a word of Spanish and Portuguese origin
– Wikipedia definition of “Macho”
Traditionally, the word `macho` carried many positive associations. To be `macho` was to be well-respected, embodying traits such as courage, valor, honor, sincerity, pride, humility and responsibility.
– The Macho Paradox, Jackson Katz
1. having or characterized by qualities considered manly, especially when manifested in an assertive, self-conscious, or dominating way.
2. having a strong or exaggerated sense of power or the right to dominate.
3. an assertively virile, dominating, or domineering male.
– Dictionary.com definition of “Macho”
My last blog post was about the Smurfette principle and the lack of female characters and of adequate representations of women and of femininities in general. In a similar vein, this blog post explores the abundance of male characters, representations of men and of masculinities in TV shows and movies that I watch. These are of course limited to my interests in action, fantasy and science fiction but I consider these genres to be particularly interesting because they have either been associated with progressiveness (science-fiction and fantasy) or been consciously masculine in nature (action).
Let’s start by looking at the trailer for Captain America, the first Avenger:
It took about 3 seconds for the trailer to show us that Captain America was in fact, not good enough to be counted as a man because he was short and skinny. This scrawny man has to be taught how to become a real man so let’s stick him in a machine and WA LA! He emerges as the beloved (and benevolent) Captain America – white, young, able-bodied, muscular and handsome.
Many stories in TV shows and movies revolve around men and are frequently told from male perspectives.
Some stereotypical representations of masculinities often present in TV shows include:
1) Need for control
Walter in Fringe – often talks about the need to control both universes from falling apart
Peter in Fringe – often talks about the need to understand and control “The Machine” which supposedly heralds the end of the world.
Admiral William Adama in BSG – general need to control what is happening on the BSG starship
Picard in Star Trek: The Next Generation (ST:TNG) – general need to control what is happening on the starship Enterprise
Eric Northman in True Blood – he wants to control Sookie and fully regulate the activities of the district of which he is in charge.
2) Need to “protect” women
Bill in True Blood – often talks about “protecting” Sooki from harm
Michael Westen in Burn Notice – often talks about “protecting” Fiona or Madeline, his mother
Logan Echols in Veronica Mars – often talks about wanting to protect Veronica. In Season 3, beats up the maker of Veronica’s sex tape twice
in the name of ‘protecting her honor’ despite her disapproval. Riggghtt.
3) Physical prowess characterized by abundant muscles and/or formidable height (if not formidable, then taller than the rest of the men in the show)
Steve McGarrett in Hawaii Five-O – often displays his physical prowess by refusing to catch criminal suspects in a car, preferring to run on foot and subsequently tackling them to the ground
Steven Bloom in Undercovers – tall, muscular, dark and handsome. What more needs to be said?
JavierEsposito in Castle – muscular and handsome Latino man. Again, nuff’ said.
Kyle Hobbes in V – Framed as the exemplary “soldier” of the war against the Vs. Often displays his muscles by wearing tight black T-shirts.
Cpt. Lee Adama or Apollo in BSG – Often found working out in the gym. In Season 3 when New Caprica is established, Apollo is shown to be a fat captain of BSG who has been disillusioned by his role. When he finally realizes that he can pitch in to help the escape of New Caprica, he magically loses all his weight and becomes muscular Apollo once again who saves the day.
Lt. Warf in ST:TNG – Tall, muscular Klingon. Tactical officer and head of weaponry aboard the Starship Enterprise D. Considered to be one of the two strongest people on the main bridge. The other is Lt. Commander Data, an android.
Wallace Fennel in Veronica Mars – a superstar basketball player
4) Lack of feeling or general hesitancy and aversion towards any emotion other than anger, vengeance and occasionally, love.
Steven Bloom in Undercovers – Stoic with no feeling most of the time.
Leo Nash in Undercovers -Engages in activities like alcohol, women and drugs to ‘distract’ him from what he really wants and refuses to acknowledge – a settled life with a woman he loves. This is a classic “Playboy” trope in male characters. Usually, it is paired with someone on the show who is the “opposite” i.e. ‘the family” man. In this case, the “family man” is Steven Bloom.
John Casey in Chuck– Hates discussing his feelings and views them as “weak”.
Jayne Cobb in Firefly – Again, hates discussing feelings and sees them as “weak”.
Colonel Saul Tigh in BSG– Often appears stoic in the face of adversity. Or just very very angry.
Picard in ST:TNG– Appears calm and stoic in the face of adversity. Or very angry.
Steve McGareett in Hawaii-Five O – Vengeful, angry man.
5) Favours physical, emotional, psychological or financial violence
Steve McGarrett in Hawaii Five-O – often uses physical violence as a way to capture criminal suspects. Also threatens violence on other people in the name of avenging his father’s death.
Castle in Castle – He has frequently manipulated his way into Kate’s life and recently, manipulated a fellow writer so he would not have to share Kate as a muse (see my blog post : Kate Beckett: A Muse? )
Logan Echols in Veronica Mars – Uses emotional and psychological violence on Veronica several times in the show. Uses physical violence when he wrecks Veronica’s car in Season 1 and beats up suspected sex-tape maker in Season 3.
Tyler Evans in V – constantly emotionally manipulates his mother, Diana.
Eric Northman in True Blood – Allows Sookie to “accidentally” drink his blood and subsequently, stalks her emotionally without her knowledge.
Boyd Langton in Dollhouse– asks Topher to dismember the body of a killed client to hide the evidence.
