CORRECTION/CLARIFICATION: I am reposting this because I want to make clear that a couple of things that people picked up on in the comments are MY mistakes/confusing wording, not Jackson Katz’s. First, in regards to the Rambo movies, I was confusing Rambo:First Blood Par I, which came out in 1982, with Rambo:First Blood Part II, which came out in 1985, which is what Katz is quoting in the movie. I just googled the movie to find the year it came out and didn’t notice it was for Part I, not Part II. I have corrected that below.
As for the Terminator image, that is entirely my fault. I could not find the exact image Katz used in the documentary, though I searched for quite a while. I just put up an image I meant to be representative of both Terminator movies, and the one I used, as the commenters point ou, was not a good example of what I was saying. Since I can’t find the image Katz used, I have taken the Terminator image out of the post.
I just wanted to a) correct those two things and b) make it clear that they were my mistakes, not Katz’s.
In the documentary Tough Guise: Violence, Media & the Crisis in Masculinity, Jackson Katz discusses how images of masculinity in pop culture have changed over time, and particularly how in the 1980s and 1990s images of male heroes got larger and more menacing, as well as hyper-violent. He uses Humphrey Bogart, Clint Eastwood, Sylvester Stallone, and Arnold Schwarzenegger as examples. I’m basing my discussion of the images from movies on Katz’s analysis.
In this image of Humphrey Bogart (found here) in The Maltese Falcon (1941), his gun is very small compared to his body. His body language is not particularly imposing or threatening. Keep in mind this was during World War II (though the U.S. had not joined yet) and that machine guns had been invented during the Civil War. So Humphrey Bogart conceivably could have been shown holding some sort of automatic weapon instead of a small handgun.
Then we have Clint Eastwood in Dirty Harry, from 1971 (found here). The gun has gotten much bigger and the body posture a bit more threatening.
And in 1985 we get Rambo:First Blood Part II (found here), a military revenge fantasy in which a Vietnam vet gets to finish the war the U.S. military wasn’t “allowed” to win, presumably because of weak, feminized elements that controlled the government. Stallone’s body is huge and muscular, and the gun has gotten larger and more deadly.
Katz attributes these changes in images of masculinity to a growing concern in U.S. culture that we are somehow being “feminized” and becoming weak. He argues that the loss in Vietnam (or lack of an outright win, if you prefer) as well as political and economic gains by women and non-whites caused a cultural panic about the status of white men. As these men were supposedly losing power and status in everyday life, cultural images of them emphasized strength, power, and aggression as a version of ideal masculinity.
Here is a clip from Tough Guise:
And here’s a clip that takes the Tough Guise intro but adds some other images:
I was thinking about this because when I was in Oklahoma, I was around a lot of trucks, and specifically, a lot of old farm trucks. And one day when I was standing next to an old Dodge Ram, it hit me how much less…I don’t know…imposing it was than newer trucks. It seemed like a cute little toy truck. Here’s a picture of a 1985 Dodge Ram (found here):
The 2005 version of the Dodge Ram (found here):
Looking at my family’s old farm trucks (and we’ve got a collection of rotting, rusting trucks dating from the 1950s on; I did not post pictures of our trucks because my grandma would kill me for exposing our farm junkiness to the world), I kept thinking, “We used to haul cattle with that?” or “That was considered sufficiently masculine at one point?” And the answer is, yes. Yes, they were.
Now, I’m certain that a lot of the redesigns had to do with advances in safety and efforts to improve fuel efficiency (by making the truck body more rounded, for instance). But there also seems to be a pattern in trucks today to design their headlights and grills to look sort of “mean,” if you will–like they’re snarling or growling.
I’m not necessarily saying there’s a connection between Katz’s work and the way trucks have been redesigned to look meaner and more aggressive…but it just got me thinking.
Of course, as a farm kid, what strikes me about trucks is the way the newer designs make them less functional for the types of things you see people doing in truck ads. While the cabs have gotten larger, making room for more passengers (that is, more like a car), the beds have gotten smaller, so you can’t carry as much (or as long of) stuff in them–and carrying stuff in the back is what you supposedly need a truck for. Yes, you can still stick more stuff in the back of, say, a new Dodge Ram than in a lot of cars, but I’m just sayin’. (Also, you’d be shocked at how much stuff I can get in the back of a Honda Civic if I lay the seat down and am really motivated. And my mom once brought a 130-pound calf home in the backseat of a car–I had the fun job of trying to keep him from attempting to crawl into the front. And we had a woman in my hometown who used to haul pigs around in the backseat of her Caddy.) A lot of things we used to haul around in the back of our trucks wouldn’t fit in the beds of new trucks, or you couldn’t fit nearly as much of them. And of course the majority of people who buy trucks for their big motors aren’t doing the types of things (driving through extremely rocky or muddy country, hauling trailers full of cattle, etc.) that require such a huge motor in the first place. So why not just buy a car?
Just some thoughts that struck me while hanging out on the farm.