Mark Moss’ (2011) book The Media and the Models of Masculinity begins from the social-constructionist perspective of gender to provide a historical account of how various models of masculinity are “conditioned, defined, or illustrated by different media” (p. 179). He provides examples of how hegemonic masculinity is repeatedly verified through particular models of masculinity in the media. The focus in this book is on the U.S. and Canadian social, cultural and historical context. It is also on Anglophone heteronormative models of masculinity in the media. The examples and case studies are drawn from this milieu. By “media” Moss means television, film, literature, magazines, radio, and marketing. There is little engagement with digital media, besides a brief consideration of violence in video games (pp. 124-127).
Moss argues that the models of masculinity the media circulate have an “enormous influence” on men and boys who “mimic the dress, behavior, and mannerisms of key archetypes” (p.4). The media is understood as pedagogic. It teaches men and boys how to compete, how to prove themselves, what is acceptable or not, what masculinity is or is not, and the like. Moss’ position is that the media is the “single most authoritative” force in “conveying opinion” (P. 21). Further, the media “offer a barometer of what is going on” and “define the varieties of masculine experience” (p. 23).
Moss argues that there has been increasing variation of masculine models, even though certain historically-driven models –
warrior/soldier, heroes, explorer/adventurer, rebel, athletic doer, husband/provider, among others – remain influential and continue to have ongoing appeal. Moss discusses Do-It-Yourself and adventure/outdoor television programs, cooking shows, fashion, books, hunting, militarization, advertising, James Bond, celebrities, sport radio, novels, gangster and corporate raider films, hobbies, Fight Club (film and novel), workplaces, desks, toys, cars, “lad” and style magazines, among many others. There is an impressive diversity to the examples. This diversity is a bit overwhelming. Perhaps less diversity and more in-depth analysis of the various discourses present in each example would have helped to generate deeper understanding of them, as would more space given over to engaging with the scholarly literature that critically investigates the same or similar examples –of which a lot is by-passed. As it is, I found that many examples Moss provides functioned primarily as observations and didn’t give me many new insights about them.
Moss explains how various historical periods and events have affected the models of masculinity in the media. This involves reifying some models, challenging others, and introducing new ones. War, feminism, economics, employment conditions, and commodification are some of the key influences. Moss argues that what have come to be known as “traditional” models of masculinity in the media emerged from social and cultural conditions during the period from “1870 until just before the outbreak of World War 1” (p. 84). This was a period when mass media such as magazines, radio, film, and literature became
established as dominant sites for circulating models of masculinity. The post-World War II and post-Great Depression period saw models of masculinity significantly re-evaluated, re-worked, re-entrenched, and diversified. In addition to the previous social and cultural influences television, commodification, identity politics, urbanization, marketing, and leisure produced newer models such as the “rebel”, “slacker (dude)”, “metrosexual”, etc. Post-1950 there has been an “unleashing of possibilities” (p. 11).
However, while there is increased diversity of the models of masculinity in the media Moss identifies that “since September 11, 2011, it has been suggested that‘manhood’ is once again being held in ‘high esteem’. With the return of male heroes – firemen, policemen, soldiers – a renewed emphasis on ‘going back’ has been in vogue” (p. 17). Moss explains that there tends to be a reinvigoration of traditional and “proven” macho, brawny, dominant, tough, stoic, vigorous, assertive, strong, and independent tropes when there are “real or imagined” threats (p. 7). One particular contemporary example Moss discusses is the perceived “threat” of feminisation and commodification that has led to cries of a “crisis of masculinity”, as in Chuck Palahniuk’s novel Fight Club when the main character says, “We have gone soft – physically, mentally, spiritually soft. We are in danger of losing our will to fight, to sacrifice, to endure” (in Moss 2011, p. 7). Moss writes that despite this the “boundaries of being a man have expanded … Swaggering masculinity, infantile masculinity, and preening masculinity are all possible to
exist and can all be combined at the same time” (p. 17).
