And now for something completely different.

Since I started this blog, I’ve been mostly focused on writing as class preparation. Hence, if I was teaching about global media, all posts shifted to that subject. Now, I’m stoked about what lies ahead for Pop Matters. I will not be teaching this quarter, so I’m basically free to write about anything I want.

Still, there should be a point. In the next few weeks, there will be more about my research on Ugly Betty. For example, what’s up with Justin? now that the show is coming to an end, will Silvio Horta be able to develop the character as he said he wanted? Horta, the show runner, has always been ambiguous about Justin’s sexuality. During the first season of the show, every interview he gave regarding Justin was an opportunity to state that the character was too young to come out. Horta himself didn’t until he was 18, so it was fairly obvious to anyone that followed the behind the scenes working of Ugly Betty, that Justin is like a miniature Silvio Horta.

As a fan, I’m stoked about Justin, and I can’t help feeling sad because the show, which finally started to get interesting again, is heading to its end. As a media critic, on the other hand, I see characters like Justin, and Glee’s Kurt as complex departures from  typical gay representations. I’m actually reminded of a course I took, a couple of years, ago, and of a classmate who tried to argue that Will & Grace had done wonders for the representation of gays on television. Beg to differ! just because GLBT characters are there, it doesn’t mean an improvement. And don’t get me started on the L-Word! The alternate lesbo-only universe never satisfied me. Quite the opposite. It told me that you couldn’t have gay characters that could live in the real world like normal people. Instead, they happily thrived in these “separate but equal” spaces, and had lots and lots of sex and drama.

You can’t do that with teenagers, though. Not on network television. If you were to plunge Kurt and Justin into homoland, you’d have to deal  directly with their sexual experiences. It’s fine when you have someone like 13, on House, in a steamy scene. Jack McPhee? no way! characters like him get to go out on dates, and to kiss boys very awkwardly. Justin, btw, just got kissed by a boy, but his suitor freaked out and ran away. If Ugly Betty doesn’t bring him back, it will be a huge disappointment.

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Hegemonic masculinity

Tim Tebow is a demi god. He is the quintessential sports hero, the chosen one who reminds us that not all athletes are like Michael Vick, that American youth has a role model to emulate.

Now, I have to say that I’ve never watched Tim Tebow play. I don’t usually watch college sports, but I’m fascinated by the language of sports writers. As Nick Trujillo suggests, sports writers have the tendency to extol masculine virtues. The hegemonic masculine virtues, that is (Trujillo, 1991). The press lauded Nolan Ryan in the 1990s for his heroic endurance on the mound, his wholesome life outside the diamond, and his success. Nowadays, the press praises Tebow using much of the same language. In doing so, media shape representations of gender, which is, in itself, socially constructed (Lemish, 2008).

When we say that gender is socially constructed, we mean that there are “behaviors, expectations, perceptions, and subjectivities that define what it means to be a woman and what it means to be a man” (Lemish, 2008, para 1). Furthermore, these expectations are linked to biology, even though they are established by the culture (see Women in American popular culture). Hegemonic masculinity is one of the ways in which Western cultures construct gender.

Hegemonic masculinity, as summarized by Trujillo, is characterized by five elements: “(1) physical force and control, (2) occupational achievement, (3) familial patriarchy, (4) frontiersmanship, and (5) heterosexuality” (p. 291). Trujillo uses newspaper coverage of Nolan Ryan to illustrate how the media help perpetuate hegemonic masculinity. However, can we say the same about Tim Tebow? What are the parallels between Tebow and Ryan?

  1. Physical strength: Nolan Ryan played through injuries; “Tebow’s entire role-model persona doesn’t work unless he can convey that, fundamentally, he’s better than you: stronger, more capable, more at peace, just basically happier” (Fagone).
  2. Occupational achievement: Media describes the achievements of Nolan Ryan and Tim Tebow using a barrage of statistics. Ryan’s 300 victories and 5000 strikeouts are proof of his success. Tebow’s Heismann Trophy, national championship, TDs, equally show that he is a very successful athlete.
  3. Familial patriarchy: Nolan Ryan is the head of his household; he is protective of his wife, and he provides for her. She, on the other hand, is absolutely dependent. Patriarchy does not appear to be the focus of the Tebow coverage; however, his family is a traditional patriarchal unit. The father, a preacher, works outside the home. We can’t be certain of what the mother does.
  4. Frontiersmanship: Nolan Ryan’s exploits as a cowboy re-enact frontier mythology. In Tebow’s case, his family’s missionary work took him, as a boy, to a different frontier (The Philippines). Tebow’s father, furthermore, talks about the dangers of the mission (as in “If he were killed while preaching, it would be “the best thing that could ever happen.””).
  5. Heterosexual: Both athletes are “coded” as heterosexual. Tebow’s religious faith, in fact, obscures any questions (as in, deeply religious people are not ever gay?).

There are some additional parallels. Tebow, for example, is the regular guy, which is a theme also associated with Nolan Ryan. Tebow is religious, which according to the protestant work ethic, results in blessings and success. Ryan is successful, hence, the opposite logic applies.

Is hegemonic masculinity absolute?

No, in fact, as any form of public discourse, hegemonic masculinity is challenged by different groups. This has led to the argument that, rather than talking about one form of masculinity, we should acknowledge different “masculinities,” or ways of “doing” masculinity” (Beynon, 2008). Furthermore, when we consider today’s media landscape, consumers have a bounty of options. This has led to increasing media fragmentation and specialization, which has opened the door to different forms of media representation.

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References

  • Benyon, J. (2008). Masculinity and the Media. The international encyclopedia of communication.
  • Lemish, D. (2008). Gender: Representation in the Media. The international encyclopedia of communication. Retrieved (2009, October 6) fromhttp://bit.ly/jER3d
  • Trujillo, N. (1991). Hegemonic masculinity on the mound: media representations of Nolan Ryan and American sports culture. Critical Studies in Mass Communications, 8, 290-308.
  • Fagone, J. (2009, August). Does God have a Tim Tebow complex?. GQ, Retrieved from http://men.style.com/gq/features/landing?id=content_10597

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