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Masculinity power dominated the movie industry during the late 20th century. The movie industry used masculinity to depict heroism since many film stars such as Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Bruce Willis, and many others were male. “The stress in these movies on physical size, strength, and the ability to use violence effectively suggested that masculine identity was being linked with the use of the body as an instrument of power and control…” (Mackinnon 290).
The dominance of male stars in the movies and depiction of heroism from a masculine perspective has shaped perception of masculinity in the Western culture. To prop his argument, Kenneth Mackinnon analyzed movie genres, specific movies, and the film stars that provide vast evidences, which support the diversity of masculinity images that have shaped masculine identity in the Western culture over a long period.
The action movies such as Raiders of the Lost Ark, Terminator, Die Hard, amongst other popular action movies promoted heroism by relying upon physical strength and power of masculinity. Action movies focus on the heroic abilities of the actors while overlooking issues of feminism, romance, marriage, and family.
Mackinnon argues that, “if love for the family and female partners in romance is demonstrated and supported, that sort of love is less emotional engaging than the hero’s feelings for his sidekick” (291). In the action movies, heroic activities are paramount in that, other actions or feminine issues just complement the scope of the movie relative to reality. James Bond and John Rambo’s movies tend to portray that femininity affects masculinity, and thus weakens the status of heroism.
When James Bond involved a woman in his movie, his heroic ability weakened as he sidelined heroic activities and focused on pleasure. John Rambo on the other hand limited his contact with women by staying in isolation to concentrate on the masculine powers that define Western heroism.
In war films, male dominance reflects characteristics of competent soldiers with heroic qualities. The armed forces train boys to become soldiers by isolating them from females and making them undergo rigorous training that increases their masculinity to differentiate them from femininity.
Typical soldier must focus on acquiring heroic skills and avoid external influences that are distractive. Slasher and Illness movies portray that masculinity is more vulnerable to violence and AIDS respectively as compared to femininity; hence, males experience many cases of death.
The sports and comedy movies further illustrate the ideal masculinity in terms of fatherhood. Field of Dreams movie is not simply about baseball, “it involves a return to ideal fatherhood …the currently devalued father must be reclaimed, together with his caring life-giving power if men are to regain their potential” (Mackinnon 296).
The New Bad Future movie shifts the idea of masculinity into the use of machines and technology. These movies tend to show masculinity as having the ability to tame and control the universe. Pornographic movies idealize men and present them as erotic objects of heterosexuality.
The movie, Born on the Fourth of July by Don Kunz presents masculinity in terms of traditional gendered roles of Vietnamese. The movie illustrates how masculine attitudes permeate cultural, political, and religious spheres thus shaping the domination of masculinity in the society. “The pre-Vietnam portion indicates the binary oppositions on which traditional masculinity seems to rest: to win, others must be losers; to live, others must die; to be a man, others must be women or feminized” (Mackinnon 300).
The Vietnamese traditions defined the gendered roles that enhanced masculinity and debased femininity. Dead Ringers by David Cronenberg describes hysterical expressions of men in respond to phallic panic while the Crying Game by Neil Jordan describes the identity of masculinity in terms of sex and politics. The Crying Game depicts how the patriarchy demands femininity to be weak to be dependent on strong masculinity, which gives support.
Richard Coward in The Full Monty movie presents revolution of masculinity in the view of millennium. The movie describes the reversed roles of masculinity because “…men’s roles, particularly in the context of large-scale male redundancy … have embarked on a new career as strippers for female audiences, and they have learned that their one asset is the ability to sell their bodies (Mackinnon 301).
The movie predicts how independent woman influences gender revolution and threatens masculinity. Ransom by Krin Gabard elevates Western masculinity by illustrating that a hero cannot marry or become a family man because it reduces autonomy that befits heroes. The ability of a man to resist marriage and become independent defines masculinity and heroism in Western culture.
Warren Betty is a film star who has contradicting gender perceptions. Although he presents qualities of masculinity, he is very much appealing to femininity. His incoherent stand has made him more of feminine than masculine implying that masculinity can have orientations of femininity.
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Clink Eastwood is another film star who portrays extra-cinematic masculinity activities. “Eastwood is often presented in terms of masochistic object, not only suffering pain and humiliation, but also constituting an object of the gaze – his naked walk nearly the length of the penitentiary close to the beginning of Escape from Alcatraz” (Mackinnon 303). Since Eastwood distanced himself from his family, he is depicting an element of heroism in masculinity.
Recent film stars still illustrate ideal qualities of masculinity. In the Movie American Psycho, Patrick Bateman is a serial killer, a wandering and homeless dude, with erotic relationship with women who are his victims. “He has constructed himself out of glossy men’s magazines, regarding himself as an expert in the male fashion, grooming, restaurants and the music” (Mackinnon 308).
He represents masculinity perceptions of the Westerners. In the Billy Elliot movie, Jamie Bell did not follow his ambition of becoming a ballet dancer lest he become less masculine or feminized because the loss of masculinity relates to homosexuality. His parents discourage him from becoming a ballet dancer, which changes his view of masculinity. This implies that traditional stereotypes of masculinity shape culture.
Kenneth Mackinnon’s masculinity in the movies’ underscores how masculinity in movies has changed not only the Western culture, but also all cultures around the world. To prove his argument, Mackinnon explored diverse genres of movies, specific movies and the characters of the film stars.
Although masculinity dominated during 1960s and 1970s, femininity issues did rise in 1980s that saw emergence of call for gender equality. For many years, masculinity has been dominating movie images but currently, there seems to be an equal depiction of femininity and masculinity in the society. The technological advances have enabled women to perform activities hitherto reserved for men only.
MacKinnon, Kenneth. “Introduction to Communication Studies.” Masculinity in the Movies, (n.d): 289-311.