15 October 2015 – When is a nerd, not a nerd? When he’s a geek:
Exploring the shift in representation of masculine Identities
I guess the big question proposed in this lecture was: ‘how is masculinity represented on screen’, not so much, ‘what is masculinity’.
My understanding of the views presented by the lecture, can be distilled to two images: old masculinity was personified by a classic, 1980’s banker, a yuppie; new, modern day masculinity can be portrayed by Sheldon Cooper, from the Big Bang Theory. The yuppie was power hunger, walking with a swagger, full of bravado and testosterone; telling people to do things, rather than asking, and generally being loud and brash. They were obsessed with the way they presented themselves – but not, in my opinion, how their bodies looked as most bankers were either skinny, or cigar smoking ‘fat cats’ – buying flash cars and flash lifestyles. In many ways, they were the modern day Henry 8th type characters: power had gone to their heads, were living to excess and didn’t care about anybody else’s opinion. Counter this with Sheldon, a man who is extremely intelligent but lacks social skills, doesn’t care about his body or the way he presents himself to the rest of the world. He has specific knowledge, but no other ‘talents’. Is this also true of the yuppie? He must have specific skill in his field of banking to be a success – it can’t just be luck – but is most definitely concerned with how he is perceived by others in society. He may want others to see him as a top dog – or alpha male – but he is not concerned with everybody’s opinion, just his peers, he could care less what the ‘commoners’ think of him, they are below him and only serve his needs. Could this be true of Sheldon? He only wears a T-shirt and jeans and obviously isn’t fussed what other people think of him. Look more objectively, and we see Sheldon wears a T-shirt that depicts something to do with his favourite superhero, a topic his fellow peers adore and would approve or disapprove of. He is not concerned with the opinions of the ‘commoners’, but he is concerned with the approval of his fellow scientists; this is his ‘uniform’; the yuppies just have a different one.
So, do I agree with the tutor’s presentation of how masculinity was presented and how it is now presented? No. No I don’t. My analogy sticks with the visual, but goes to the movies.
Cinema in the 1980’s, (the same era as the yuppie), was dominated by Schwarzenegger, Stallone and Willis, full of bulging muscles, testosterone and blowing shit up. They were not concerned with the issues of the smaller man, they had a crisis to advert, and with each iteration, this crisis became more global: saving a group of people, to saving the world.
Your classic movie star morphed from these alpha males, to a slimmed down version (Riggs in Lethal Weapon), to Leonardo DiCaprio in Titanic and various scientists saving the world against alien invasions. Does this mean that we are now seeing masculinity, not as Stallone’s Rambo, but as Robert Downey Jr as Tony Stark? Rambo is pumped up, full of excess and dominating the scenario, whereas Tony Stark is slight, a genius, but socially not normal – he does revel in the unusual. Does it mean that we unconsciously changed our desires from bulging muscles to slim and nerdy; or is just a case that, how many times can we see the same silhouette blow shit up.
We desire the next ‘thing’, but the next thing needs an edge, a change from the norm. People get bored of the same so why not say, ‘rather than a massive guy saving the world, what if the skinny, nerdy dude does? The audience wouldn’t expect that!’. As a society, we are then influenced by what we see on screen and think, I like that nerdy guy who saved the world, I like the way he acts, the way he looks and what he stands for; he’s my new role model. The popularity of these characters then grows and we see more and more of them.
The lecturer mentioned her passion for Jason Statham, your classic, 1980’s alpha male, who is prevalent on the big screen right now. The Expendables franchise brings all the greatest 1980’s action stars back on the screen, and they are as popular as ever.
So what does this mean? Where did all the nerdy heros go? We probably got bored, of seeing the skinny guy save the day. Hollywood probably said, ‘We need a new edge, audiences keep expecting the guy with the glasses to come up with some clever way of killing the aliens. What if we have some massive guy just punch the alien in the face! They wouldn’t be expecting that! Let’s call The Rock, see if he’s on board!’.
My opinion of the representation of masculinity is, it’s cyclical. We go through phases of change and popularity. Five years ago, it would be seen as crazy for men to grow long beards, curl moustaches, style their hair in a 1950’s style and wear 1940’s style biker gear, but that is what is (or was, I can’t keep up), on trend. If you take a look at the images of ‘the modern, bearded man’, it looks remarkably like images from pre 1900, where strongmen competed and used palmade in their hair. Go back a few centuries before that and people craved a shaved face and body but long hair and muscles; previous to that we were back to the beards. Don’t forget the geeks, though. They’re not a modern invention; they are not now coming to the mainstream, as suggested in the lecture. Leonardo Da Vinci was a Geek, shunning ‘normal’ society, socially awkward and not ‘fitting in’, but he was undoubtedly a genius in his field. Albert Einstein, he stood out in a lineup of ‘normals’.
So what is modern masculinity? The same as it’s always been: whatever we’re told it is, and what’s on trend..