Chuck Bartowski in Chuck – often tries to use emotional manipulation to get his way with Sarah.
6) Clearly (hetero)sexually viable and attractive as mates – e.g. we see them in bed with a woman or as a LT partner to a female character
Chuck Bartowski in Chuck
Morgan Grimes in Chuck
Tyler Evans in V
Kyle Hobbes in V
Bill in True Blood
Steven Bloom in Undercovers
Castle in Castle
Malcolm in Firefly
Steve McGarrett in Hawaii
Leo Nash in Undercovers
Javier Esposito in Castle
Bill in True Blood
Michael Westen in Burn Notice
Cpt. Adama (Apollo) in BSG
Admiral Adama in BSG
Will Riker in ST: TNG
Wallace Fennel in Veronica Mars
7) Get the job done without necessarily having the brains to figure out how
Steve McGarrett in Hawaii Five-O – often depends on Kono, the Smurfette or Chin Ho for intel and suggestions
John Casey in Chuck – likes to blindly follows Beckman’s orders
Will Riker in Star Trek: TNG – We never see Will contribute intelligent suggestions to the Captain that help solve the situation they are facing in the episodes. Yet he is Number 2 and often sent out on away missions.
Men who deviate from any or all of these representations are often positioned as “lesser men” typically, in comparison to the “real man” on the show.
Tyler Evans in V – Tyler shows too much emotion, explained away by the fact that he is still young and thus, isn’t a “real man” yet. He also has no substantial role in V except as a clueless pawn and eventually, dies at the hand of a fake Lisa after having sex with her unknowingly.
Father Jack Landry vs. Kyle Hobbes in V– Not sexually viable as a Christian priest, shows too much emotion (he cries and has a conscience towards killing innocent people). He does not have a need for control preferring instead to believe in fate as a result of his religious affliation. He is the shortest of all the men in the primary cast and does not favour violence.
Hoban “Wash” Washburne vs. Cpt Malcolm Reynolds in Firefly – Married to Zoe Washburne who is shown to “wear the pants in the relationship”. Not very muscular and is quite intelligent in ship’s processing and engineering bits.
Lafayette in True Blood – Is queer and does not have an aversion to showing feeling for Tara, his cousin, when she is in bad shape.
Topher Brink vs. Boyd Langton in Dollhouse – Uses intellect to get things done. Not muscular and never seen as heterosexually viable. Once, he shows fear and regret after killing another man. Boyd swoops in for the rescue.
Dr. Gauis Baltar vs. Admiral Adama in BSG – Again, uses his brain more than his brawn to get things done.
Bill Hoyt vs. Steven Bloom/Leo Nash in Undercovers – AGAIN, uses his brain and techno skills to get things done instead of his brawn/ ability to seduce women.
Morgan Grimes vs. John Casey in Chuck – Morgan is the short, bumbling best friend to Chuck. He shows way too much care for his best friend and is thus considered weak.
Chuck Bartowski vs. John Casey in Chuck – Shows too much emotion and likes to talk things through instead of just smashing the wall in the hopes of getting rid of the problem.
Kevin Ryan vs. Esposito in Castle – Is the shorter, more effeminate of the pair. Also, the more intelligent.
Dano vs Steve in Hawaii Five-O – Again, shorter and the one with more feeling in the pair.
Lt Felix Gata in BSG – Again, uses his brain to solve problems, not his brawn.
Lt. Cmdr. Geordi La Forge in ST:TNG – Uses his brain and does not favor violence to solve his problems. He is also rarely seen as sexually viable by women and his closest relationship is to another man, the android Data.
Wallace in Veronica Mars – Doesn’t seem to have much intelligence, just brawn.
I’m sure I missed a couple of characters here and there but I think the point is that men who are not stereotypically masculine are shown
as “lesser men” subsequently as lesser human beings and characters. Note that though most of these characters are able to emote and show vulnerabilities in individual situations, majority of the show and their character depends on their being stereotypically masculine (read: stoic, handsome, muscular, charismatic men who save the situation and the women).
Now some of you may say “If you look for it, you will find it”. Well, it’s not like I’m looking too hard, most of these factors are on the surface of the show. They are obvious, right in our faces.
It is disheartening to see that men are given such limited roles in TV shows. I want to see shows where men respect one another, despite their differences. Where men respect women as full and complete human beings on their own terms, not on men’s terms. Where it is alright for a man to show sadness, fear, love beyond sex and care for someone other than his girlfriend, his wife or his mother. Where it is okay if they don’t want to “fight it out” and instead, sit down and talk. Where’s it’s okay to be content with fulfilling emotional relationships with other men without being accused of being gay. Where you can be gay and still be considered a man. Where it’s okay for them to be short and fat and still considered manly. Where they do not feel a need to “protect” women but to work with women to find the solution to their mutual problems. Where there is no constant need to control everything in their lives.
Again, I’m not saying it’s not wrong to watch these shows – everyone of us, including myself, need a little escape. But to watch them without
critical reception is unwise. Social stereotypes exist EVERYWHERE even when they are packaged in fun boxes labelled `TV shows and movies for pleasure`. The `for pleasure` tag might just be the thing that gets us to buy into sexism, racism and other isms that people have to live with everyday outside of the television box.
For change to be really happen, writers and viewers need to look at the characters of men just as much as they need to look at the characters of women. We can’t work towards adequate representations of one gender because that is not enough. We need to start conceptualizing of both women and men as full and complete human beings who are able to feel the whole range of emotions without being accused of being” too emotional”. We need to start looking at women and men as people in their own right.