Monday, April 13, 2009

hegemonic masculinity

As someone who grew up with skateboarding and video games, I have to take issue with Leonard's work. While much of his analysis is good, Leonard skews or ignores issues that should make us all closely examine his work. Leonard's introduction, using EA Sports' multi-million unit sales as justification for extreme sports games' importance, is disingenuous because EA doesn't produce any of the titles focused on later in the article nor any extreme sports games of note. Further, Leonard's dismissal of Tony Hawks' series as exclusively white male or tokenized flies in the face of the fact that the Tony Hawk games prior to the introduction of customizable characters included pro skateboarder Elissa Steamer, (non tokenized) Thai skater Eric Koston or Brazilian Bob Burnquist, and the 45 year old Steve Caballero who was born with scoliosis. Perhaps it was their very non-tokenization that caused Leonard to completely overlook them.



That said, Leonard's main argument is that these games "construct a white masculinity through erasing people of color, commodifying inner city spaces, offering opportunities to dominate nature, [and] render females as sexual objects." (112) My question is this, can we think of any sports video games that don't do the same thing? Whether it's the pitch, court, mountain, or track, I think that the underlying premise of all sports games is to dominate the environment where the game takes place. I would also argue that the degree of the sexualization of female bodied characters in sports games occurs at pace with the hyper-masculinization of male bodied characters. If we can't think of other games that don't follow this pattern, it should be assumed that the totality of hegemonic masculinity present in sports games is a response to what sells to video game consumers. As Brian Ott wrote, "The culture of the television inudstry is patriarchal, thus the ideological critic who begins and ends with a television show (video game) as their object of study will find only the...dominant ideology." (Johnson, 168) With all our critique of capitalism and awareness that perceived profitability is the gatekeeper of production, should we really expect non-dominant depictions of masculinity in sports games? If not, how could we make our critique more systemic and materially oppositional to hegemonic masculinity in pop culture and its perceived effects?
Letting the Boys Be Boys - Susan J. Douglas
While many people like them, many others see Limbaugh, Imus, and others as "male hysterics" and don't take them seriously. Still, Limbaugh has mobilized conservative voters and has perhaps influenced policy as well. This seems to indicate that emotion, sensationalism, and outrageousness, while not taken seriously by the mainstream, can influence the limits of debate and open space for negotiation. Could being "radical" and outrageous work for non-dominant purposes? Or, is the success of Limbaugh and others directly tied to their irrationality for the sake of hegemonic masculinity? It seems that if people went on air talking about sex as a social construction and video games as reproducing traditional masculinity that they would be labeled wackos and render the limits of debate unchanged. Also, is there a reciprocal, oppositional cohesiveniess that is a byproduct of "shock jocks" polarizing rhetoric? For example, the perceived threat of Limbaugh motivating people to take up the cause with Planned Parenthood or the N.O.W. Personally, it seems as though Limbaugh et al. have a monopoly on acceptable hysterics indicating that it isn't so much the delivery (the hysterics) as the content (hegemonic masculinity, conservative values) that is the measure of inclusion or exclusion in mainstream political discourse.

In "The Sublteties of Blatant Sexism," Ann Johnson begins by drawing a distinction between blatant sexism and subtle sexism "such as popular representations of liberated but unhappy women and the overstatement of the success of women's movements" (167). While she cites many other studies on subtle sexism, I was wondering what other examples we could think of and what potential cumulative effects may be. Psychological research by reserachers who I can't remember have found that repeated viewing of idealized female body types such as in advertisements lowers the self-esteem and self-image of women who view them. Subtle, almost passive-aggressive sexism likely has such a cumulative toll on people and may be related to the prevalence of post-feminism sentiments in pop culture.

At close to twice the circulation of Rolling Stone magazine, Maxim was the 22nd highest circulating magazine in 2007. However, Maxim only sold a little over 2.5 million magazines that same year, roughly the equivalent of the number of people in US prisons in 2008. Neither Stuff, FHM, nor Loaded made the top 100. Despite the small readership relative to the US population, "Lad mags," in ways similar to Limbaugh, seem to be opening up space for the acceptance of obnoxiously heteronormative male consumers. It seems as though the saying "boys will be boys" is quite flexible and can be stretched to include the arrogant masculine hedonism portrayed by the lad mags. As feminist and queer scholars, is it our role to challenge this trend? What suggestions could we make to help steer lad mag behavior into the unacceptable range within mainstream discourse? How could feminist and queer scholars more directly shape mainstream discourse by intervening in the production and content of contemporary pop culture? (without, of course, being completely co-opted).

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