Kusz, Kyle, W
white masculinity; gender politics; film; crisis; man-boy; American; hegemony theory
An Analysis of American Masculinity
Edward Pare, History and Mathematics
Faculty Sponsor: Kyle Kusz, Kinesiology
American masculinity, more specifically white masculinity in America, is an ever-evolving subject. In the past two decades, cultural analysts have been writing once again about the idea of the existence of a crisis of white masculinity. This project takes a multi-method approach to analyze the social effects of mass mediated white masculinities on the process of how young white, middle class men construct and perform their white masculinities.
We live in a culture where citizens are inundated with media information and images, some of which are presented on the big screen. Through self-reflexive analysis of some of my own actions and the ways of being a white man presented in films starring Will Ferrell as well as those written and produced by Judd Apatow I argue that white masculinity is not in so much of a “crisis” but in a process of re-imagination. Not only do these films construct a historically specific standard of manhood in American society, but they also compel coming of age white men to find a particular form of manliness pleasurable. Too often, the pleasures constructed in and through the white masculinities created by Ferrell and Apatow re-circulate retrogressive ideas about race and gender that ultimately function to reproduce racial and gender inequalities.
In order to make sense of the politics of these representations of white masculinity, they must be read within the broader socio-historical context of following the rise of feminism and multiculturalism. In response to these movements, many socially conservative commentators suggested that white men were losing social status relative to women and people of color. Simply put, these arguments forwarded the idea that for some to climb the social ladder, some must fall. Feminism was blamed for taking aim at the American man, resulting in a crisis of white masculinity. Films from the 1980s and 1990s such as Rambo and Die Hard have been read as offering images of hard-bodied men who protect and defend a feminized nation. But, in the 2000s, Ferrell and Apatow provide a new trend in film representations of white masculinity, critiquing the hyper-masculine in an amusing yet powerful manner.
These films should be understood as a form of cultural pedagogy that can influence the way young white males, such as myself, construct and perform our masculinities. These films influence this process of identity formation by offering various characteristics of masculinity that myself and other white men like me then select and attempt to emulate in real life. It is not the masculine action that the movie necessarily creates in me, rather the white masculinities offered in these films provides a language that allows me to explain and rationalize some of my actions, as well as, setting a normative standard by which particular ways of being a man are deemed as being culturally acceptable for white college males.
This project leans heavily on the analyses of esteemed academics such as Michael Kimmel, Kyle Kusz , Michael Messner, and Tim Wise. Their writings formed the basis for this project’s creation and help implement the ideas discussed. This project looks to weave together an analysis of how contemporary American white men are being fabricated in contemporary media culture and the effects these representations have on at least a few young, college-educated white men.