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What Is a Man, Anyway? Part 2 – Episode 156

Continuing his exploration of masculinity and maleness, Dara turns his gaze to movies and how men’s stories, especially but not exclusively, straight men’s stories have played out on screen. He looks at three totems of masculinity as the main discussion points – potency, violence, and morality.

Dara kicks off with the controversial Straw Dogs, Sam Peckinpah’s 1971 examination of neutered masculinity being refused permission to remain inert by sinister and attritional male forces. That movie’s star, Dustin Hoffman, embodied a new, sensitive version of manhood that chimed with the times – men in movies no longer had to recall the unambiguous heroic modes of earlier eras. But 70s directors recognised there was a tension that made good drama when these new men were pitched against iterations of manhood more resistant to change. John Boorman played this out to terrifying effect in 1972’s Deliverance, for example.

Male cowardice is often a propulsive element in movies, and Dara looks at From Here to Eternity (1954) and the different faces of masculinity presented therein. Key to the piece is Montgomery Clift’s Prewitt, the military trumpet player who refuses to box for the army. What does he do when faced with Burt Lancaster’s male swagger or Ernest Borgnine’s loutish bullying? And what happens to plucky but skinny Frank Sinatra when he sticks up for his pal? Clift’s sensitivity and vulnerability, also essayed by Marlon Brando and James Dean, embodied another masculinity shift that paved the way for the male stars of the 70s.

The 80s were another thing completely, and the truly dominant stars of that period reflected a hyper-confidence in American consumption and bloated pride. Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger wore their alpha masculinity as explicitly as possible and audiences loved them for it. But another 80s actor couldn’t have been less like them and enjoyed enormous success himself playing characters who were cerebral, sensitive, and importantly, non-violent. In fact, in one of his most acclaimed roles he played a cross-dressing gay seducer of a straight roommate, a subversive expression of masculinity that fascinated Dara as an adolescent.

Also, a couple of Kenny Rogers songs, father-son movie dynamics, modernity as identity eraser, and sneaking nerds into leading parts.

2023 article deconstructing the term ‘toxic masculinity’:

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