Tuesday, November 30, 2010
Monday, November 29, 2010
Sunday, November 28, 2010
The link for the full story is below:
Today, while I was procrastinating with my roommate, I sat down to watch the movie "The Day After Tomorrow". As I was watching this movie I began to notice a trend amongst the "disaster movie" genre. This trend is having a plot line about a father who isn't the greatest dad (he's over-worked, over-stressed, out of the picture, or hardly around) who must reach the ends of the earth in order to save his child(ren) from imminent doom.
- Bruce Willis's character in the movie "Armageddon" is a father who is way too controlling father to his daughter. He sacrifices himself in order to save save the world, his daughter and the man she loves so that his daughter can get married.
- John Cusak's character in the movie "2012" is a divorced man who has been replaced by his ex-wife's new husband as the new father to John Cusak's children. Throughout the movie John Cusak's character quickly steps up to the plate of being the father his children deserved in the first place. The step-father is killed off while John Cusak becomes the hero and wins the "Father of the Year" award.
- Dennis Quaid's character in the movie "The Day After Tomorrow" is a divorced man who has spent his son's life caring more about his work as a Climatologist than being a father to his son. When disaster strikes Dennis Quaid sets out on a dangerous mission in the dangerously cold climate in order to save his son.
These are just three examples of this phenomenon within the disaster movie genre. These movies celebrate the idea that even though you might be a horrible father, it's all forgiven if you risk or sacrifice your life in order to save your children. These movies perpetuate this patriarchal idea that men must "man-up" and become the strong, protective figures to their families in the face of danger while the women and children must be weak and allow the men to take charge. Why does the movie industry find it okay to tell men that they don't have to be a father all of the time, and only have to step up to the plate when it "really matters"? If someone can tell me about a disaster movie that doesn't follow this horrible trend, let me know. In the meantime I'm going to enjoy having a father that's there for me even when the world isn't ending.
Saturday, November 27, 2010
Friday, November 26, 2010
I saw this commercial for the first time this afternoon and was instantly reminded of our discussion and readings on men in families. While I understand the joke the ad is attempting to make, I still find it sad and frustrating that it's based on defining masculinity such that the relatable male response the ad's success relies on is one of reservation about having a baby because it would require giving up a sporty car. How can we expect men to be good fathers when we also expect them to care about their cars more than their kids before their children are even born? It's an unrealistic double-standard, to say the least.
Wednesday, November 24, 2010
The White Ribbon Campaign is the only national violence prevention campaign, and it is unique in that it aims to raise awareness among Australian men and boys about the roles they can play to prevent violence against women. The campaign calls for men across Australia to speak out and take an oath. An oath swearing never to commit, excuse or remain silent about violence against women. The campaign culminates on White Ribbon Day (25 November) each year, when men and women across Australia are called to wear a white ribbon or wristband as a visual symbol of their commitment and oath.
In swearing and wearing a white ribbon, men and boys can act as positive role models and advocates for change by challenging behaviours and attitudes that have allowed of violence against women to occur.
Tuesday, November 23, 2010
The link above is to a story about little boys competing in beauty pageants alongside little girls. I find beauty pageants themselves to be very problematic, no matter the gender of those involved. However, the information is interesting. According to the article, ten percent of pageant contestants are not boys, up from five percent five years ago. The article mentions that this story is one of "recent string of well-publicized reports of boys embracing their more feminine or creative sides."
Saturday, November 20, 2010
For any who are interested the movie is easily available on Net Flix for instant viewing.
