Tuesday, August 18, 2009

A Total Non-Sequitur...

I took a few sociology classes in college and a at least two of them involved discussions of the work on one Jackson Katz, an "anti-violence educator" who has made a career of dissecting the way masculinity is presented in the media. His body of work includes at least two films: Tough Guise, in which he explores changing media depictions of what it means to be a man, and Wrestling With Manhood (with Sut Jhally), which makes a more specific argument that American professional wrestling (circa 2001) presents young men with a skewed, hyper-aggressive version of masculinity.

I always cringe a little bit when I see the media being blamed for complex social problems, but Katz and Jhally make some good points throughout both of these films.* One thing addressed quite succinctly in Wrestling With Manhood is the intrinsic homoeroticism inherent in professional wrestling and other high-contact athletic events. An especially instructive comparison is how wrestling matches between female performers are often obviously intended to be sexually titillating (or at least provocative), whereas their male counterparts, interacting with each other the same way, are presented as ultra macho and tough. Check out the clip below to see what I mean.

That clip is played mostly for laughs, but it's also fairly illustrative of how we socially construct people's roles in society and arbitrarily assign labels to various actions and outlooks.

*There are also a few boners thrown in. For example, in Tough Guise Katz lambastes the film First Blood as presenting a barbaric version of manhood, but he fails to note that the film (and even moreso the book of the same name upon which it is based) is about the psychological violence done to John Rambo by his experiences in Vietnam. The point of the movie isn't just that Rambo is some bad-ass killing machine, it's that he's been robbed of a normal life precisely because his time in the army left him bereft of other options and ways of being. That actually seems to line up fairly well with some of Katz's own claims.

1 comment:

Jay said...

With respect to Rambo -

It's downplayed a little in the movie by virtue of the fact that most of the character exposition takes place in the first 20 minutes or so, but it's very significant that everything that Rambo does is triggered by Sheriff Teasle's actions toward him. Rambo was completely reactive. Whatever the character evolved into in the subsequent films, in the first one he could legitimately be described as the victim.