by pushing themselves and others. Men demand toughness, and women want it, despite their disapproval of the harsh attitude that nurtures and inflicts toughness.

“Men enforce a code of behaviour on each other, when working together. Do your work. Pull your weight. Stay awake and pay attention. Don’t whine or be touchy. Stand up for your friends. Don’t suck up and don’t snitch. Don’t be a slave to stupid rules. Don’t, in the immortal words of Arnold Schwarzenegger, be a “girlie man”. Don’t be dependent. At all. Ever period. The harassment that is part of acceptance on a working crew is a test: are you tough, entertaining, competent and reliable? If not, go away. Simple as that. We don’t need to feel sorry for you. We don’t want to put up with your narcissism, and we don’t want to do your work.”

This pressure of masculinity not only comes from the men, but also the women. ‘Women don’t want boys. They want men. They want someone to contend with; someone to grapple with. If they’re tough, they want someone tougher. If they’re smart, they want someone smarter. They desire someone who brings to the table something they can’t already provide’.

Stereotyped and Toxic Masculinity in Media 

In the past, there has been one dominant and accepted idea of masculinity. It involved the male as the breadwinner, whose role was to protect and provide for his family. Although “there is still a dominant ideal of masculinity… [which] in the 1980’s… was epitomised by stars such as Arnold Schwarzenegger and Clint Eastwood, both of whom represented strength, toughness, attractiveness, heterosexuality and whiteness”. It is now acknowledged and accepted that there is “not only one version of masculinity, but many possible variations of male behaviour: there are many masculinities.” Contemporary media representations in film and television highlight and celebrate this concept of multiple “masculinities,” by representing many different characters and types of men. In his textbook, ‘Media and Society,’ Michael O’Shaughnessy lists many well-known male Hollywood stars, whom demonstrate “different styles of masculinity.” The list includes “Johnny Depp, Seth Rogan, Brad Pitt, Jay Chou, Floyd Mayweather Jr, Chris Hemsworth,” with each star “offering something different” in terms of masculinity. This vast range of men offering different insights and representations of masculinity is very positive and constructive for the male population, as there is no longer one strict set of characteristics that defines masculinity, there are “many masculinities” which should all be accepted and celebrated.

Contemporary media representations in film and television critique the idea of masculinity through the portrayal of toxic masculinity through the utilisation and depiction of destructive, overpowering male characters. Toxic masculinity is a term often associated with the #MeToo Movement, it details the damaging impacts of traditional masculinity on not only men, but the whole of society as well. The American Psychological Association (APA) defines traditional masculinity as ‘marked by stoicism, competitiveness, dominance and aggression [which] is, on the whole, harmful’. Toxic masculinity is a ‘concept to critique strict adherence to masculinised gender norms with the goal of overturning those very same gender norms.’ It can also describe the rejection of the ‘‘hypermasculine’ and ‘warrior’ masculinity, which was seen as detrimental to the spiritual life of the family.” Toxic masculinity suggests that there are both ‘harmful and non-harmful forms of masculinity.’ Christman states that “masculinity is an abstract rage to protect… the idea of Man as Protector,” this is also apparent with the male urge to fight. In his journal article, ‘What is it like to be a man?’ Christman says “Every social encounter between men is potentially a fistfight. You learn this in elementary school and never forget it.” O’ Shaughnessy supports this explaining, “Western society encourages competitiveness and individuality. It also encourages aggression and violence as ways of solving problems.” This is one of the obvious downfalls of toxic masculinity and masculinity itself. There are many costs and detriments of this hypermasculinity, but it is suggested the greater issue of toxic masculinity lies within the ‘gendered constructs’ rather than the men themselves. Some argue, that rather than the issue of toxic masculinity, the actual problem is the idea of masculinity, maybe masculinity itself is toxic.

Men have an issue admitting to pain and suffering. In traditional masculinity, it was considered a weakness, and failure to “hold back tears” and “grip things” meant you were weak and possibly Arnold Schwarzenegger’s idea of a “girlie man”. In his journal article, ‘What is it like to be a man?’ Christman examines his experiences as a male in society, stating the difficultly in having a ‘serious conversation’ involving emotions with other men. “Many of my male friends cannot disclose even a fairly serious personal problem to another man, even in a private conversation, without first offering up a short litany of the categories of human beings whose oppression is undoubtedly worse. It is as though they feel they must apologize for claiming the human prerogative to hurt—for admitting that they are people, and not flesh bags containing mostly privilege and water.” He continues, describing that masculinity is the refusal of comfort. “I live out my masculinity most often as a perverse avoidance of comfort: the refusal of good clothes, moisturizer, painkillers; hard physical training, pursued for its own sake and not because I enjoy it; a sense that there is a set amount of physical pain or self-imposed discipline that I owe the universe.”

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Conclusion

Through the contemporary media representations of many masculinities in film and television, such as David Fincher’s ‘Fight Club’ and Darren Aronofsky’s ‘The Wrestler,’ masculinity is celebrated as there isn’t one strict set of characteristics that defines masculinity and traditional masculinity is also criticised as there are “many masculinities” and “people have begun to question what it means to be a man.” Masculinity is no longer defined as the ‘strength, toughness, attractiveness, heterosexuality and whiteness’ of Arnold Schwarzenegger and Clint Eastwood, there is no longer “one version of masculinity, but many possible variations of male behaviour: there are many masculinities”.

Reference List

  • Aronofsky, D. (Director). (2008). The Wrestler [Video file]. Retrieved from http://edutv.informit.com.au
  • Bourke, M. (Director). (2016). Man Up: Episode 1 [Video file]. Retrieved from http://edutv.informit.com.au
  • Christman, P. (2018). What is it like to be a man? The Hedgehog Review, 20(2), 62-73. n/a
  • Clark, M. (2002). Faludi, Fight Club, and Phallic Masculinity: Exploring the Emasculating Economics of Patriarchy. Sage Journals, The Journal of Men’s Studies, 11(1), 65-75. doi: 10.3149/jms.1101.65
  • De Boise, S. (2019). Editorial: is masculinity toxic? The International Journal for Masculine Studies, 14(3), 147-151. doi: 10.1080/18902138.2019.1654742
  • Fincher, D. (Director). (1999). Fight Club [Video file]. Retrieved from http://edutv.informit.com.au
  • John, V. M., Viswamohan, A. I. (2015). Narcissism, Masochism and the Reconstituted Male – Masculine Performances in Fight Club and The Wrestler. Sage Journals, 10(3), 276-287. doi: 10.1177/0973258615614419
  • O’Shaughnessy, M., Sadler, J., & Casey, S. (2016). Media and Society (6th ed.). Melbourne: Oxford University Press.
  • Peterson, J. (2018). 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos. United Kingdom: Penguin Allen Lane.
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Analysis of Masculinity in Film and Contemporary Media. (2023, August 14). GradesFixer. Retrieved July 18, 2024, from https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/analysis-of-masculinity-in-film-and-contemporary-media/
“Analysis of Masculinity in Film and Contemporary Media.” GradesFixer, 14 Aug. 2023, gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/analysis-of-masculinity-in-film-and-contemporary-media/
Analysis of Masculinity in Film and Contemporary Media. [online]. Available at: <https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/analysis-of-masculinity-in-film-and-contemporary-media/> [Accessed 18 Jul. 2024].
Analysis of Masculinity in Film and Contemporary Media [Internet]. GradesFixer. 2023 Aug 14 [cited 2024 Jul 18]. Available from: https://gradesfixer.com/free-essay-examples/analysis-of-masculinity-in-film-and-contemporary-media/
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