I wanted to give let everyone know about a great charity event I was apart of on Thursday night, and it is not over so you all can be a part too if this sounds interesting to you. Mel’s Bad Girls Club is putting on an art show called Sensory Overload downtown from now through December 13th. It a recommended donation of five dollars at the door and offers great drink specials inside. All money goes to the Hope and Help Center of Central Florida, a foundation with the goal of creating awareness and support of those with Aids and HIV. I am not sure if this would count towards service learning hours, but regardless it was a very enjoyable evening. The art is fabulous and very reasonably priced. There is also hand made jewelry from a local artist as well as hand made items from artist in
Thursday, November 18, 2010
So you get home from a first date with a guy you’ve had a major crush on. You’re sitting on the couch, reliving every detail from the night, as you’re thinking everything went just right. Your date picked you up from home, dressed adorably, had great manners at dinner, and even picked up the bill after you insisted to split it. In your eyes, you did everything correctly and the date went perfect. A couple of days have passed by; why hasn’t he called you since then?
He’s Just Not That Into You is a 2009 romantic comedy starring some of Hollywood’s hottest actors and actresses including Bradley Cooper, Jennifer Aniston, Drew Barrymore, Ben Affleck, and more. According to the Internet Movie Database, “Five women and four men try to sort out the signals that the sexes exchange.”
This situation described above relates to one of the characters in the movie, Gigi Haim. After Gigi went on a date, she has anxiously been waiting for a call from her prince charming. Her so-called “Prince charming” decides not to call Gigi, which drives her absolutely crazy. Gigi decides to go to the bar that her date works at, hoping to accidentally run into him. This movie depicts where girls go wrong in relationships and why we always seen to interpret them differently than guys. Lets face it; we all know that girls and guys think very differently.
Most women have always been told since they were little girls, if men are mean to them, then the actual significance behind this is that they like you. He’s Just Not That Into You, is a film that portrays the truth about why men act the way they are. I think this movie comes across as describing women in a pathetic manner. Women are always the ones waiting around for the guy to call back or initiate the date, well according to the movie anyhow. The film repeatedly makes women seem dependent upon men and that they constantly look weak when trying to receive attention from men.
He’s Just Not That Into You, shows that women and girls will do whatever it takes to get a mans attention. Of course people perceived this film in many ways, but this movie is frustrating to me as a woman because I don’t believe that I act in the way the movie says most girls do when it comes to men. I don’t understand why women are always portrayed as the victim and looked at towards men in a negative light. I just don’t get it. Why can’t girls realize just when a guy is not into them? It seems like first, the girl has to come across as desperate to the rest of the world, then she will realize that the guy doesn’t care about her and is just using her. This film does not show how a relationship can be egalitarian.
Furthermore, I can relate to this movie on a very personal level because I currently live in a sorority house with 28 other girls. I am constantly listening to the difficulties girls are having with the guys they are “talking to,” and I just don’t understand how they can stoop down to their level and have no respect for themselves. Maybe I’m just being harsh, but it’s clear to me that actors and actresses in the movie, He’s Just Not That Into You, really act that same way in real life. I hope this movie calls attention to women and I hope it helps women change.
In Theories of Masculinity class, we have discussed the qualities in men that make them masculine. In order for a guy to truly be masculine does he have to be violent, strong, smart, and an asshole? Or could it be a combination of all four? The film represents masculine men by the ones who give women the hardest time. As a feminist, I don’t think the movie portrays women fairly. In addition, the movie comes across that guys have all of the control in the relationship. Which we all know is not true! In class, we have focused on theories and topics such as glass ceiling and the glass escalator. The glass ceiling is when a company effectively hinders a woman’s move up the corporate ladder. This describes a women’s, “failure to rise to senior level positions because of invisible and artificial barriers constructed by male management.” This topic reminds me of the film, He’s Just Not That Into You, because in this movie women fail to rise to higher standards because of invisible barriers constructed by men. Although the glass ceiling is geared towards women working, it relate to our class and what we have been learning because women are once again held back from men.