While this book demonstrates that masculinity is socially, culturally and historically constructed the engagement with gender theory throughout the book is fleeting. The focus is on the concepts and theory of Raewyn Connell (pp. 1-2) and they are taken as a given. There is no critical evaluation of the theory Moss aligns himself with. Connell’s theory and concepts enable Moss to identify and describe a diversity of Anglophone heteronormative models of masculinity in the media, as well as the social and cultural conditions that have helped produce them. Politically, I wonder if that is enough anymore? We still need strategies to challenge and change inequitable, unethical, and socially unjust models of gender in the media. Otherwise, we do not really shift “men’s sense of entitlement (or resentment at a personal lack of it) … along with the symbolic
framings” that “continue to position women, the world over, as less powerful than men (Segal 2007, p. xxxi). Moss’ own point about the ongoing appeal and returns to traditional hegemonic tropes of masculinity when there is a “threat” (real or imagined) despite more variations and an “leashing of possibilities” (p. 11) is evidence to support the need for additional strategies, and perhaps even new theories and concepts.
It has become increasingly apparent that we need more critical evaluation of the theory and concepts currently dominating scholarship in the field of masculinity studies. In this way we can begin to open up “new kinds of questions” (Seidler 2006, xxvi). Like Stephen Whitehead (1998), I am getting the feeling that the current dominant Connell-inspired theory and concepts, while having been useful, may now have “little more to tell us about men” (p. 61). For example, can the
Connell-inspired theoretical approach and concepts take us any further in breaking down the current gendered interpretive framework that produces particular models of masculinity in the media at the expense of others? Or are we left with repeated descriptions of the diversity of masculinities while the hegemony remains in place, with no possibilities for actual “deterritorialization” of masculinity through our analyses? I am referring here to Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari’s (1987) concept of “deterritorialization”. By this they mean the decontextualization of something, to be liberated from a particular function, and then resituated to enunciate new functions, meanings, values, relationships, forms, capacities, and potentials.
Moss’ work, and other research concomitant with his, is successful at identifying and making visible variation thus undermining essentialist discourses of gender and the ability of masculinity to disappear from the lens of scrutiny.
This is very important. Yet, maybe new strategic and theoretical steps now need to also be added to our analyses. For example, while appreciating that “over the last 50 years gender has become the interpretive framework for making sense of human bodies and subjectivities” (Germon 2009, p. 10)[original itlaics] it may now be necessary to consider in any particular
study the gendered interpretive framework alongside alternative interpretive frameworks that diminish gender and its power as a symbolic and structuring device (see the work of feminist philosophers Rosi Braidotti, Claire Colebrook, Elspeth Probyn, Genevieve Lloyd, Elizabeth Grosz, and Donna Haraway). What this may enable is a dilution of the power of hegemonic gendered discourses and the models they produce and keep in place. It will also allow us the opportunity to contrast the findings of analyses of media and representations of subjectivities, space, and bodies that rely on a gendered interpretive framework with the findings of analyses that deterritorialize. The impetus to think differently about selfhood and to produce new (or even revolutionary) interpretations will come from analyses that are “lines of flight” – lines of transformation – that “blow apart strata, cut roots, and make new connections” (Deleuze and Guattari 1987, p. 15).
Further, to escape gendered repression and containment of identity, space, and subjectivities it may be necessary as researchers to also explore how we feel and what we do at the intersection of media and gender (and not just others). Moss’s own subjectivity is largely absent from the book and this got me thinking about the possibilities self-reflexivity brings to analyses, as many feminist and post-colonial researchers have argued (Probyn 1993, Spivak 2006). Positivist tendencies still abound in research on masculinity and media. This continues to keep in place a binary epistemological system that privileges
“neutrality”, “objectivity” and “reason” – traditional masculine tropes – while excluding bodies, sensuousness, subjectivity, the personal, etc. – traditional feminine tropes. Our very own research that appears in books, in journals, on radio, on television, in magazines, etc. is part of the reproduction of hegemonic masculine tropes in the media. It is strikes me as crucial
for male researchers like Moss (and myself) to work hard not to do this. One way may be to not reproduce the privileging of the cognitive (including therepresentational) at the expense of the corporeal. Mediated existence is as much corporeal and cognitive. The mind and body are not separate but entwined(Grosz 1994). Michele Barrett (2000) urges us to involve bodies in our research so that our insights as "imaginative, sensual even, in that they speak to experience, which includes thesenses rather than simply cognition” (p. 19).
