Tag Archives: pop culture

IR Course Uncovers the Romantic Comedy Foruma

(This post originally appeared on DuckOfMinerva where I am a regular contributor)

My students and I have unlocked the key to writing a blockbuster romantic comedy script. When lecturing on masculinities in my Gender and Human Rights course I gave students the following challenge: think of an stereotypical, ideal-type character that symbolizes one form of hegemonic masculinity. Remembering that hegemonic masculinities are fluid ideal types that vary across history and context,  students came up with answers like “the macho rugby player,” “the workaholic CEO,” “the playboy” and “the quiet, rugged cowboy.” After getting them to list the qualities that define these masculine types, I asked them to imagine a scenario or event that would completely challenge, undermine, or seemingly contradict these masculine identities and to talk about how their immediate community and society might react. Well, the answers produced almost every romantic comedy script you can imagine.
Here are a few examples:
Scenario 1: Rugby player decides to be a stay at home dad
Result: fans and teammates are shocked, hilarity ensues. I think there is an entire sub-category of comedies dedicated to macho men trying to raise babies: “Three Men and a Baby,” “Kindergarten Cop,” Vin Deisel’s “The Babysitter”
Scenario 2: star athlete reveals a secret love of ballet/opera etc, or, more specifically, hockey player reveals a secret love of figure skating
Result: his mates initially ostracize him but end up being impressed with is skills. This is loosely the real plot line of “The Cutting Edge”, a cheesy 90s romantic comedy.
Scenario 3: playboy falls in love
Result: “Crazy, Stupid Love”and a million other romantic comedies premised on the macho main character ‘softening’ as his goofy sidekick ‘hardens’ up- the result is that both find true love.
Scenario 4: Rugged cowboy comes out of the closet
Result: you see where I’m going here.

So what’s the take home message? Romantic comedies could not exist without very specific and stereotypical ideas about masculinity (and femininity). We tend to over-examine the representation of women in popular culture (for good reason) but are less apt at looking at how the construction and unraveling of masculinity is key to almost any Rom Com script. Never mind the fact that there is almost always a great example of complicit masculinity- those characters that do not fit the stereotype of hegemonic masculinity but who benefit from the power structures associated with the identity. Think “Pretty Woman”, where a hardened CEO softens under the spell of employee while his jerk of a partner grapples with the situation. Go on, think of your favorite Rom Coms and spot the hegemonic masculinity/complicit masculinity at play. Have fun.

Whitney Houston, Chris Brown, and Grammy Irony

(This post originally appeared on DuckOfMinerva where I am a regular contributor)

This Sunday the 2012 Grammy Awards attracted more attention than normal due to the untimelypassing of Whitney Houston on the eve of the awards show.
During the Sunday night event,numerous artists dedicated their award to Houston or mentioned her amazing talents and the loss her death will mean to the industry.
Interestingly, running counter to this somber dedication theme of the evening was a notable counter story: the ordained comeback of Chris Brown’s career. Chris Brown was made infamous in 2009 when he was charged with beating his then girlfriend Rihanna. Images of a brutalized Rihanna surfaced across the web and Brown’s skyrocketing career was effectively snuffed out with big names in the business like Jay-Z and Kanye refusing to associate with the artist.
But that was 2009 and this is 2012. Since the incident Brown has had a subsequent album that rose to the top of the charts. He’s back in favor with key R&B players, and is largely viewed as one of R&B’s sexiest males (Glamour.com nominated him the hottest male solo artist in 2010).
The 360 turn-around for Brown culminated at the Grammys on Sunday, where he performed alongside the other industry top-players, and won for best R&B album.
There are several troubling aspects of these counter-themes to Grammys.
First, that a man who was publicly associated with domestic abuse would be so generously celebrated at the same awards show that made tribute to Whitney Houston, a woman who herself suffered a public battle with domestic abuse from her former husband Bobby Brown.
Second, the music industry’s general amnesia or hypocritical acceptance of an artist it chose to shun just three years ago- what about all the hype in 2009 about sending a message about violence and respecting women?
Finally, what’s most concerning has been some of the unexpected responses to, and defense of, Chris Brown’s return- including a surge in women not only supporting him, but also sending tweets about their desire to ‘be beaten’ by him (see the following summary of tweets if you want to be completely dismayed).
What does this all mean about the state of domestic abuse generally, and the music industry and its promotion of womanizing, degrading, and violent lyrics and artists? Does no one connect Houston’s drug abuse to her experience of domestic abuse and her tumultuous private life? I don’t look to awards shows to stand as moral beacons, but I do think it is worth considering these counter Grammy narratives as a signal of the state of popular culture and gender relations at the moment.