Wednesday, November 17, 2010
In the film “Bigger, Stronger, Faster”, a documentary about performance-enhancing drugs and their history in America, director Christopher Bell exposes the different facets of this industry and it’s effects on American society. The movie starts off by introducing Bell’s family and their middle-class suburban life in Upstate New York, more specifically spotlighting his older and younger brothers, of whom both use steroids to excel in their individual professions (one is an aspiring pro-wrestler and the other a high school gym teacher). The movie then progresses by examining the origin of anabolic steroids; it’s direct influence on the U.S. government and legislation, and the various moral and social issues that surround it. It’s also seen from different viewpoints, from people who support and find no harm in its existence to advocates against its use who actively try to stop it’s spread. The movie was very interesting in style and it forced the viewer to view the drug outside of its normative topics and repercussions. It showed how the use/abuse of the drug has undermined public figures, affected the sports industry, and caused hypocrisy among its critics.
At the beginning of the movie, Bell analyzes the cultural figures behind a masculinity that defined America’s preoccupation with domination and competition. He attributes this through the popularity of figures like Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger, actors who glorified the idea of ultimate strength and power through oppression and violence. More specifically Bell analyzed Hulk Hogan’s “Hulkamania” and the hyper-masculinity it embodied. His model of being created an unhealthy image for young boys all over, who began to see power and physical strength as the highest form of respect and the only way to survive amongst the “bad guys”. Because of this, boys began to adopt this unrealistic mentality, and wanted to be like “The Hulk” in exchange for their mundane and seemingly weak ways of living. It’s this hunger that challenged the self-worth of young males, and the idea of worthlessness if they didn’t mimic their heroes on TV. This mentality is stated in the Bordo’s “The Male Body”, where she states that this kind of consumerism has changed the sexual politics for men, moving from the “Long John Silver”, to “Long Dong Silver”. Mentally these boys adopted the idea of being “incapable” unless they had the huge biceps, fearless attitude, and extreme patriotism that these characters in the media portrayed. The image of Hulk Hogan also symbolized masculinity in a political context by fighting against the “Iron Sheik”, an opponent that served as a metaphor for Iraq’s turbulent relationship with the U.S. at the time. The Sheik became the oppressed and Hulk the oppressor, and the dominance of Hulk’s masculinity over the Sheik’s was a form of success.
Another theme that was exposed was how the United States reinforced its superpower status by promoting the importance of success in the competitive field of sports. For example, Bell looked at the Olympics and focused on the U.S.’ obsession with excellence and power. He also looked at American baseball, and it’s blatant shift from “good-sportsmanship” to “extreme competition”. The rampant steroid use among players created a hostile environment, where drugs were abused and became a staple of the industry. As a result players became larger physically which reinforced that bigger is better among the males. This ideal image of men having to separate themselves from the “average” brings the masculine ideal of always fighting to be the best, no matter who’s “toes you step on”. It reminded me of “Tough Guise” and the harsh exterior men have to uphold in order to be a acceptable member within their peers.
Although the movie concentrated solely on steroid use, I related a lot of it towards the hyper-heterosexuality and unhealthy masculine stereotypes in America. It was interesting to see the specific male normative and how it affects young males is many aspects of their development.
There is another song by a Kellie Pickler called "Things that Never Cross a Man's Mind." In this song the singer portrays what males and females prefer to do and think about. The lyrics go like this: "I need to go shopping These shoes are all wrong Just looked in my closet Not a thing to put on I wonder how these jeans make me look from behind Things that never cross a man's mind Lets turn off the tv Now can't we just talk Lets lay here and cuddle Till we both drift off If we don't make love that'll be just fine Things that never cross a man's mind That joke is too dirty That steak is too thick Ain't no way in the world I'll ever finish it That car is too fast This beer is too cold And watchin all this football is sure gettin old Wish I was workin this weekend Not on the lake, reelin my line Things that never cross a man's mind Her lips are too red Her skirt is too tight Her legs are too long and her heels are too high Boy, she looks like a marryin kind Things that never cross a man' That joke is too dirty That steak is too thick Ain't no way in the world I'll ever finish it That car is too fast This beer is too cold And watchin all this football is sure gettin old Wish I was workin this weekend Not on the lake, reelin my line Things that never cross a man's mind I feel a little bloated Think i'm fixin to start That movie was good except for the violent parts Brad Pitt is sexy Why did he change his hair I knew him and Jenny never had a prayer These curtains clash with the carpet The color scheme is a crime Things that never cross a man's mind Things that never cross a man's mind" This song portrays the idea that "men shoot, women shop." Men are violent and like sports and beer, while women like to cuddle and shop and do interior design.
