Thursday, April 23, 2009

MEN ...

I agree with Carroll’s general argument that American Chopper presents a version of masculinity that harkens back to before the postindustrial service economy. His article made me think about how quickly culture has transformed for male representation in the media, and the lack of valorization of traditional male roles and masculinity in programming. I have this image of my dad, when I was little, surrounded in our front driveway, with a group of other men, all gathered to look under the hood of my dad’s station wagon. Although Carroll doesn’t mention this specifically, this program also relates to nostalgia for the days when men were valued by society (and also, by women) for their ability to “work with their hands” and “fix things.” From what I recall about the era when my dad had a bunch of cars and car parts laying around our back yard for “weekend projects,” his M-F job as a Math Professor was secondary to this “real work” he did on the weekends, much to my mom’s dismay. In reading about American Chopper, this program taps into this “loss” that white, working-class men have “suffered,” by showing men who are not following prescribed notions of male attributes in the new economy, e.g. no coiffed hair, clean-cut suits or very little attempt to play into new values of the postindustrial consumer culture. The garage itself plays an important part as a cultural signpost whose era has dwindled. The show puts great value on displaying this outmoded type of masculinity, demonstrating exaggerated male attributes (guys throwing stuff and arguing). Is this show successfully creating a temporary and imaginary “home” for contemporary working-class white males to negotiate their identities within a new consumer economy?

In Rose and Friedmans’ article, they make the point that TV sports shows for men serve to embrace the male collective and provide a “vehicle for the utopic imaging” (8), reinforcing masculine ideals, all while showing the tension that masculinity undergoes within a capitalist framework. The authors argue that sports “expose the ideological contradictions of masculine identity,” (11) yet I’m most interested in their brief discussion on the “metadiscourse of sports.” The TV show is just one element of participation, whereas the experience of sports involves immersion and “the fabric” of men’s lives. In this sense, I think sports offers more to men than soaps do to women. First, soap operas present fictional characters – sports offer “real games” played by “real guys,” and men are often viewing in “real time.” For men, “chasing the dream” by vicariously involving oneself in the player’s life, salary, extracurricular activities, and stats, they are able to be more involved with the discourse with other men in the “universe.” (3) In this sense, doesn’t this discursive world offer a sense of power that can build among men, with at least a cultural solidarity that soaps don’t provide for women? Robert Allen argues that the community created is as masculine as the games themselves.

Back to the Carroll article on American Chopper, I found the description of differences in work habits between Senior and Paulie to be particularly interesting. Senior’s “old school” labor habits, e.g. “getting to work and getting the job done on time” vs. Paulie’s pondering, artistic and seemingly lazy approach to work – display a contradiction that mirrors masculine roles in flux. The “older version” of masculinity at the workplace was all about hard work and manual labor, where men worked up a sweat and got dirty, and popped open a beer at the end of the day. The new role of men has increasingly transitioned into valuing a white-collar worker, with clean hands, where labor is often “virtual” -- a few taps a Blackberry, and he’s off having a martini in a posh bar after work. In other words, physical labor is passé, and the contradictions played out between Senior and Paulie bring this tension to the forefront. Is the dominant viewing of this show to one or the other value (father/son) or it is simply reinacting the tension? --- Molly

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