Masculinity and The Media Essay

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The focus of this entry is upon televisual masculinities in the western world while making it evident that the approach adopted could also be applied to other media genres. From the mid-1950s to the late 1970s, the depiction of gender on television was highly stereotypical and critiqued by second- wave feminists. Throughout the 1970s and 1980s, narrow gender stereotypes were challenged. Male leads increasingly combined toughness with a degree of vulnerability (Inspector Morse). Men, too, were becoming increasingly fashion-conscious (Miami Vice), without any real diminution of masculine power. During the 1990s, gender stereotypes were further eroded, or sometimes knowingly explored and referenced (Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Friends, Frasier, and Sex and the City), and male intimacy and homosocial bonding became common forms of representation (Feasey 2008, 24).

In the contemporary, postmodern era, TV shows (fiction and nonfiction), have further deconstructed gender binaries by their normative portrayal of alternative and marginal masculinities, among them gay masculinity (Six Feet Under, The Wire, and True Blood), transgendered identities (Hayley Cropper in the UK soap Coronation Street), and female masculinity (Felicia ‘Snoop’ Pearson in The Wire). Whilst representations of gender on television have changed considerably since the early 1960s, it might be argued that traditional gender stereotypes continue to be regenerated. Reality, sporting, and magazine-format TV have seen a resurgence of hypermasculine, often dangerous pursuits (e.g., Deadliest Catch, Top Gear, Jackass) imbued with ‘laddish’ values, and popular reality shows continue to represent gender as essentially polarized and heterosexual. Whilst gender-literate television writers and directors are prepared to experiment with nontraditional and subversive representations of masculinity. others might conclude that television continues to reflect, rather than instigate, meaningful and enduring social change.

Bibliography:

  1. Bignell, J. & Lacey, S. (eds.) (2005). Popular television drama: Critical perspectives. Manchester: Manchester University Press.
  2. Feasey, R. (2008). Masculinity and popular television. Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.
  3. Hermes, J. (2005). Re-reading popular culture: Rethinking gender, television, and popular media audiences. Oxford: Wiley Blackwell.

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