What really got me thinking, however, was that these two songs are set up to be more like jokes. Even though that is bad in itself as we talked about in changing language and not using sexist ideas as jokes, it seems better than the next song I will discuss. This next song, entitled "I Wouldn't be a Man," by Josh Turner, makes the song sound serious and loving. It is slow tempo and romantic and intended to amke women swoon for the man and want their own man to be like the man in the song. The lyrics say "There's a slow moon risingIt's shining on your skinThe way your body moves meI know there's no holdin' backNo holdin' backI wouldn't be a man if I didn't feel like thisI wouldn't be a man if a woman like youWas anything I could resistI'd have to be from another planetWhere love doesn't existI wouldn't be a man if I didn't feel like thisI can feel passion flowingAs you fall into my armsThe secret way you touch meTells me there's no holdin' backNo holdin' backI wouldn't be a man if I didn't feel like thisI wouldn't be a man if a woman like youWas anything I could resistI'd have to be from another planetWhere love doesn't existI wouldn't be a man if I didn't feel likeRoll with me baby all night longSoul to soul with me baby all night longI wouldn't be a man if I didn't feel like thisI wouldn't be a man if a woman like youWas anything I could resistI'd have to be from another planetWhere love doesn't existI wouldn't be a man if I didn't feel like this." The way it treats the woman in the song as a sex object that a real man wouldn't resist reiterates the idea of the male box and the way men are supposed to see women and their relationships with them.
In its short run—a grand total of less than one standard American television season—Pushing Daisies became known for its colorful aesthetic, sharp writing, and ability to blend and balance romance and dark comedy. The show centers around Ned, a pie-maker with the extraordinary ability to revive dead things by touching them, and his relationships with the three people he knows: Emerson Cod, a private investigator and Ned’s alternative business partner; Olive Snook, the waitress in Ned’s pie shop; and Charlotte Charles, or Chuck, Ned’s alive-again childhood best friend and sweetheart. Although both Emerson and Ned provide equally compelling insight into the role and construction of masculinity in Pushing Daisies, for purposes of staying (somewhat) within the wordcount margin, I will focus this analysis on Ned’s portrayal of masculinity, which can ultimately be seen as a critique on the cultural expectation of emotional insensitivity as a trait germane to and maintained by all “real” men.
From the show’s beginning, Ned is defined as a character and as a man by his extreme emotional disconnect from the world and people around him. Much of this disconnect originates in the rules surrounding his gift: first, that reviving anything for more than one minute will cause something else to die in its place; and second, that anything he revives will permanently return to death if he touches it a second time. For Ned, these rules come to represent not only actual physical restrictions on his ability to connect to people, but emotional ones as well. Because he is afraid of his own power, especially in the context of the deaths and possible revivals of those he loves, Ned “[avoids] social interactions” (“Pie-lette”) as both a child and an adult, coming to identify himself first and foremost as someone who must necessarily exist in isolation from the larger world. In this way, he exemplifies a part of Paul Kivel’s Act-Like-a-Man Box, which lists having/showing no feelings as one of the confining cultural expectations for “acceptable” men (Kivel 84).