While I am on the topic of bodies, in this book they do tend to come across as blank slates to be written on, directed, and influenced – tabula rasa. As Moss writes, the media influence men and boys behavior, comportment, body image, and practices. However, bodies are active, resistant, and productive – lived (Connell 1995, Grosz, 1994, Merleau-Ponty
1962, Gatens 1996). And this happens in spaces that are material and not only representational. That is, media, spaces, and bodies literally “matter” (Ibid). Materialities also provide the protocols for reading, that is, they also guide and control the way the meaning emerges, including those attached to models of masculinity in the media.
Moss’ emphasis on the influence of the media on boys and men is consistent throughout the book. However, little supporting evidence for the extent of the pedagogic role of the media is provided. Moss appears to be working with assumptions drawn from a media effect paradigm. By “media effect paradigm” I mean that which assumes a predominantly uni-directional effect which is the result of exposure to a particular type of media or representation (Gauntlett 2008). In particular, chapter seven on “Masculinity, Media, and Aggression” seems to evidence the privileging of this paradigm. In this chapter Moss considers examples of UFC bouts, aggressive music lyrics, violence in video games, war films and military imagery, sport, as well as movies such as Gladiator and Fight Club and his considerations give the impression that media instruct and influence boys to be destructive, aggressive, hyper-masculine, and violent (p. 123). However, there is a considerable body of research that
contests such an interpretation and shows that media does not simply cause violence and aggression among boys and men but rather the causes of violence and aggression are primarily rooted in socio-economic and cultural inequities (Gauntlett 2008).
While Moss’ focus is on the production of the models of masculinity in the media it’s worth pausing and deliberating on
consumption, especially when claims are made in regards to the influence of models of masculinity in the media on men’s comportment, fashion, tastes, values, practices, spaces, etc. Production and consumption are entwined. They work together. Understanding and practices emerge from the inbetween of production and consumption. Young people who have grown up in a heavily mediated environment are particularly aware of this. From a very early age they have a healthy skepticism about media and critical reading skills (Buckingham and Bragg 2003). Boys and men are not only influenced or directed by the media but re-articulate, reproduce, re-interpret, contest, accept, discard, rework, and re-imagine media representations and the mediums (Gauntlett 2008). And especially in regards to digital media they are “produsers” – a hybrid of production and consumption (Bruns 2006). While this is particularly the case inregards to digital media – the internet, social network services,
podcasting, video hosting sites, software, video games, blogging, mobile phones have changed the mediated ecology – it also takes place in regards to traditional mass mediae.g. niche magazines, self-published books, independent film production, community television production and radio, etc. This is not to say that themodels of masculinity Moss identifies in the media don’t have influence or the media don’t try to define masculinity. He is correct. We do live in a mediated culture. However, there are also the processes of the consumption of media to consider as part of that mediated culture when making any claims about influence.
By the end of the book I found myself wondering what does this book do? I concluded that the book primarily provides me with an array of examples of models of Anglophone heteronromative models of masculinities in the U.S. and Canadian mass media. The book left me with an appreciation for how historical, social, and cultural factors produce particular models. The social-construction of masculinities was confirmed, as was the argument that the mass media is a key site where some men carve out homosocial spaces to perpetuate and verify certain models e.g. sport radio. An important point that stayed with me throughout the reading was the resilience of some traditional tropes of masculinity despite them being “long past their veracity” (P. 4). However, I found the examples provided in the book have the promise of more provoking analyses, both theoretically and politically. Also, I found that the emphasis the book places on the Anglophone heteronormative U.S.
and Canadian masculine milieu and the examples drawn from it could have done with some consideration of alternative interpretations being brought to bear on them. If you are positioned differently in terms of sexuality, race, (trans)nationality, class, transgender, ethnicity, etc. you will find only limited discussion of how alternative interpretations may be in tension,
challenge, and contradict those in this book.
To conclude, after reading this book I was left with the impression that it may be time to begin asking new kinds of questions when exploring the intersection of media, space, bodies, gender, boys, and men. For example, questions exploring
materialities and not just the representational, more consideration on how men and boys consume and produce media and in what spaces, increased attention to self-reflexivity in our studies of masculinity and media, and the mobilisation of new theoretical concepts and interpretive frameworks that may enable us to identify and produce through our analyses moments of deterritorialization and lines of flight.
Clifton Evers is a lecturer in media and cultural studies at the University of Nottingham Ningbo
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