And there is no doubt that in Ned’s case, the consequences of possessing and performing this traditional masculine trait are confining. The magnitude of Ned’s emotional detachment lends him, to an extent, a hypermasculine quality, and, with it, a certain sense of greater social power and privilege. Ned’s resurrecting touch, the source of his extreme detachment, gives him some near god-like authority over life and death and, in a more practical sense, provides him with the opportunity to make fast, easy money by using his ability to solve murders and collect the monetary rewards. Yet even as he benefits from his gift and the new social privilege it gives him access to, Ned views it as more of a curse than a boon, and arguably rightfully so. The gift and the resulting emotional detachment Ned develops may afford him significant new social and economic opportunities, but it is at the complete expense of his ability to interact successfully with other people on any real level. He has no social filter and often awkwardly narrates his own actions as he performs them in front of others. His conversational skills are severely lacking and frequently leave him unable to talk to anyone, even the woman he loves, for more than a few consecutive minutes. And for much of the show, even the people he interacts with regularly—Emerson, Olive, and Chuck—are kept at a distance through Ned’s social mistakes and inexperience, such that they are more simply people he knows than actual friends. Essentially, Ned’s emotional detachment has developed to a point of solidification, forming a veritable (and sometimes literal, as is seen in the included screencap) wall between himself and the rest of the world that makes it impossible for him to fully function in the public sphere.
Chuck, a childhood love whom Ned resurrects in the pilot episode, brings the most significant challenge to Ned’s emotional detachment. In many ways—her sense of dress and self-image, her unfailing optimism, her sheltered upbringing, her almost virginal naïveté about the nature of larger society—Chuck represents the traditional feminine ideal and serves as a sort of hyperfeminine counterpart to Ned’s hypermasculine qualities, adding another layer to her desirability to Ned. In a sense of story, Chuck represents the happy, peaceful childhood Ned had before his gift emerged and his mother died; in a sense of gender presentation, Chuck’s embodiment of the traditional feminine represents the emotional and social connections Ned’s gift and subsequent embodiment of the traditional masculine have denied him throughout his life. On both levels, she is unattainable, and this status remains unchanged throughout the series. With Chuck, Ned’s emotional detachment becomes even more of an insurmountable barrier than it ordinarily is. Because she is someone Ned has resurrected, her staying alive depends entirely on them never directly touching. Thus, even when Ned does attempt real, higher interaction, it is still impossible for him to ever completely make contact with someone. In all areas of emotional involvement, including the only one where Ned is significantly self-aware, true connection remains elusive as a result of the emotional wall he has constructed around himself.
In the end, Pushing Daisies offers a clear picture of the damaging effects of defining “masculine” as necessarily emotionally detached. In Ned, we are shown a man who not only has no concept of social interaction, but who has also been so emotionally disconnected that his ability to know even himself has been compromised. Ned has only a minimal understanding of himself as an individual, and most of that is centered in his career as a pie-maker (reflected in the narration, which most commonly refers to him by this title rather than his name); as a result, his propensity for successful interaction with the world outside of himself is almost nonexistent. The image we are given is certainly hyperbolized, and in terms of masculinity construction, Ned functions more as an example of an unrealistic, unattainable extreme than anything else. But even in his unrealistic portrayal, Ned as a character still raises significant challenges to the qualities we as a society tend to idealize and value in men. What, he forces us to consider, are the real consequences of expecting and too often demanding emotional detachment from people who identify as men? And how many men, as a result of these expectations, have, like Ned, reached a point where true connection with anyone, even themselves, would require an impossible violation of restrictive social rules?
Kivel, Paul. “The Act-Like-a-Man Box.” Men’s Lives. Ed. Michael S. Kimmel and Michael A. Messner. Eighth ed. Boston: Allyn & Bacon, 2010. 83-85. Print.
“Pie-lette.” Pushing Daisies. ABC. WFTV, Orlando. 3 Oct 2007.
I was shocked and disappointed by the ending of The Bubble. I thought I was watching an anti-occupation, feminist film about a Jewish Israeli guy, Noam, and a Palestinian guy from Jenin, Ashraf, who fall in love and defy boundaries. Throughout the film, the characters critique Jewish-Israeli racism against Palestinians throughout the film, as well as queer on queer discrimination and the failings of macho masculinity.
At the end of the film, Ashraf, who had been quiet, humble, funny character, unexpectedly takes the place of his militant brother-in-law, “Jihad,” and blows himself and Noam up. I couldn’t believe that the only semi-developed Palestinian character in the play ends up being a shell for a racist and hateful stereotype of Palestinians.
Amireh, Amal. “GLQ- A Journal of Gay and Lesbian Studies – Afterword.” Vol. 16, Num. 4, 2010. Published online by Project Muse.
Suddenly, the abundant suicide-bomber jokes in the film took on a new light. What had seemed to be critiques of the stereotype, turned out to be opportunities to uphold a monolithic depiction of Palestinians. The prominence of “Jihad,” Ashraf’s militant soon-to-be brother-in-law also fell into place as a useful caricature of anti-Palestinian sentiment, as did the violent death of Ashraf’s sister Rana, who is caught in the cross-fire of Israeli soldiers responding to a terrorist attack planned in part by Jihad.
I think I was so upset by the unexpected and rapid downward spiral at the end, because I really did like the film up to that point and enjoy its social commentary, even with its holes. Ashraf, Noam, and his roommate Lulu, a woman, are all very likeable characters who I thought I could be good friends with. The other roommate Yelli is funny but clearly holds some not-so-subtle anti-Palestinian attitudes that are actually held up with the ending of the film.
Lulu’s relationship with an arrogant editor who courts her and then drops her the “morning after” sex provides humor and commentary on the masculine condition of being an “emotional cripple.” In the film, Lulu transitions from tentative and anxious as she tries to win the loyalty of this editor, to a fierce and fun instigator, as she confronts him in his office and tells him for his behavior, and then uses him to get press passes so that she and Noam can get through the checkpoint visit Ashraf undercover after he returns to his family. Lulu’s analysis of the inability to communicate on the part of her male cohorts fits nicely with our readings on the societal pressures that leave men emotionally stunted, such as “The Act-Like-a-Man Box” by Paul Kivel in Men’s Lives.
Scholar Amal Amireh provides a critique of the film in an article on the depiction of queer Palestinians by the Israeli state and those upholding their agenda. In the film, Palestinian culture is depicted as vehemently and dangerously homophobic, while providing no broader context or critique of Israeli homophobia, especially as perpetrated by the Israeli state. Amireh says of the film’s silences around the lives of queer Palestinians and their resistance efforts, “These absences and silences, I believe, make the film more of a colonial fantasy about the colonial Other than an anti-occupation film” (Amireh). Amireh holds that the film does not send an anti-occupation message, but rather is a piece of colonialist propaganda: “The Bubble's representation of Israeli and Palestinian violence completes Ashraf's queer demonization. While Israeli violence is shown to be incidental and pragmatic, Palestinian violence, in contrast, is underscored as premeditated and primal” (Amireh). I agree!
Throughout the four-season stretch of this show, until its eventual cancellation, Soap touched on every cliched and controversial subject ever used (or not used) in soap operas until that moment. The Tates and the Campbells dealt with murders, the mob, incest, adultery, cults, guerillas, prison breaks, UFO encounters, Satan-possessed children, suicide, inter-racial marriages, and homosexuality (just to name a sampling of the issues tackled in this show).
Because so much happens during the duration of this show, I decided to focus my film review on the character of Jodie Dallas, played by Billy Crystal. The character Jodie Dallas is still known to this day as being the “first openly gay character as a regular cast member”. The introduction of this character was met with a great deal of controversy amongst both conservatives and liberals. Conservatives protested against this show because of their views against homosexuality. Liberals felt that Jodie Dallas encompassed all of the stereotypes that a person usually associated with homosexuals.
Upon the first episode of Soap Jodie is introduced as the younger son of Mary Campbell from her previous marriage. Jodie is a gay man who is effeminate, dresses well (in men's and women's clothing), and loves show tunes. He's dating a star quarterback and must keep his relationship with him a secret in order to protect his boyfriend's reputation amongst the public. Jodie decides the best way for him to continue his relationship with his boyfriend is to undergo a sex change operation. In his eyes, if he becomes a woman the public will be more accepting of his relationship with his superstar athlete boyfriend.
In the end Jodie decides to not go for the sex change operation because his boyfriend broke up with him in order to marry a woman so that he could protect his image. After a failed suicide attempt Jodie is convinced by his family and other people around him to start dating girls. For the duration of the television series Jodie only dates women (unless you count the one episode where he goes on a date with a man, in which that never develops into anything more). He ends up impregnating the first woman he sleeps with, and they end up having a girl together.
Out of the problematic elements of this show what really impressed me was the storyline dealing with Jodie, the woman he impregnates (named Carol), and their daughter. After the birth of their daughter Carol runs off with the baby stating that because Jodie is gay, he is unfit as the father of their child. This storyline progresses into Jodie going into an international search for his daughter and taking Carol to court over custody of his child. Jodie ends up winning custody of Wendy (his daughter). In today's society men (let alone gay men) have a hard time winning custody of their children. I find it to be groundbreaking for a late 70s/early 80s television sitcom to tackle this issue and come out with a positive story ending.
Although Jodie's character was far from perfect he gave American television viewers a fresh point of view on issues dealing with homosexuality. Jodie might have been described as a gay man, but the progression of Soap's story line would suggest something differently. He was more of a bisexual man. Because American society at the time had a hard enough of a time dealing with homosexuality, it was easier to peg Jodie as being a gay man rather than a bisexual man. In today's society bisexuality amongst men is still considered to be a taboo subject that many consider to be an unheard of idea.
Jodie's homosexuality was also used as the comic relief during the earlier episodes of the show. Someone in his family was quick to call him a “fruit” or remark on his effeminate behaviors. The audience would laugh and the story would carry on into it's more serious moments. As the show grew though it became apparent that Jodie Dallas was one of the most sane characters in this outlandish storyline. He was a part of the backbone to this show's success. To this day Billy Crystal is still remembered for his portrayal of Jodie Dallas. Even though Jodie Dallas was a problematic character in many ways, he paved the way for more gay characters to be shown on American television. I'm wondering how many of our favorite shows and characters we wouldn't have today if it weren't for Soap. This show was way ahead of its time. If this show concept was reintroduced into society today I have no doubt in my mind that it would be more successful if a lot of these stereotypes were tackled.
Dexter is a weekly TV series aired on Showtime. The series stars actor Michael C. Hall as Dexter, a serial killer who works for the Miami Police Department as a blood spatter analyst. Dexter has been taught to control and harness his murderous inclinations by his father, a police officer who adopted him after discovering him at a crime scene. The code his father taught him only allows him to kill in the pursuit of justice, and the conflict between Dexter’s higher ideals and darker impulses generates much of the show’s conflict. The series, now in its fifth season, depicts the trials and tribulations of his attempt to live a double life – during the day, he’s a family man providing for a wife and two (later three) children. At night, his more aggressive impulses are unleashed, and he takes obvious pleasure in indulging them. I have always found the show interesting in that it effective makes us empathize with a serial killer. Since beginning this course in Theories of Masculinity, I’ve found the ideas we’ve discussed about constructions of masculinity to be very pertinent to the themes of the show.
At the beginning of the series, human interaction and emotion is difficult for Dexter. He states that he does not actually feel emotion, but needs to fake it in order to get by in everyday life. He struggles to discover what is expected of him by his girlfriend, her children, his sister, and his coworkers. His father’s code not only instructs him on killing, but also on how to appear ‘normal’ (non-serial-killer) to others. Already, the basic premise evokes strong connections to the models of masculinity we have been studying and discussing. In everyday life, Dexter himself is a construction. He is hyper-aware of the way his actions affect others perceptions of him and this construction is consciously modeled on the societal expectations of masculinity. I’m reminded of Paul Kivel’s article “The Act-Like-a-Man Box,” which details a model of masculinity in which certain actions are ‘in the box,’ or acceptably masculine, and others ‘out of the box,’ or not masculine enough (Kimmel, Messner 83). Dexter cultivates a deliberately average persona; he marries his girlfriend, Rita, and must learn to adjust to being the perfect husband and father. He also creates a “nice guy” persona at work. The twist is that for Dexter, acting outside of the box does not risk being perceived as feminine, but psychopathic.
Dexter’s public persona may be calculatedly average, but his ‘true self’ is much more brutal. Dexter uses the information he can access as an employee of the police department to track down killers and rapists. He stalks his victims, often taking the time to speak to them days beforehand. He injects them with a powerful sedative (also accessed through his job) and brings them to a clean room (each individually constructed for the occasion) to kill them, saving some of their blood on a slide to commemorate the kill. Dexter’s darker side exhibits hyper-aggressive behavior and a need to dominate, qualities that we have discussed and read about as belonging to the masculine construction. Dexter feels a physical need to kill, and believes that the civilized and kind father, husband, brother, and scientist that he portrays himself as does not represent his true self. Instead, he believes that the violence he commits is the true Dexter, much like the subjects of Martha McCaughey’s article “Caveman Masculinity: Finding an Ethnicity in Evolutionary Science.” Much like the “cavemen” in the article, Dexter finds identification with others who share his insatiable need to kill (Kimmel, Messner 3).
In every season, however, Dexter finds himself forced to kill those that he has identified with and allowed to become close to his true self. So far, Dexter has killed everyone whom he has told about his ‘dark passenger.’ Each of them betrays him, reinforcing his aversion to intimacy and the experience of emotion. In some ways, Dexter can be seen as a true masculine ideal. He is able to embody (though not without some strife) conflicting expectations of masculinity: he is an idealization of both violence and civility, extremes of them each. Dexter does not have to hide expressions of emotion in order to appear masculine, he actually has to fake expressions of emotion in order to appear less masculine, more human. A major theme of the show is Dexter’s compartmentalization between the extremely disparate parts of his life, and it is this compartmentalization that allows him to exist so completely in both realms. He is a caricature of the ideal man, the principles of masculinity taken to their furthest logical extrapolations. What makes the show interesting are the ways in which Dexter’s dual identity is challenged, complicated, and endlessly negotiated in order to maintain that duality. The friction between Dexter the man and Dexter the killer creates a circumstance in which his identity is constantly under construction, and the extremes of that identity provide a fascinating lens through which to view the similar friction that defines and complicates the lives of real men and women.
Each semester is rife with examples that showcase the gender issues of the show. Recently, in the previous and current season, Rita has given birth to Dexter’s child, a boy named Harrison. After Rita’s death, Dexter is tasked with single fatherhood. We see him as the only man on the playground and at the PTA meetings, and the storyline introduces a lot of relevant issues about men and childrearing that we discussed in class. Being the primary caregiver for Harrison has seriously complicated Dexter’s life as a killer, and we even see him pausing while hunting his next victim to sing Harrison to sleep over the phone. Fatherhood has humanized Dexter in a way that previously seemed impossible. The introduction of a nanny for Harrison averts this particular crisis of identity for Dexter, but we also watch him struggle with the idea that his son may have inherited his bloodthirst. When a child psychologist tells him Harrison is most likely a normal, non-aggressive little boy, Dexter is visibly relieved. Dexter is aware of how alienating his identity has been for him, and hopes that Harrison will be able to live as a more complete adult, without the hyper-masculine tendencies of his father.
In the newest season, we see Dexter accidentally rescue a gang rape victim from imprisonment in her rapist’s basement. Dexter kills her rapist, and the most recent episode leads us to believe that he will help her track down and kill all the others who assaulted her as well. The show is full of male violence, but this storyline brings us closer than ever to directly addressing male sexual violence against women. I have a few issues with how the show has portrayed the rape victim herself (hysterical and incapable, mostly), but I do think the storyline is interesting in that it places Dexter as judge, jury, and executioner for a group of men who systematically raped and killed dozens of women. In this season, just as in the last four, we’re forced to weigh Dexter’s brutal actions against their just intentions, our own identification with Dexter as a father and human being against the knowledge that he is capable of such brutality, and our own expectations of masculinity against the unavoidable conflict of identity that those expectations produce.